Talent and success are common themes among the highest-paid NFL players in league history, but so too are longevity, era, and positional importance. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the top 11 highest-paid players in NFL history are all quarterbacks.
Who are the highest-paid players in NFL history, who has the largest contract in the league, and which players will take home the most cash in 2023?
Who Are the Highest-Paid NFL Players in History?
1) Tom Brady | $303 million
Tom Brady played for so long that he had single-season cash totals as low as $231,500 (2000) and as high as $44.4 million (2021).
It’s fitting that the NFL’s greatest player is also its highest-paid, but Brady could have likely earned even more. He consistently took less than he was worth as a member of the New England Patriots.
2) Drew Brees | $269.7 million
Although Drew Brees played for both the San Diego Chargers and the New Orleans Saints, he only earned $14 million from the Chargers. He inked two five-year contracts and two two-year deals during his time in New Orleans, three of which paid him at least $20 million annually. He was also franchised one time each by the Chargers and Saints.
3) Ben Roethlisberger | $267.3 million
Ben Roethlisberger signed a four-year extension with the Pittsburgh Steelers before his rookie contract expired, but his other deals with the club were relatively short. A four-year, $87.4 million pact took him through 2019. Roethlisberger then signed two- and one-year contracts (the latter involving a pay cut) to end his career.
4) Matt Ryan | $267 million
One of three active players in our top 10, Matt Ryan was the first NFL quarterback to receive $100 million in guarantees and, for a time, was the league’s highest-paid player. Despite having played 16 pro seasons, Ryan is still only on his third NFL contract. His rookie deal with the Atlanta Falcons was six years in length, while his two extensions have come in at five years.
5) Aaron Rodgers | $263.6 million
Since being drafted by the Green Bay Packers in 2005, Aaron Rodgers has agreed to four extensions with respective annual values of $12.7 million, $22 million, $33.5 million, and $50.3 million. Assuming he plays in 2023 and collects the $60 million cash he’s due, Rodgers will be atop this list next offseason.
6) Eli Manning | $252.3 million
As the No. 1 overall pick in the 2004 draft, Eli Manning earned $8 million annually on his rookie deal with the New York Giants. Two extensions (six years and four years) took him to the end of his career. Manning’ high-water mark came in 2015, when he earned $37 million in cash as part of his final long-term deal with Big Blue.
7) Peyton Manning | $248.7 million
Peyton Manning is more accomplished than his brother on the field, but he earned nearly $5 million less than Eli in the NFL. Peyton was franchise-tagged twice by the Colts, but both tenders eventually led to extensions. Manning never averaged more than $20 million in annual salary, but he did collect $35 million in cash in 2004.
8) Philip Rivers | $243.9 million
Nearly all — $217 million — of Philip Rivers’ career earnings came during his long run with the Los Angeles Chargers. But Rivers managed to close out his NFL tenure in style. In 2020, he signed a one-year, $25 million deal with the Indianapolis Colts, allowing him to earn the third-most single-season cash of his career.
9) Matthew Stafford | $239.3 million
While Matthew Stafford was always highly-paid as a member of the Detroit Lions, he’s hit a new stratosphere thanks to his 2022 extension with the Los Angeles Rams. Stafford brought home $61.5 million in cash last year, tops in the league. He should move up to sixth on this list after next season.
10) Alex Smith | $189.7 million
Alex Smith isn’t as accomplished as the rest of the quarterbacks in the top 10, but he did well to secure hefty contracts over his 16-year NFL career. His career earnings are almost perfectly split between his three pro teams, as he collected $71.5 million from the San Francisco 49ers, $67.5 million from the Kansas City Chiefs, and $71 million from Washington.
Rest of the NFL’s Highest-Paid Players
11) Russell Wilson | $181.4 million
12) Larry Fitzgerald | $180.7 million
13) Carson Palmer | $174.1 million
14) Joe Flacco | $171 million
15) Ndamukong Suh | $166.2 million
16) Julius Peppers | $165 million
17) Kirk Cousins | $161.7 million
18) Von Miller | $144.5 million
19) Julio Jones | $140.6 million
20) Trent Williams | $140.6 million
Who Signed the Largest Contract in NFL History?
The largest contract in NFL history belongs to Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes. Mahomes signed a 10-year extension worth up to $477 million in July 2020. Add in the existing years that remained on his contract, and the total value of Mahomes’ deal is $503 million over a 12-year period.
Behind Mahomes, Buffalo Bills QB Josh Allen has the second-highest total contract value among NFL players at $258.8 million. Denver Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson is third at $245 million, while Arizona Cardinals signal-caller is fourth at $230.5 million.
Only four non-quarterbacks reside inside the top-15 highest-paid NFL players in terms of total contract value: Los Angeles Chargers DE Khalil Mack ($141 million), San Francisco 49ers OT Trent Williams ($138.1 million), Chargers DE Joey Bosa ($135 million), and Cleveland Browns DE Myles Garrett ($125 million).
Which NFL Players Will Earn the Most Money in 2023?
1) Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers | $59.515 million
2) Deshaun Watson, Cleveland Browns | $46 million
3) Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs | $40.45 million
4) Kyler Murray, Arizona Cardinals | $39 million
5) Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys| $31 million
Twenty-eight NFL players will earn $20 million or more in cash in 2023. Among that group, 12 are quarterbacks, seven are wide receivers, four are edge rushers, two are defensive tackles, one is a left tackle, one is a cornerback, and one is a linebacker.
The highest-paid non-QB among NFL players will be Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who will take home $28.5 million in cash in 2023.