Highest-paid NFL players and biggest contracts heading into the 2022 season

Who are the highest-paid NFL players in terms of the cap numbers on their current contracts as we head into the 2022 league year?

With the offseason in the books and NFL teams restructuring contracts, who are the highest-paid players in terms of the biggest cap numbers in 2022? Which players will be the most expensive against the salary cap this year, and who has the largest cap charge in the league?

9 highest-paid NFL players in 2022

With contract restructures, trades, and roster moves taking place seemingly by the hour, this list has been in flux for much of the offseason. Two players originally at the top of this list — Matt Ryan and Deshaun Watson — have since been traded and had their 2022 cap charges reduced.

As you might expect, this list is dominated by quarterbacks, with a few pass rushers getting in there for good measure. Let’s examine the top cap numbers for 2022.

9) Joey Bosa, LAC | $28.25 million

Joey Bosa signed a five-year, $135 million extension with the Chargers in 2020, but 2022 will be the first season where his cap charge takes a genuine jump. After playing at a $20.75 million cap hit last year, Bosa’s figure leaps to $28.25 million this season before crossing the $30 million threshold in 2023. Bosa still has $7 million in signing bonus proration in each of the next three seasons, and he’ll have $7+ million roster bonuses due at the start of the 2023 and 2024 league years.

8) Carson Wentz, WAS | $28.3 million

When a player is traded, the cap charge for the acquiring team is typically low since that club isn’t responsible for any signing bonus proration. That’s not the case with Carson Wentz, whose cap figure results from his $22 million base salary and a $6.3 million roster bonus. His salary is fully guaranteed in 2022, but those guarantees will run out in 2023. If Wentz doesn’t perform in Washington, the Commanders can cut him next offseason — before his March 19 roster bonus is due — and clear him entirely from their books.

7) Aaron Rodgers, GB | $28.5 million

Despite a “cap-friendly extension,” Aaron Rodgers’ contract remains one of the highest in the NFL. The new deal has reduced his cap number to just below $30 million in 2022, down from $46 million. This season, Rodgers will earn $42 million in cash, fourth in the league behind Matthew Stafford, Josh Allen, and Watson. However, $40.8 million of that total comes as a signing bonus, which will be prorated over the next five years for salary cap purposes.

6) Chris Jones, KC | $29.4 million

Chris Jones is set to be the second-highest-paid NFL player this year who is not a QB. His cap number will be a mammoth $29.4 million, thanks mainly to an $18.1 million roster bonus that became fully guaranteed last year.

The Chiefs could consider reducing that number by converting it into a signing bonus. However, his cap number for 2023 is already projected to be $27 million, so they might not want to push that higher. We could yet see Jones have void years added to his deal, or he could sign an extension. Jones is about to enter the third year of his four-year, $80 million contract.

5) T.J. Watt, PIT | $31.1 million

With the biggest 2022 cap number among non-QB players in the NFL, Watt is the first player on our list to jump above $30 million. His $31.1 million cap number is primarily derived from a $24 million base salary that could be restructured if required.

As it stands, Watt’s cap numbers will sit between $27 million and $28.2 million over the next three years. When negotiating with Watt, the Steelers broke their internal rule of not handing out guarantees past the first season of a new contract, so the edge rusher has guaranteed salaries through 2023.

4) Jared Goff, DET | $31.15 million

There’s a good chance this is the last time we ever see Jared Goff on this list of highest-paid NFL players. Next year, the Lions can release him with just $10 million in dead money and more than $20 million in cap savings. However, with all but $650,000 of his 2022 salary and roster bonus guaranteed, the Lions have very few options to reduce this cap number in the near term. Goff’s combined $26.15 million in salary and roster bonus will see him take home the 14th-most cash of any NFL player this year.

Detroit could look to restructure the deal and move a portion of the salary and roster bonus into a signing bonus. However, that would only increase the cost of releasing Goff next year. The Lions will likely be searching for their quarterback of the future in the 2023 NFL Draft, so they don’t want to tie themselves to Goff any longer than required.

3) Kirk Cousins, MIN | $31.4 million

Kirk Cousins is another player on this list who recently signed an extension to reduce his cap number. He was due to count $45 million against the cap before signing a one-year contract extension worth $35 million. The deal contains two void years in order to spread his cap hits out over the next four years. Cousins’ cap number will rise to $36.25 million in 2023 before the Vikings incur a dead money charge of $12.5 million in 2024.

2) Patrick Mahomes, KC | $35.8 million

Once the highest-paid player in the NFL in terms of average annual value, Patrick Mahomes sits second when it comes to cap hits for 2022. His $35.8 million number is largely made up of a $27.4 million roster bonus. That roster bonus could easily be converted to a signing bonus to reduce his cap number in 2022. However, that would increase his cap charges moving forward, and he’s already at $46.8 million in 2023.

The Chiefs will have to decide if they want to start kicking the can down the road with Mahomes’ contract. They can push money into the future, but the bill will eventually come due. Unless the Chiefs keep moving Mahomes’ contract around with restructures, he’ll be a perennial name on the list of the NFL’s largest cap hits. Over the next nine seasons, his cap number is never projected to be lower than $41.95 million.

1) Ryan Tannehill, TEN | $38.6 million

No, you’re not reading this wrong — Ryan Tannehill is currently set to have the biggest 2022 cap number in the NFL. Of the $38.6 million, $9.6 million is prorated bonus money, with the remaining $29 million being base salary. The Titans do have the option to restructure his deal.

Yet, any restructure they do will make it more difficult to move on from Tannehill next season. It will also make the dead money less manageable when his contract voids in 2024. Therefore, we may see the Titans ride this out with a view to re-evaluating his deal next offseason.

Ben Rolfe is a Senior Managing Editor at Pro Football Network and is also a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA). You can find him on Twitter @BenRolfePFN


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