As the 2023 NFL offseason progresses, who are the highest-paid players for the upcoming campaign? While there are several ways to evaluate contracts, the most important for teams is the amount of cap space an individual player will take up.
Therefore, let’s examine the highest-paid NFL players for 2023 in terms of their salary cap charge. At the bottom of the article, we will list the top 10 players in cash earned for the 2023 season.
Top 10 Highest-Paid NFL Players in 2023 | By Salary Cap Charge
Several players included here at the beginning of the offseason — Deshaun Watson, Dak Prescott, Josh Allen, Kirk Cousins, Laremy Tunsil, and Matt Ryan — had scheduled cap charges north of $35 million in 2023. But restructures, extensions, and releases have changed the makeup of the NFL’s top 10 cap figures.
10) Chris Jones, DT, Kansas City Chiefs | $28.292 million
Chris Jones may not be on this list for much longer. If the Chiefs can work out an extension with Jones as he enters the final year of his contract, they’d be able to reduce his cap by giving him a signing bonus that can prorate over the life of the deal.
But as it stands, Jones is set to collect a $19.5 million base salary and a $500,000 workout bonus. He also has $7 million in cap charges due to a previous restructure, while $1.25 million worth of incentives will be labeled “likely to be earned” and count on Kansas City’s cap after Jones hit the 10-sack threshold in 2022.
9) Jake Matthews, OT, Atlanta Falcons | $28.359 million
The longest-tenured player on the Falcons’ roster, Jake Matthews will also have the club’s largest cap hit in 2023. Matthews is the most recent member of our list to sign an extension, as he inked a three-year, $52.5 million deal in March 2022 that will keep him under contract in Atlanta through 2026.
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Matthews, the fifth-highest-paid left tackle on an annual basis, will earn a $12.56 million base salary next season, while the rest of his cap charge is comprised of signing, roster, option, and restructure bonus money. His 2024 salary became fully guaranteed in March, and the Falcons can’t realistically exit this deal until the 2025 offseason.
8) Myles Garrett, EDGE, Cleveland Browns | $29.176 million
Although Myles Garrett signed his five-year, $125 million extension with the Browns nearly three years ago, Cleveland has shown restraint by not restructuring his deal. Garrett will have an average cap charge of $29.3 million over the next four seasons, so it might get more difficult for the Browns to hold off.
However, as long as the salary cap keeps increasing, Garrett’s cap hits will look more and more manageable. In 2023, he’ll collect a $17.25 million base salary, while he’ll have nearly $12 million in prorated signing and option bonus money on the books.
7) T.J. Watt, EDGE, Pittsburgh Steelers | $29.369 million
Another AFC North pass rusher comes in at seventh on our list. T.J. Watt is the highest-paid rusher in the NFL and the second-highest-paid defensive player behind the Rams’ Aaron Donald. Watt received $80 million in fully guaranteed money when he inked a four-year, $112 million extension with the Steelers in 2021.
Pittsburgh converted $9 million of Watt’s 2022 base salary last September, and it’s possible they’ll use another cost-cutting move before next season begins. Watt has a $20 million base salary in 2023 (third-highest in the league), so there’s plenty of room for the Steelers to work with.
6) DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Arizona Cardinals | $30.75 million
Although DeAndre Hopkins was on the trade block heading into the draft, the Cardinals now envision the veteran wide receiver staying in Arizona. If that’s the case, Hopkins will present an interesting contract scenario for first-year general manager Monti Ossenfort.
Hopkins won’t be open to a pay cut, so the only way for the Cardinals to reduce his cap charge is to push money into the future via a restructure. But assuming Hopkins won’t be a long-term piece in the desert, Arizona probably won’t want to increase his cap charges in future seasons. They may just have to ride out the 2023 campaign and hope Hopkins can be moved at the trade deadline.
5) Jared Goff, QB, Detroit Lions | $30.975 million
The Lions had the opportunity to select Jared Goff’s successor in the 2023 NFL Draft, but Goff might stick around for a few more years after Detroit waited until Round 3 to take Tennessee’s Hendon Hooker. Lions general manager Brad Holmes said in early May that the club has had “internal dialogue” about extending Goff, who is currently signed through 2024.
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Detroit only absorbed Goff’s base salaries and roster bonuses when they acquired from him the Rams in 2021, but they immediately converted $20 million of his 2021 salary into a singing bonus and prorated it over the life of the contract. As such, his cap charge was around $31 million in 2022 and will remain there through 2023 and 2024, barring a new deal or further restructures.
4) Leonard Williams, DT, New York Giants | $32.26 million
The Giants restructured Leonard Williams’ contract last offseason, which only served to increase his 2023 cap charge. No other NFL interior defensive lineman has a cap hit north of $30 million next year.
At the NFL Combine, New York general manager Joe Schoen said he planned to speak with Williams’ team about lowering his cap figure for the upcoming season. Big Blue could give Williams an extension, but they could also restructure his deal again. Williams has a void year in 2024, so the Giants would be able to move money into that season.
3) Tom Brady, QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers | $35.104 million (dead money)
Tom Brady won’t play for or earn any money from the Buccaneers in 2023, but his dead money charge is the third-highest cap hit in the league. Tampa Bay consistently added void years to the end of Brady’s deal. When he retired, all of that money immediately accelerated onto the team’s salary cap.
The Bucs could have worked with Brady to spread that money out over the next two years, but they’re planning to absorb the entire total next season. That might be the most significant indication that Tampa Bay plans to use the 2023 campaign as a rebuilding year.
2) Ryan Tannehill, QB, Tennessee Titans | $36.6 million
Ryan Tannehill is entering the final year of his contract, and the Titans didn’t necessarily have enough success in 2022 to retain a 34-year-old quarterback with the second-highest cap charge in the NFL.
Still, first-year Tennessee general manager Ran Carthon said at the Combine that Tannehill “will be a Titan,” and the club has indicated Tannehill will be their starting quarterback even after they drafted Kentucky’s Will Levis in the second round.
If Tennessee has a change of heart and cuts Tannehill, it would have to absorb $18.8 million in dead money while creating $17.8 million in cap space. The Titans won’t be able to use any post-June 1 maneuvers to reduce Tannehill’s cap figure because he’s entering the final season of his deal.
Who Is the Highest-Paid NFL Player in 2023?
Patrick Mahomes, QB, Kansas City Chiefs | $39.693 million
Once the highest-paid player in the NFL in average annual value, Patrick Mahomes sits at No. 1 among NFL cap hits for 2023. His $39.693 million number is primarily made up of a $22.4 million roster bonus that would have been even more costly had the Chiefs not already reworked Mahomes’ deal this offseason.
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Kansas City converted $12 million of that roster bonus into a signing bonus, clearing $9.6 from their salary cap. The Chiefs showed restraint by not converting the entirety of Mahomes’ roster bonus, which would have created space in the short term but added money over the next five seasons.
The Chiefs will have to decide how much 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 Kansas City keeps moving Mahomes’ contract around with restructures, he’ll be a perennial name on the list of the NFL’s largest cap hits. From 2024-2031, his cap number is never projected to be lower than $41.95 million.
Top 10 Highest-Paid NFL Players in 2023 | By Cash Earned
10) Dak Prescott, QB, Dallas Cowboys | $31 million
9) Daron Payne, DT, Washington Commanders | $31.01 million
8) Laremy Tunsil, OT, Houston Texans | $32.4 million
7) Orlando Brown Jr., OT, Cincinnati Bengals | $33.723 million
6) Chris Lindstrom, G, Atlanta Falcons | $35.702 million
5) Kyler Murray, QB, Arizona Cardinals | $39 million
4) Patrick Mahomes, QB, Kansas City Chiefs | $40.45 million
T-2) Deshaun Watson, QB, Cleveland Browns | $46 million
T-2) Daniel Jones, QB, New York Giants | $46 million
1) Lamar Jackson, QB, Baltimore Ravens | $80 million