The Highest Paid Athletes In The NFL

The following article references sexual assault allegations. 

Say what you want about other major league sports, but the NFL is a ratings and revenue juggernaut. During the 2020 season, the league’s 32 teams split a record $9.5 billion in revenue from their lucrative television deals (per Sportico). Even in a down year in attendance due to COVID-19, the Sports Business Journal reported the NFL raked in a whopping $12 billion. We wouldn’t turn up a nose at that.

However, while the NFL and team owners are making money hand over fist, the guys who play on the field are hampered by a hard salary cap. Designed to encourage parity in the league, teams have a set amount they can spend each year on their 53-man rosters and they aren’t allowed to go over that. In 2021, that number was $182.5 million. And since player’s contracts aren’t fully guaranteed, players can become a “cap casualty” when a team decides their production no longer matches what they’re being paid.

While in the middle of negotiations with then-quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts, Andrew Luck, team general manager Jim Irsay told WISH-TV in 2016 that Luck’s new contract would be a “shocking number” (via NFL). When the deal was signed, Luck became the NFL’s highest paid player in history with a six-year, $140 million extension that included $47 million in guaranteed money and a $23.3 million annual salary. Flash forward a mere five years to 2021 and those numbers seem quaint. Here are the highest paid athletes in the NFL in 2021.

Joey Bosa is the currently the highest-paid defensive player in the NFL

A star defensive end out of Ohio State, Joey Bosa was the first defensive player taken in the 2016 NFL Draft. During his first four seasons with the Los Angeles Chargers, Bosa more than lived up to the hype recording 40 sacks, 5 forced fumbles, and 201 combined tackles. In short, Bosa was a monster on the field. For his efforts, the Chargers signed their star defensive lineman to a massive five-year, $135 million extension with yearly average of $27 million, making him the highest-paid defensive player in the NFL.

According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Bosa received “$78M fully guaranteed at signing and $102M guaranteed – a new NFL defensive record” (via Twitter). In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Bosa joked that there was “a lot of screaming” after he inked the deal, but the young defensive stalwart wasn’t going to settle. “They know that I know what I bring to the team,” he said. “I know my own value…I certainly didn’t want to go anywhere else.”

However, a string of injuries (including two concussions), took a toll on Bosa’s mental health. As part of the NFL’s Mental Awareness Month video series, Bosa opened up about his battle with depression. “I was in a negative place,” he said. “I was snapping too quick on people.” He shared that he now sees a therapist once a week and meditates twice a day. “It helps you be a better person,” he explained.

Matt Stafford took his record-breaking deal to Hollywood

In the 2009 NFL Draft, the Detroit Lions made quarterback Matthew Stafford the #1 overall pick with the expectation that he would bring glory to the historically downtrodden franchise. Despite putting up mind-blowing statistics (including his 5,038 yards/41 touchdown season in 2011), the Lions made the playoffs once during Stafford’s tenure. However, you can’t pick franchise quarterbacks off trees, so in 2017 the team gave him a then-record five-year contract extension worth $135 million with $27 million hitting his bank account annually.

Over the next four seasons, the Lions went 9-7, 6-10, 3-12, and 5-11. Yikes. The trade rumors started after that abysmal stretch and were exacerbated when Stafford put his $6.5 million mansion up for sale, according to Detroit Free Press. It turns out the rumors were true. Prior to the 2021 season Stafford was traded to the Los Angeles Rams “in exchange for the Rams’ first-round draft picks in 2022 and 2023, a third-round pick in 2021, and quarterback Jared Goff,” CBS Sports reported.

Stafford didn’t waste any time making himself feel at home in the Golden State by dropping a whopping $19.6 million for a spec mansion in the celeb-populated and gated Hidden Hills, California. According to The Dirt, the mansion is still under construction but renderings show Stafford’s new home on a two-acre lots is “approximately 15,000 square feet” and includes “two temperature-controlled wine cellars.” His neighbors? Several members of the Kardashian family. The Georgia boy has gone Hollywood.

DeAndre Hopkins is the highest-paid player who isn't a QB

After an illustrious college career at Clemson, wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins was selected with the 27th pick by the Houston Texans in the 2013 NFL Draft. Talk about a steal. All Hopkins did during his eight years in Houston was haul in 632 catches for 8,602 yards and 54 touchdowns. Instead of giving him a contract extension, the Texans traded him and a fourth-round pick to the Arizona Cardinals for a backup running back, a second-round pick in 2020 and a fourth-round pick in 2021. Yahoo! Sports called it “the worst trade of all time.”

After a single season in Arizona, the Cardinals awarded Hopkins with a whopping two-year, $54.5 million extension, with the $27.25 million per year making him the highest-paid player in the NFL who doesn’t play quarterback. Once that hit the bank account, Hopkins made Arizona his home by throwing down $5.1 million for a sleek 12,000 square feet desert mansion that boasts six bedrooms and an eight-car garage, according to Fan Sided.

In May 2021, TMZ reported Hopkins will be branching out from football and launching his own cereal brand “DeAndre’s HOP BOX.” A portion of the “Honey Nut Cheerios style” cereal will go towards the S.M.O.O.O.T.H. Foundation, a charity set up by Hopkins and his mother to help survivors of domestic violence. Tasty and for a good cause? Sign us up.

Jimmy Garoppolo cashed in on untapped potential

After his college career ended with the Eastern Illinois Panthers, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo was taken in the second round of the 2014 NFL Draft by the New England Patriots. With Tom Brady on the team, Garoppolo started only two games during his three seasons with the team before being traded to the San Francisco 49ers after the 2017 season had already begun. Garoppolo’s new team believed in him so much that they signed him to a massive five-year, $137.5 million extension with a then-record $27.5 million annual salary.

2018 was supposed to be Garoppolo’s time to shine, but he tore his ACL three weeks into the season and didn’t play for the rest of the year. He bounced back in a big way in 2019 by leading the team to Super Bowl LIV, where they were ultimately defeated by the Kansas City Chiefs despite leading by 10 points in the fourth quarter. Instead of building on that success, Garoppolo started only six games during the 2020 due to injuries and poor play. 

During the 2021 NFL Draft, the 49ers shocked the sports world by trading up to select quarterback Trey Lance, making fans and sports personalities alike question Garoppolo’s future with the team. Whatever happens, he told CNBC Make It that he’ll follow the valuable lesson taught to him by his retired electrician father: “Save your money. Don’t be foolish with it.” Garoppolo added, “I’m a spender, but I’d say for the most part I’m a saver.”

Ryan Tannehill went from bust to boom

Six seasons after Ryan Tannehill was selected 8th overall in the 2012 NFL Draft by the Miami Dolphins, the former Texas A&M quarterback’s unremarkable time in the league had many believing he, as the Wall Street Journal put it, “was on the scrapheap” and would never lead a franchise to glory. The Dolphins felt the same and prior to the 2019 season, the team traded him to the Tennessee Titans in exchange for two low-round picks. Ouch. 

A change of scenery was all it took, and Tannehill was reborn, leading the Titans to the AFC Championship game and earning the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year. What a story. Tannehill’s showing in 2019 was enough for the Titans to realize they had their quarterback of the future, so they signed him to a whopping four-year, $118 million extension in the offseason. ESPN’s Jeff Darlington tweeted out the details of the contract, writing, “$118m total $29.5m average per year $62m full guarantee $91m total guarantee BIG deal for Tannehill!”

Not everything has been roses with the Tennessee Titans, however. During the initial stages of the COVID-19 outbreak, the virus spread quickly through the team, and as the Tennessean reported, the NFL rescheduled a slate of games and hit the team with a $350,000 fine for not following protocols. “Yeah, we were under a lot of heat.” Tannehill told ProFootballTalk. “But we stuck together, believed in each other and knew that the guys in our building on our team were all we needed.”

Matt Ryan was the NFL's first $30 million a year man

Since being drafted with the third overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft by the Atlanta Falcons, quarterback Matt Ryan has done nothing but become the franchise’s all-time passing leader. It’s safe to say that draft pick worked out for the Falcons. “There’s only one player in NFL history who has thrown for 55,000 yards and 300 touchdowns in their first 13 seasons in the NFL. That player? Matt Ryan,” the team’s official Twitter account boasted about their former NFL MVP.

During Ryan’s tenure with the Falcons, he’s led them to six playoff appearances, including a brutal loss to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LI that NFL called a “historic collapse.” But two years after that humiliating defeat, the Falcons gave Ryan a historic five-year, $150 million contract extension, making him the first player in NFL history to average more than $30 million per year, according to NFL.

Atlanta is definitely Ryan’s home for the foreseeable future. As Buckhead reported in 2017, he dropped $4.5 million for a home in the ultra-exclusive Tuxedo Park neighborhood in the uptown Atlanta district of Buckhead. He also donated $500,000 to a GoFund Me that he created to help the Black community in the wake of the killings of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery. “For far too long, I have reacted to social injustice with empathy and silent support but failed to follow through with active support,” he told ESPN.

Carson Wentz is hoping for a fresh start

One year after being selected by the Philadelphia Eagles with the second overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, quarterback Carson Wentz helped lead the team to a 11-2 record before tearing his ACL. Wentz watched from the sidelines as his team defeated the highly-favored New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII. Seeing what the young signal caller could mean to the future of their franchise, the Eagles signed Wentz to four-year, “$128 million, and up to $144 million, with $66 million fully guaranteed at signing and $107.9 million in guarantees,” with an average annual salary of $32 million in 2019, according to NFL.

Unfortunately, that investment didn’t pay off. Wentz never captured the magic of his remarkable 2017 season and was traded to the Indianapolis Colts for two draft picks in 2021. The move reunited Wentz with his coach from his glory days in Philadelphia, Frank Reich, who pushed back on the suggestion that Wentz is “broken” beyond repair. “I just cringe when I hear stuff like that, not that a player shouldn’t be accountable for poor play on the field,” Reich said at a press conference (via NFL).

After the trade, NJ.com reported Wentz put his 7,400 square-foot, five-bedroom house in New Jersey up for sale for a cool $1.7 million. His former teammates might miss him, however. According to ESPN, Wentz bought his entire offensive line Beretta shotguns with their number engraved on the butt in 2016. Sometimes your protection needs protection, right?

Kirk Cousins and his money aren't soon to part ways

If there is anyone who has gotten maximum value from this time in the NFL it is Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins. After playing on the franchise tag for two consecutive seasons with Washington Football Team that earned him a eye-popping $43.8 million, Cousins signed what NFL called a “record-setting, paradigm-shifting, tradition-exploding contract” in 2018: a fully guaranteed three-year, $84 million deal with the Vikings in 2018. It was the largest contract in NFL history at the time.

However, despite making over $140 million during his nine-year NFL career, Cousins remains frugal with his money. During a 2017 profile in GQ, Cousins revealed his car collection: his grandmother’s old 2000 GMC Savana conversion van and a 2006 Mercedes S65 AMG that he purchased in 2016. “I always wanted a fast car, a nice car,” Cousins said. “I couldn’t justify the hundred-thousand-dollar car.”

In 2016 the Wall Street Journal reported that Cousins shared an apartment with a Washington teammate for three years and the former Michigan State star explained his frugality. “You don’t know how long you’re going to play, you’ve got to save every dollar even though you are making a good salary,” he said. “You never know what’s going to happen so I try to put as much money away as I can.” So will Cousins ever buy a new car? “Maybe I can get something a little less old,” Cousins said. “We’ll see.”

Jared Goff brings his massive contract to Detroit

Selected with the first overall pick by the Los Angeles Rams in the 2016 NFL Draft, Jared Goff was expected to lead the franchise to glory. After a brutal rookie season where he lost every game he started, the Rams decided on a regime change and made young offensive hot shot Sean McVay as head coach and Goff’s potential was untapped. A year later he led the team to a 13-3 record and a trip to Super Bowl LIII where faced, and lost, to Tom Brady and the mighty New England Patriots.

Two years in the league and already one Super Bowl appearance? The Rams had no choice but to sign the former Cal star to a four-year, $134 million extension in 2019 with $110 million in guaranteed money that surpassed the amount given to Carson Wentz, the quarterback who was selected one spot below him in the draft. There’s a joke that NFL stands for “not for long,” and Goff found that out the hard way. Two years after signing that massive contract, Goff was traded to the Detroit Lions in exchange for Matthew Stafford and three high draft picks.

A year before the trade, Goff dropped $5.8 million for a four-bedroom in Hermosa Beach, according to Variety. We expect that to be on the market soon. Goff also launched his own clothing line called “JG16” in 2019. Maybe Goff can add entrepreneur to his resume after all is said and done.

Aaron Rodgers' historic career secured him historic money

When you think Green Bay Packers, you think Aaron Rodgers. Drafted by the team with the 24th pick in the 2005 NFL Draft, Rodgers is already an NFL legend and considered one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time. So after two MVP seasons and a Super Bowl victory, Rodgers cashed in with his fourth contract with the team. On August 18, 2018, Rodgers signed a four-year, $134 million extension with a record $57.5 million signing bonus and average annual salary of $33.5 million.

Rodgers isn’t shy about spending his money, and sometimes that means branching out to other sports. In 2018, Rodgers announced he scooped up a minority stake in the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks (via CBS Sports). According to Sportscasting, Rodgers spent $5 million for a 1% stake. And as Variety noted in 2019, he purchased a $28 million Malibu villa with his former girlfriend Danica Patrick from British singer Robbie Williams.

The 2020 NFL’s MVP has played for the Packers his entire career and fans believed he would retire as a Packer. That may not happen, because on April, 29, 2021, a bombshell dropped on the NFL world: Sources told ESPN that Rodgers wants out of Green Bay due to his dissatisfaction with the front office. Rodgers hasn’t spoken publicly about his rift with the team at the time of this writing. He’s been too busy hosting “Jeopardy!” and getting engaged to actress Shailene Woodley. Live your best life, A-Rodg.

Russell Wilson was the NFL's highest-paid player in 2019

The NFL draft is a crap shoot and no team rolled the dice better than the Seattle Seahawks when they selected quarterback Russell Wilson in the third round (75th overall) in 2012. During his time in Seattle, Wilson has been named to eight Pro Bowls, played in two Super Bowls (winning one), and currently holds the record for most wins by a quarterback through his first nine seasons. That is absolutely nailing a draft pick, folks.

His success paid off in 2019 when he signed a four-year, $140 million, $107 million guaranteed contract with his $35 million annual salary making him the highest-paid player in NFL history at the time (per NFL). “When I first got drafted in 2012, I wanted to be here forever. This helps solidify that. I’ve got many more years to go and a lot more winning to do—we’ve got more Super Bowls to win. I’m excited about that,” Wilson said via the team website.

TMZ reported Wilson bought a $6.7 million mansion with, as TMZ put it, “killer views” in 2015. A few years later, TMZ revealed he bought $12,000 in Amazon stock for his entire offensive line. “Every Sunday we go to battle together,” Wilson wrote in a letter to his lineman obtained by the site. “You sacrifice your physical and mental well-being to protect me.” He added, “You have invested in my life … this is my investment into yours.”

Deshaun Watson's mega deal might vanish due to civil lawsuits

After a spectacular career at Clemson, quarterback Deshaun Watson was drafted by the Houston Texans with the 12th overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. Once entering the league, Watson was so spectacular that the team gave him a contract extension a year before his rookie contract was set to expire. And that contract extension? Whoa. According to NFL, it was for four years, $160 million, $111 million in guaranteed money, and an annual salary of $35 million.

The Texans thought they had their franchise quarterback for the next decade or more, but almost six months after Watson signed the extension the 25-year old gunslinger demanded a trade from the team, with NFL writing ” he has no interest in continuing to play for an organization. The Houston Chronicle reported multiple teams were lining up to take Watson off the Texans’ hands no matter the price, but his stock crashed almost immediately. Why? By the end of March 2021, Watson was hit with over 16 civil lawsuits from message therapists from around the country alleging everything from inappropriate sexual behavior to sexual assault. 

At the time of this writing, 22 women have come forward and Watson and his legal team are reportedly now in settlement negotiations with all of the alleged victims (per ProFootballTalk). After signing his contract, The Robb Report reported Watson bought fifteen $13,600 Hublot watches for a few of his teammates and coaches, but we assume legal fees and settlements will demand a huge chunk of his NFL earnings.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN’s National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

Dak Prescott went from fourth round pick to making history

It’s hard to imagine a better come up than Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott. A largely unheralded prospect coming out of Mississippi State, Prescott was selected in the fourth round (135th overall) of the 2016 NFL Draft to be a backup to long-term starter Tony Romo. Well, Romo got injured during Prescott’s rookie year, and once the year was over, Prescott was the Offensive Rookie of the Year, a Pro Bowler, and the entrenched future of the franchise.

After playing on the franchise tag during the 2020 where he earned $34.1 million in guaranteed money, the Dallas Cowboys made the relationship permanent: On March 8, 2021, the team signed Prescott to a four-year, $160 million extension with including $126 million guaranteed. And his $66 million signing bonus? The largest in recorded NFL history, according to ESPN. At the time of this writing, Prescott’s $40 million annual salary ranks second in the NFL.

Prescott put those millions to work almost immediately. Two months after signing his contract, Prescott bought a 20% stake in the sports-themed restaurant franchise, Walk-On’s. “I grew up going to some Walk-On’s,” Prescott told CNBC. “We had a Walk-On right there in Bossier City. On the bathroom, when you walk in, my high school picture is probably still there.” He also purchased a 9,000-square foot, $3.3 million mansion located in Proper, Texas in 2019 (per 247Sports). All he needs now is a Super Bowl win. 

Patrick Mahomes is the NFL's richest man

When quarterback Patrick Mahomes was drafted 10th overall by the Kansas City Chiefs in the 2017 NFL Draft, the NFL had no idea what was about to be unleashed upon them. They found out quick. In his first full year as a starter in 2018, Mahomes was named the NFL’s MVP by absolutely torching defenses to the tune of 5,097 yards and 50 touchdowns. The year after that? Oh, nothing major. He just led the Chiefs to their first Super Bowl win in fifty years on his way to being named Super Bowl LIV MVP.

And with that, the Chiefs threw his rookie contract in the shredder and signed him to the richest deal in the history of the league on July 6, 2020. The numbers are mind-boggling: Ten years. $503 million. $477 million in guaranteed money. A $63 million signing bonus. $45 million in annual salary. Not only did Mahomes sign the largest NFL contract in history, he became the first player in any sport to sign a half-billion contract.

Barely a month after signing the deal, the Kansas City Royals announced Mahomes bought an ownership stake in the team. He also happens to have quite the nice home. In 2020, he told CNBC Make It that he and Brittany Matthews have made a lot of changes to the abode — a 4,343 square foot house that cost $1.9 million — such as creating a room for all 180 pairs of sneakers in his collection.

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