The Highest-Paid Players In NFL History
Tom Brady is NOT #1!
Regardless of where they come from, what position they play or how good they are, all NFL players have one thing in common: They are well paid. While not every player can command $15 million a year for playing football, the absolute minimum that any player can make with a one-year contract is $480,000 — so these guys can all be described as wealthy.
But some players have laughed a lot harder on the way to the bank than others. Using lifetime salary data gathered by the analysts at Sportrac, we’ve ranked the highest-earning players in NFL history. This list doesn’t simply account for the highest single contracts in NFL history — because that benchmark seems to rise every year — but is a look at how much money players were able to collect in their entire careers, not including endorsements and other non-football work.
Believe it or not, it’s not all quarterbacks!
25. Gerald McCoy (2010-Present)
Lifetime Earnings: $110.1 million
Average Yearly Earnings: $12.2 million
Despite having never played in a playoff game, Gerald McCoy earned his place as one of the game’s great defensive tackles by making six straight Pro Bowls from 2012-2017. He’s spent his entire career thus far with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, obviously impressing management enough to command massive money and put together one of the biggest bank accounts in NFL history. It’s hard to beat racking up an average of $12.2 million a year, having your season end after just 16 games every year and living in Florida all the while.
24. Calvin Johnson (2007-2015)
Lifetime Earnings: $113.8 million
Average Yearly Earnings: $12.6 million
“Megatron” was nobody’s fool. This history-making wide receiver found a way to make a ton of money in the NFL and walk away fully healthy after just nine seasons. The Detroit Lions lifer made six consecutive Pro Bowls and was a first-team All-Pro selection for three consecutive seasons, twice leading the league in total receiving yards and receiving yards per game. He broke Lions fans’ hearts when he walked away at his peak, but Calvin Johnson had nothing left to prove — especially to his accountant.
23. Mario Williams (2006-2016)
Lifetime Earnings: $120.4 million
Average Yearly Earnings: $10.9 million
“Super” Mario Williams was the overall first pick in the 2006 NFL Draft, and he was paid like a top pick despite having an up-and-down career. The defensive end spent 11 seasons between three teams, most notably the Houston Texans and Buffalo Bills, making four Pro Bowls and one first-team All-Pro squad. Like Gerald McCoy and Calvin Johnson, Williams had virtually no playoff experience when he retired, playing only one game in the postseason. It just proves you don’t have to win a bunch of Super Bowls to make a killing in football.
22. Jay Cutler (2006-2017)
Lifetime Earnings: $122.2 million
Average Yearly Earnings: $10.1 million
Further proof that winning isn’t everything, Jay Cutler went just 1-1 in his playoff career as a starting quarterback, but he banked more than many other players in football history. Cutler’s career earnings average out to about $800,000 per game during his 12 seasons in the league, despite only making a single Pro Bowl and never leading the NFL in any major categories aside from interceptions thrown and times sacked. He really should serve as an inspiration for all the mediocre workers out there who have hopes to strike it rich.
21. Joe Thomas (2007-2017)
Lifetime Earnings: $122.8 million
Average Yearly Earnings: $11.1 million
The highest-earning offensive lineman in NFL history, Joe Thomas is another player who never played in a single playoff game but proved himself as one of the game’s elites. In 11 seasons, all spent with the Cleveland Browns, the left tackle made 10 consecutive Pro Bowls and an incredible six first-team All-Pro squads. Thomas also never missed a single game until his final season — and if you ask Browns fans, they’d probably tell you the team underpaid him at $122.8 million in career payoffs.
20. Darrelle Revis (2007-2017)
Lifetime Earnings: $124.2 million
Average Yearly Earnings: $11.3 million
In his heyday, from about 2008 to 2015, “Revis Island” was regarded as the NFL’s most feared cornerback. His lifetime earnings of $124.2 million, according to Sportrac, make him the highest-paid person to ever play the position. Revis is the first person on the list to have won a Super Bowl, which he did with the New England Patriots in 2014, his last of four seasons as a first-team All-Pro selection. He also made seven Pro Bowls, five of which were during his two separate tenures with the New York Jets.
19. Michael Vick (2001-2006; 2009-2015)
Lifetime Earnings: $124.7 million
Average Yearly Earnings: $9.6 million
Undoubtedly the most controversial player on this list, Michael Vick dazzled NFL fans with his unrivaled skills as a mobile quarterback, but he alienated a good chunk of them forever with his off-field behavior. The dog-fighting ring he was involved with got him banned from the league for a full two seasons in his prime — lost years that would’ve likely placed him even higher on this list. Still, Vick earned huge money during his two runs in the league, first with the Atlanta Falcons and then with the Philadelphia Eagles and two other teams. He was a four-time Pro Bowler but was never chosen as an All-Pro.
18. Tony Romo (2004-2016)
Lifetime Earnings: $127.4 million
Average Yearly Earnings: $9.8 million
In his current role as a broadcaster for CBS, Tony Romo makes a reported $4 million a year. That’s great money for sitting in a booth and talking football, but it’s still less than half of what he made, on average, during his 13 seasons playing quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys. Romo was never an All-Pro, made four Pro Bowls and only had one season in which he led the league in multiple passing categories — but he was a consistent winner, if not in the postseason.
17. Sam Bradford (2010-Present)
Lifetime Earnings: $130 million
Average Yearly Earnings: $14.4 million
In 2010, quarterback Sam Bradford signed the biggest rookie contract in NFL history, and that money helped land him on this list of all-time earners. Of course, football experts will tell you he didn’t live up to that kind of dough at all, still never leading a team to the playoffs after nine seasons in the league. After spending his first five seasons with the St. Louis Rams, Bradford has bounced around with three different teams and was a free agent as of the end of the 2018 season. Even if he never plays another snap, he’ll have already earned more money than most players who ever played before him despite never once making the Pro Bowl or an All-Pro team.
16. Brett Favre (1991-2010)
Lifetime Earnings: $137.8 million
Average Yearly Earnings: $6.89 million
Are you shocked to learn that Brett Favre, one of the most decorated and feared quarterbacks in NFL history, made less than half what Sam Bradford has on a per-season basis? Despite that relatively low average-salary figure (which, granted, started in an era when NFL salaries were lower than they are today), Favre is high on this list because of his longevity and a freakish ability to keep winning. In 20 seasons, Favre made 11 Pro Bowls, three first-team All-Pro squads and was named NFL MVP three times. He also led the Green Bay Packers to a Super Bowl win in 1996 and became one of the franchise’s most beloved figures. The Hall of Famer retired in 2010 after raking in nearly $140 million for his playing career alone.
15. Ndamukong Suh (2010-Present)
Lifetime Earnings: $138.7 million
Average Yearly Earnings: $15.4 million
At the defensive tackle position, no player in NFL history has earned as much cash as Ndamukong Suh. The player, whose on-field tactics have been controversial to some, has managed to make more than $15 million per year, on average, despite bouncing around to three teams in nine seasons so far. He’s a five-time Pro Bowler and three-time first-team All-Pro selection, consistently proving why he’s worth the kind of money he’s commanded. After the 2018 season, in which he helped the Los Angeles Rams make the Super Bowl, he was a free agent.
14. Alex Smith (2005-Present)
Lifetime Earnings: $146.4 million
Average Yearly Earnings: $10.5 million
Despite a history of injury issues — including a gruesome one that ended his 2018 season too early — Alex Smith has made himself into one of the highest-paid quarterbacks in NFL history. In 14 seasons with three different teams so far, Smith has been to the playoffs five times, putting together a lackluster 2-5 record. The former top overall draft pick has never been an All-Pro selection and has made just three Pro Bowls but he continues to command major salaries as a starter.
13. Joe Flacco (2008-Present)
Lifetime Earnings: $147.8 million
Average Yearly Earnings: $13.4 million
Joe Flacco’s status as an elite NFL quarterback has long been a subject for debate among football fans — but his status as a huge earner is not up for discussion. Before being traded to the Denver Broncos in early 2019, Flacco spent 11 seasons as the starter for the Baltimore Ravens, leading them to a Super Bowl win in 2012 and posting an overall 10-5 record in the playoffs. Astoundingly, he’s never been selected for a Pro Bowl or an All-Pro team and has never led the league in any passing statistic, good or bad. But he stands tall among the game’s highest-paid quarterbacks ever, largely because of his consistency as a winner.
12. Larry Fitzgerald (2004-Present)
Lifetime Earnings: $163.2 million
Average Yearly Earnings: $10.9 million
The highest-paid wide receiver in history, nobody can argue that Larry Fitzgerald hasn’t earned every cent of his $163.2 million in career NFL earnings. In 15 seasons so far, all spent with the Arizona Cardinals, Fitzgerald has made 11 Pro Bowls yet somehow only one first-team All-Pro squad. He’s twice led the league in touchdown catches and once in total receptions, but perhaps his most incredible stat is that he’s only missed eight starts in his career, which has included 234 games played as of 2019.
11. Julius Peppers (2002-2018)
Lifetime Earnings: $164.9 million
Average Yearly Earnings: $9.7 million
No defensive player has ever earned more money in their career than Julius Peppers. The future Hall of Famer collected nearly $165 million in 15 seasons before calling it quits in early 2019. His career was mostly spent with the Carolina Panthers, but he made the Pro Bowl as a member of all three franchises for which he played defensive end. In total, he made nine Pro Bowls and three first-team All-Pro squads during a career that saw him finish second all-time in fumbles forced and fourth all-time in sacks.
10. Carson Palmer (2004-2017)
Lifetime Earnings: $174.1 million
Average Yearly Earnings: $12.4 million
From here on out, the list is all quarterbacks. Carson Palmer earned about $12.4 million per year during his 14 seasons as an NFL starter, spending time with three different teams. Despite being surrounded by great wide receivers — including Larry Fitzgerald and Chad Johnson — at every stop, Palmer only managed to put together a dismal 1-3 career record in the playoffs. He also only made three Pro Bowls and was never selected to an All-Pro team. But none of that hurt his career earnings, which made him the 10th highest-paid player in pro football history.
9. Matthew Stafford (2009-Present)
Lifetime Earnings: $178.2 million
Average Yearly Earnings: $17.8 million
No one in NFL history has earned more money in less time than Matthew Stafford. In 10 seasons so far, all with the Detroit Lions, the former top overall draft pick has pulled down nearly $18 million per year. That’s even more impressive when you realize that he has a career record of 0-3 in the playoffs and 66-75 in the regular season. You certainly can’t say he hasn’t shown up for work though, as Stafford hasn’t missed a single start in the past eight seasons. You may have noticed that the Lions have two overlapping players on this list — but no rings to show for the combined $292 million they’ve paid them to this point.
8. Matt Ryan (2008-Present)
Lifetime Earnings: $178.7 million
Average Yearly Earnings: $16.2 million
Like Matthew Stafford, Matt Ryan has earned more money per year, on average, than nearly any player in football history — but he’s managed to take his team to some incredible heights. In 11 seasons with the Atlanta Falcons so far, “Matty Ice” has led his teammates to a Super Bowl in 2016, where they suffered the most agonizing defeat in the game’s history. Ryan was named NFL MVP that season and has been named to four Pro Bowls and one first-team All-Pro squad. He’s also missed only two starts in his entire career, giving him a reputation as a workhorse.
7. Ben Roethlisberger (2004-Present)
Lifetime Earnings: $187.2 million
Average Yearly Earnings: $12.5 million
In 15 seasons as an NFL starter, all with the Pittsburgh Steelers, “Big Ben” has earned his place near the top of this list by consistently leading his team to the top of the league. He’s won two Super Bowls and has led the Steelers to the playoffs 10 times, putting together a career record of 13-8 in the postseason. The future Hall of Famer has also been named to six Pro Bowls but has never been named a first-team All-Pro selection. Regardless, he’s managed to put together one of the biggest bank statements in NFL history.
6. Philip Rivers (2004-Present)
Lifetime Earnings: $202.9 million
Average Yearly Earnings: $13.5 million
Another member of that stellar 2004 NFL Draft class that ranks in the top 10 on this list, Philip Rivers has raked in more than $200 million so far and is showing no signs of age. In 15 seasons, all for the San Diego/Los Angeles Chargers, Rivers has never missed a game since being named the team’s starter in 2006. Rivers is an eight-time Pro Bowler but has never made an All-Pro squad and has never played in the Super Bowl. But his regular-season statistics have virtually ensured him a spot in the Hall of Fame. Ask any Chargers fan and they’d likely tell you he’s worth every cent the franchise has ever given him.
5. Aaron Rodgers (2005-Present)
Lifetime Earnings: $204 million
Average Yearly Earnings: $14.6 million
It can be argued that Aaron Rodgers is the greatest quarterback in NFL history — and a look at his career earnings shows the Green Bay Packers have treated him as such. In 14 seasons so far, Rodgers has set numerous all-time records for accuracy, including holding the best career passer rating ever. In addition to winning a Super Bowl in 2010, Rodgers has twice been named NFL MVP and has made seven Pro Bowls and two first-team All-Pro squads. If he continues to play the way he has so far in his career, he could end up atop this list when he finally retires.
4. Tom Brady (2000-Present)
Lifetime Earnings: $212.1 million
Average Yearly Earnings: $11.2 million
Surprised to no see Tom Brady higher on this list? He’s long had a reputation for taking pay cuts in order to help keep the New England Patriots atop the NFL — and it’s worked like a charm. Still, $212 million is a nice sum for throwing footballs for a few weeks a year. If monetary success in sports were truly all about winning, then Brady would deserve to top this list, but as we’ve seen it’s not that simple. Nobody has won more Super Bowls or playoff games than Brady, who has six rings so far, including three in the past five seasons.
3. Drew Brees (2001-Present)
Lifetime Earnings: $221.7 million
Average Yearly Earnings: $12.3 million
Further proof that longevity and consistent winning can be the recipe for massive earnings in pro football, Drew Brees remains one of the NFL’s top quarterbacks after 18 seasons in the league. He’s a 12-time Pro Bowler, former first-team All-Pro selection, and he won a Super Bowl in 2009 with the New Orleans Saints, the team he’s played for since 2006. At 40 years old, it remains to be seen how many more years Brees will be adding to his lifetime earnings total, but after the incredible season he had in 2018, it seems he won’t be retiring anytime soon.
2. Eli Manning (2004-Present)
Lifetime Earnings: $235.2 million
Average Yearly Earnings: $15.7 million
It seems unfair that Eli Manning has collected more money than contemporaries like Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers, in less playing time, but that’s the cold truth. The oft-maligned New York Giants quarterback has a career record of 116-114 as a starter in his 15 seasons played thus far. However, Manning has earned his money in the playoffs, where he has an 8-4 career record, including two Super Bowl wins over Brady’s New England Patriots. Has Manning proven to be worth roughly $16 million a year for his entire career? It depends on which Giants fan you ask.
1. Peyton Manning (1998-2015)
Lifetime Earnings: $248.7 million
Average Yearly Earnings: $14.6 million
If you asked 10 random people to name an NFL player, chances are a few of them would give you Peyton Manning despite the fact he hasn’t played a down in four years. It makes sense that Manning is the highest-paid player in football history because he’s arguably the game’s most famous, beloved and respected figure ever. He torched NFL record books during his 18-year career, which included just 17 seasons of play, due to a severe neck injury sidelining him in 2011. Manning won two Super Bowls, retiring in epic fashion after his second one, which came with the Denver Broncos. If you counted his many lucrative endorsement deals, Manning’s career earnings would be even more staggering.