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Highest-paid NFL players in the history of the league

Who is the highest-paid NFL player in history, which players will earn the most in 2021, and how do NFL contracts compare to other sports?

Highest-paid NFL players in the history of the league
NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA - DECEMBER 20: Drew Brees #9 of the New Orleans Saints warms up before the game against the Kansas City Chiefs at Mercedes-Benz Superdome on December 20, 2020 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Heading into the 2021 NFL offseason, who are the highest-paid NFL players? Let’s look at who the highest-paid NFL players in history are, who has signed the largest contract in NFL history, who will earn the most in terms of cash in 2021, and how NFL contracts compare with other sports stars.

Who is the highest-paid NFL player in history?

1) Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints | $269.7 million
2) Tom Brady, Tampa Bay Buccaneers | $263.0 million
3) Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers | $253.3 million
4) Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons | $244.0 million
5) Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers | $241.9 million

When it comes to the highest-paid player in the NFL in terms of career earnings, Drew Brees tops the list as of 2020, having earned $269.7 million. The top seven highest-paid NFL players in terms of career earnings are all quarterbacks. Behind Brees are Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Ryan, Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford, and Alex Smith.

Related | NFL All-Time QB Season and Career Records

However, Brees’ stay atop this list will be a short one. Assuming Brees’ retires ahead of the 2021 season, he will be passed on this list by both Brady and Roethlisberger. Within two years, he will likely have also been passed by Ryan, Rodgers, and Stafford as well.

The highest-paid among NFL players other than quarterbacks is Larry Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald has earned over $180.7 million during his career and sits eighth all-time. Among defensive NFL players, Ndamukong Suh is the highest paid at $156 million.

Who signed the largest NFL contract in history?

The largest contract in NFL history belongs to Kansas City Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes. Mahomes signed a 10-year extension worth up to $477 million. However, the total value of his deal is $503 million over a 12-year period. The NFL has come a long way from when Eli Manning made history when he became the highest-paid NFL player at the time with a contract value of $16.25 million.

Behind Mahomes, Deshaun Watson has the second-highest total contract value among NFL players at $156 million. Matt Ryan is third at $150 million. Three non-QBs find themselves in the top 10 highest-paid NFL players. They are Khalil Mack ($141 million), Joey Bosa ($135 million), and Aaron Donald ($135 million).

Who will earn the most money among NFL players in 2021?

1) Tom Brady, Tampa Bay Buccaneers | $27.9 million
2) Jared Goff, Detroit Lions | $27.8 million
3) Carson Wentz, Philadelphia Eagles | $25.4 million
4) Jimmy Garoppolo, San Francisco 49ers | $25 million
5) Ryan Tannehill, Tennessee Titans | $24.5 million

In terms of cash, 14 players at this time will earn more than $20 million in cash in 2021. Of them, 10 are quarterbacks, with one offensive lineman, two defensive linemen, and a wide receiver making up the other four.

The highest-paid non-QB among NFL players is set to be Ronnie Stanley at $23.75 million in cash in 2021. Myles Garrett is the defensive player who will earn the most at $21.7 million. Behind Garrett are Chris Jones ($21.5 million) and Amari Cooper ($20 million).

Related | 2021 NFL Free Agents: Top available at each position

In terms of salary cap hit in 2021, Ben Roethlisberger is currently atop the list. Roethlisberger will count as a massive $41.25 million against the Steelers’ cap next season. Matt Ryan is the only other player who will count $40 million against the cap at $40.9 million.

Behind them are Aaron Rodgers, Carson Wentz, Russell Wilson, and Kirk Cousins, who are all set to count more than $30 million against the cap. Overall, 33 players will count more than $20 million against the cap in the 2021 NFL season.

How do NFL contracts compare to other sports?

In terms of the overall contract value, Mahomes ranks second in the world among sports stars, according to Wikipedia. Ahead of him is Lionel Messi, whose contract is reportedly worth $674 million across the four years. Mahomes is the only NFL player in the top 35 in terms of his contract’s overall value. Deshaun Watson ranks 39th; Matt Ryan is 72nd.

In terms of the annual average value, Mahomes ranks seventh. Messi once again tops the list, with Canelo Álvarez, Kimi Räikkönen, Damian Lillard, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Paul George. Meanwhile, Deshaun Watson ranks 13th on the list; Russell Wilson is 25th.

On a per match basis, the highest-paid NFL players fare much better. Seven of the top 10 on a per match basis are NFL players. This list includes Mahomes, Watson, Wilson, Ryan, Garoppolo, Luck, and Mack. The only sports stars ahead of Mahomes are Álvarez ($33.2 million per match), Messi ($3.7 million per match), and Räikkönen ($2.9 million per race).

However, these highest-paid lists do not include players whose contracts have not been confirmed. Therefore, the likes of former Manchester United and Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo are not included and likely would rank highly on this list.

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