Kirk Cousins signed a guaranteed deal with the Vikings. Cary Edmondson/USA Today Images

The 25 highest-paid NFL players

NFL contracts aren’t the best, as unlike in other major American sports leagues, much of the contract money isn’t guaranteed. That being said, if you are a great player, or are a decent quarterback who just hit free agency, you can land a huge deal. New contracts are always being signed, and some are occasionally voided by releases, but here are the 25 biggest contracts in the NFL by yearly average. Not all this money is guaranteed, but it’s in the deal. Figures via Spotrac.

 
1 of 25

Amari Cooper

Amari Cooper
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY Sports

We start at a nice, round number, as Cooper’s average salary is $20 million. Three elite wide receivers just signed new deals, playing off each other, and two of them are in the top 25. (Michael Thomas sits at 26.) After bristling at being with the Raiders, Cooper was traded to the Cowboys where he has revitalized himself, catching passes from Dak Prescott.

 
2 of 25

Frank Clark

Frank Clark
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY Sports

Do you think of Clark as one of the best pass rushers in the NFL? Well he’s certainly paid like one, as he makes more money than even Von Miller. After getting 13 sacks with the Seahawks in 2018, Clark got the franchise tag. He didn’t sign the tender and was instead traded to the Chiefs, who gave him the new deal he wanted. He will make nearly $18 million this season.

 
DeForest Buckner
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports

Speaking of guys who got traded because of contract concerns, Buckner is now a Colt because the 49ers needed to save money somewhere. Giving Buckner $21 million on average was apparently not in the cards for San Francisco. That’s Indy’s gain, as the Colts traded away a first-round pick to get the defensive tackle after a breakout campaign.

 
4 of 25

DeMarcus Lawrence

DeMarcus Lawrence
Chuck Cook/USA TODAY Sports

Last year was rough for Lawrence, as he only had five sacks. The Cowboys might be concerned, given how much money the defensive end is making (five years; $105 million). However, he had 14.5 sacks in 2017 and 10.5 sacks in 2018, so at his peak we know what kind of pass rusher Lawrence is.

 
Teddy Bridgewater
Derick Hingle/USA TODAY Sports

It pays to be a starting quarterback. Bridgewater suffered an extremely serious injury that derailed his career in MInnesota, and now he had been spending his time backing up Drew Brees in New Orleans. When he hit the free agent market it paid off for Bridgewater, as the Panthers gave him $21 million on average to be the new starting quarterback in Carolina.

 
6 of 25

Julio Jones

Julio Jones
Kyle Terada/USA TODAY Sports

Meet the highest-paid receiver in the NFL. We have no argument against that. While he’s 31 now, he’s still one of the best at his position in the NFL. Plus, he’s made seven Pro Bowls and five All-Pro teams. He has never had fewer than 1,198 yards in a full season and signed a $66 million deal last year.

 
7 of 25

Laremy Tunsil

Laremy Tunsil
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports

When the Texans traded for Tunsil to improve their offensive line, they should have tried to sign him to an extension before the deal. They didn’t, and that left Tunsil holding all the cards. Now a good offensive tackle, but not the best tackle in the NFL by any stretch of the imagination, he is the only offensive lineman in the top 25 and is guaranteed almost $11 million this season. Way to go, Bill O’Brien.

 
8 of 25

Aaron Donald

Aaron Donald
Robert Hanashiro/USA TODAY Sports

Donald is the best defensive player in the NFL. He’s won Defensive Player of the Year twice, and nobody has ever rushed the passer better as a defensive tackle. That’s why he’s the second-highest paid player in the NFL who isn’t a quarterback; he earns around $22 million a year.

 
9 of 25

Khalil Mack

Khalil Mack
Kena Krutsinger/USA TODAY Sports

We arrive at the highest-paid non-quarterback in the NFL. Like Amari Cooper, Mack fled Oakland to boost his career and get paid. Well the Chicago Bears definitely shelled out for their top pass rusher, signing him to a deal worth $141 million. Mack is particularly good at forcing fumbles, and he’s certainly the best player in the history of the University of Buffalo.

 
10 of 25

Alex Smith

Alex Smith
Geoff Burke/USA TODAY Sports

Remember Smith? He’s been sort of forgotten unfortunately. Smith suffered a serious, career-threatening injury that has kept him from taking the field for Washington. Now Dwayne Haskins is the starter and Smith will either return for another team or as a backup, as his time in Washington seems over. If he doesn’t retire, he’ll keep making $23.5 million on average.

 
11 of 25

Philip Rivers

Philip Rivers
Denny Medley/USA TODAY Sports

There are four quarterbacks who are all averaging $25 million per year. Three of them are veterans looking for a ring. In Rivers case, he just wants to make his first trip to a Super Bowl. That’s why he left the Chargers to sign a deal with the Colts in hopes of finally making that happen before it’s too late.

 
12 of 25

Drew Brees

Drew Brees
John David Mercer/USA TODAY Sports

There was talk Brees might retire, but instead the 41-year-old signed a two-year deal worth around $50 million to stay with the Saints. He’s the best player in the franchise’s history, and he owns several quarterback records, which he will only pad this year. Brees is coming off a season where he suffered his first real significant injury in many years but hopefully the veteran will be ready to go when the season starts.

 
13 of 25

Tom Brady

Tom Brady
George Walker IV / Tennessean.com-Imagn Content Services, LLC

It’s going to be weird not seeing Brady in a Patriots uniform. After spending almost 20 years in New England, Brady signed with the Buccaneers this offseason for two years and $50 million plus incentives. He’s coming off his worst season in a while. Was it a fluke? Or has age finally caught up with Brady?

 
14 of 25

Derek Carr

Derek Carr
Isaiah J. Downing/USA TODAY Sports

Two future Hall of Famers, and one guy who may make the Hall as well, make $25 million on average. Then there is Carr. There is constant talk the Raiders might move on from him. He’s good but unremarkable. Certainly nobody is going to confuse Carr for Brees on the field, but they both get a lot of cash.

 
15 of 25

Matthew Stafford

Matthew Stafford
Cary Edmondson/USA TODAY Sports

Stafford was one of the last quarterbacks drafted first overall before the rookie salary cap was initiated. That led to Stafford’s contract soaring and soaring, now worth around $135 million. However, given how expensive quarterbacks are, Stafford’s deal is actually totally reasonable. He’s a good, usually durable, quarterback, and he’s better than several quarterbacks who get more money than him.

 
16 of 25

Jimmy Garoppolo

Jimmy Garoppolo
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports

Garoppolo got a big deal based entirely on potential; his average yearly salary is $27.5 million. In fact, 2019 was the first season in which he played in more than six games. It turned out well enough for the 49ers. He threw 27 touchdowns against 13 interceptions and helped lead the Niners to the Super Bowl.

 
17 of 25

Ryan Tannehill

Ryan Tannehill
George Walker IV / Tennessean.com-Imagn Content Services, LLC

How quickly things can turn around. Tannehill was looking like a bust on his way out of the NFL. He started the 2019 season backing up Marcus Mariota for the Titans and then took over and played the best football of his career, leading Tennessee to the AFC championship game. Now he has a four-year deal paying him an average of $29.5 million per season. Will he live up to it?

 
18 of 25

Matt Ryan

Matt Ryan
Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports

We arrive at the first $30-million player in the NFL. Ryan has an MVP to his name, and he’s been the face of the Falcons since Michael Vick ended up in prison. He’s been one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL for over a decade but hasn’t reached the “taking smaller deals to save his team money” stage of his career that older quarterbacks like Tom Brady and Drew Brees have arrived at.

 
19 of 25

Dak Prescott

Dak Prescott
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY Sports

This could change, because as of this writing Prescott is on the franchise tag. For quarterbacks, that means he’s going to make $31.4 million. If Prescott signs a new deal, that average might change, but for now he’s going to be quite well paid for one season in Dallas.

 
20 of 25

Carson Wentz

Carson Wentz
Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports

When Wentz is on the field, he earns his big contract. However he’s had some issues staying healthy. In 2019 he did play all 16 games, though, throwing for over 4,000 yards for the first time. His contract is worth about $24 million per year.

 
21 of 25

Kirk Cousins

Kirk Cousins
Kelley L Cox/USA TODAY Sports

Cousins famously left Washington for Minnesota by signing a three-year deal for a fully guaranteed $83 million. Since then, though, he’s signed a new two-year extension that pays him $33 million on average. He made his second Pro Bowl last year when he threw for 26 touchdowns against only six interceptions. Cousins is an efficient quarterback, but can he take the Vikings to a Super Bowl?

 
22 of 25

Jared Goff

Jared Goff
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports

First, Goff looked like a bust. Then Sean McVay showed up, and Goff put up video game numbers. Unfortunately for the Rams, it seems like McVay’s offense has been solved to a degree. That’s not great for Goff, who threw only 22 touchdowns against 16 picks last season. If he’s going to put up numbers like that, Goff is going to end up with an albatross of a contract, which is worth $134 million over four years, with $110 guaranteed.

 
23 of 25

Aaron Rodgers

Aaron Rodgers
Kelley L Cox/USA TODAY Sports

Rodgers and Goff both made $33.5 million on average. One guy is unproven and looks like he may be a bust. Rodgers, on the other hand, is an all-time great who is still in his prime. Sure, the Packers drafted Jordan Love in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft, but that’s not because of anything Rodgers has done. Rodgers is a two-time regular season MVP and a Super Bowl MVP, and last year he threw for over 4,000 yards with only four interceptions.

 
Ben Roethlisberger
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

It’s not ideal to be paying $34 million on average to a 38-year-old quarterback who played only two games last year due to an elbow injury. Well, if Ben isn’t up to the task in 2020 that’s at least the final year of the deal. He’s had a great career, but Roethlisberger’s best days are probably behind him, especially if he’s not healthy.

 
25 of 25

Russell Wilson

Russell Wilson
Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY Sports

We arrive at the highest-paid player in the NFL. On average, Wilson gets $35 million a year. There’s no argument here. Wilson is one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL — maybe the very best, sometimes carrying Seattle’s offense on his back. If the Seahawks weren’t so obsessed with running the ball, he’d probably have an MVP Award or two. Hey, he still has a Super Bowl ring. And, of course, he has the NFL’s biggest contract.

Chris Morgan is a sports and pop culture writer and the author of the books The Comic Galaxy of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and The Ash Heap of History. You can follow him on Twitter @ChrisXMorgan.



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