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As things stand, 2 positions make the most money each year in the NFL. The first one is the quarterback and the second one is the position that is the quarterback’s biggest nightmare – the pass rusher.
However, every player in the top eleven when it comes to the highest paid NFL players is a quarterback. We wouldn’t expect it to be any other way because of how much the offensive side of the game has been favored due to the rule changes over the past few years.
The highest paid NFL players – Our list of the Top 9
Fans want to see more scoring, more breathtaking passes and this has allowed quarterbacks to really shine. All of that has reflected their pay and we will now see which players have benefitted the most from the salary cap increase that happens practically every season.
This is a list of NFL players by average annual salary. Here are the top 9 highest paid NFL players:
1. Patrick Mahomes – QB (Kansas City Chiefs)
Mahomes is perhaps the most talented quarterback we have seen step on the field in maybe ever. Aaron Rodgers is a close second but the natural ability that Mahomes has together with his cannon of an arm just puts him in a category of his own.
The Chiefs seem to share this belief as they signed him to a never seen before $503 million-dollar 10-year deal. While in reality, the contract is not as ridiculous as it first seems because of all the conditions and unguaranteed money, it is still something that the NFL hasn’t experienced yet.
Mahomes will average $45,000,000 per year and will receive 22,806,000 for the 2021 season. In reality, the contract is so well structured by the Chiefs that Mahomes is set to make roughly $150,000,000 over 7 years guaranteed after all calculations and mathematics. Surely, we expect him to meet a few of the milestones in the deal and get more money but we are yet to see.
Mahomes has already appeared in 2 Super Bowls, winning 1, and has also lost once in the AFC Championship game at home versus Tom Brady and the Patriots. Interestingly enough, Mahomes’ Super Bowl loss also came against Tom Brady who is considered to be the greatest quarterback of all time still playing at the highest level at age 44.
Mahomes is surely headed in the same direction in terms of talent, but his career’s longevity is still unknown. For now, he’s atop the list of highest paid NFL players.
2. Dak Prescott – QB (Dallas Cowboys)
Being drafted in the 4th round in the 2016 Draft, Dak Prescott was never considered to be the most talented quarterback. However, his maturity and leadership skills have provided a lot of stability to the Cowboys.
Prescott took over the starting job in his rookie season after franchise quarterback Tony Romo had a vertebral injury in week 3 of the preseason. Dak never gave the job back and Tony Romo retired.
After a bumpy 2020 summer where he couldn’t reach an agreement with owner Jerry Jones and the Cowboys, Prescott was franchise tagged and actually made over $35,000,000.
The two sides have since agreed on a 4-year, $160 million deal and with the signing bonus, Dak Prescott is set to make roughly $75 million in 2021. His average annual salary with the team will be $40,000,000. This put’s him second on the list of highest paid NFL players.
Prescott’s real value came on display after his 2020 season-ending injury in week 5. That season practically ended then and there for the Cowboys as they tried playing a couple of backups which led to nothing. Jerry Jones had no option but to reward his franchise quarterback with a big contract.
3. Deshaun Watson – QB (Houston Texans)
Watson was drafted 12th overall in the 2017 NFL Draft and joined a Texans team that looked poised to make a playoff run. The team had one of the best wide receivers in the league – DeAndre Hopkins and arguably the best defender at the time – DE JJ Watt.
It was clear that the Clemson product will fit nicely in Bill O’Brien’s system and the Texans. During his first 7 games, Watson held a record of 3-4 with 1699 passing yards and 19 touchdowns. His season was cut short as Watson tore his ACL in practice on November 2nd. After that, the Texans won only one game finishing with a record of 4-12.
Watson’s value was quite obvious especially after he followed that season with a very good 2018 campaign and an even better 2019 one. His most memorable play in 2019 came against the Bills in the Wild Card round of the playoffs. In overtime and with the game hanging in the balance, Watson had the ball at the 50-yard line, took 2 huge hits by Buffalo’s pass rushers, somehow stayed on his feet, rolled right, and found an open receiver for a 40-yard gain to set up the game-winning field goal.
In 2020, after picking up his 5th-year option, the Texans rewarded their franchise quarterback with a 4-year $156 million deal which according to many was good for both sides. It gave the quarterback a chance to stay with the team long enough to try a few more playoff runs but to also allow him to continue his career elsewhere while still in his prime. For the team, that’s a $110 million guaranteed deal which in 2023 has a dead cap value of only $10,000,000. His average salary per year is $39,000,000 making him the third highest paid NFL player.
4. Russell Wilson – QB (Seattle Seahawks)
Wilson’s highest-paying years of his contract are already gone. For some time, this deal was the highest average paid contract but that was back in 2019. Russell Wilson got $107 million in guarantees and averages $35,000,000 per year. However, in 2021, he will make ‘’only’’ $19 million. The Seahawks can actually cut Wilson in 2022 but will have to eat a dead cap hit of $26,000,000 so it’s unlikely that will ever happen.
Russel Wilson is one of the most interesting quarterbacks (not only among the highest paid NFL players) to watch because he is never afraid to launch the ball downfield, but he also runs with it often. He is often criticized for the fact that he takes too many sacks. While it is true that the Seahawks’ offensive line has been fairly bad over the past few seasons, some of the sacks are attributed to the fact that Wilson holds on to the ball for too long.
The worrisome thing is that the sacks keep increasing year after year and they went all the way up to 51 in 2018. In the following two seasons, Wilson was sacked 48 and 47 times respectively. On the other hand, the last 2 seasons are the best for the quarterback when it comes to passing yards. He went over 4,000 in both his previous seasons.
However, the Seattle Seahawks are never a sure-fire playoff team and after their two consecutive Super Bowl appearances in 2013 and 2014, we are yet to see them play in the Big game.
5. Jared Goff – QB (Detroit Lions)
With his average salary of $33,500,000, Goff takes the 5th spot in our ranking of the highest paid NFL players. He was drafted 1st overall in the 2016 NFL Draft by the LA Rams. His rookie year under head coach Jeff Fischer was far from good and in 7 games he threw for only 1089 yards.
After Sean McVay took over the team during the next season, Goff threw for 28 touchdowns, and he was back in the public’s focus for all the good reasons again.
The key moment came in 2018 when the Rams made a Super Bowl appearance only to lose to the New England Patriots 13-3. Goff was in a world of trouble during that game where Bill Belichick and his defensive scheme completely shut down Goff and the Rams’ offense. Still, Goff made the Pro-Bowl that year.
The big money for Goff came before the 2019/2020 season when he signed a 4-year $132 million deal with the Rams. The $110 million in guarantees is a fairly good number for the player and he took almost half of it upfront.
In 2021, Jared Goff was traded to the Detroit Lions where it doesn’t seem he will be in a position to play in the playoffs right away. The team is in the middle of a rebuild and looks like Goff may be a temporary solution before a franchise quarterback is drafted or signed.
6. Aaron Rodgers – QB (Green Bay Packers)
Rodgers is considered by many to be one of the most if not the most talented quarterbacks to play the game of football. However, he has only one Super Bowl ring to show for all his years in the league. His record is 1-4 in NFC Championship games meaning that he has been 1 step away from making a Super Bowl 5 times losing 4. When it comes to A-rod’s legacy, however, this will forever be a stain.
Still, Rodgers is often the sole reason why the Packers win or make the playoffs in the first place. Because of that, he averages $33,500,000 per year but he has often reiterated that it’s not about the money anymore.
Rodgers and the Packers found themselves at an impasse in the summer of 2021 when contract talks were falling apart. After a contract restructures, it was agreed that the current contract will be void 7 days before the start of the 2023 season. These restructure also allowed the Packers to free up some cap space for 2021 but it will cost them a lot in 2022 when Rodgers’ cap hit will be $46.1 million. This alone goes to show you that Rodgers is among the highest paid NFL players.
We are now seeing a deal in which the two sides have agreed to one last hurrah and one last shot at winning another Super Bowl. It seems very likely that the 2021 season will be Rodger’s last in Green Bay.
7. Kirk Cousins – QB (Minnesota Vikings)
With his current contract, Cousins ranks 7th in average salary at $33,000,000 among the highest paid NFL players. The quarterback has had decent years with the Vikings when it comes to getting paid. He has now had a fully guaranteed contract twice and this second one gives him $66,000,000 over two years.
The deal is good for both sides as it allows the team to move on and seek a new quarterback in a relatively short period of time. For Cousins, it’s also good as he remains a top 10 quarterback in terms of money while playing on a team where he doesn’t have to be the superstar.
If Aaron Rodgers fails to propel the Packers to the 1st seed in the division, there’s a good chance that the Vikings will take that spot.
8. Carson Wentz – QB (Indiana Colts)
Wentz has played 16 games in only 2 of his 5 seasons in the NFL. He hopes to revitalize his career with the Colts, but injuries have been the story for him. Even with his new team, he injured his foot only on the 2nd day of training camp and this may sideline him for some good amount of time.
Wentz averages $32,000,000 per season and many argue that he is a little bit overpaid. Wentz is a classic example where money is paid for talent and not so much for achievements on the field. His career is filled with uncertainties, but we know that if he stays healthy and plays in coach Reich’s offensive system, he can do wonders. If that happens, Wents will remain among the highest paid NFL players for some time.
9. Matt Ryan – QB (Atlanta Falcons)
Matt Ryan has been rewarded handsomely for his loyalty to the Falcons over the years. He averages $30,000,000 and it is well-deserved. Yes, Atlanta blew a 28-3 lead to the Patriots in Super Bowl LI, but it remains one of the most high-powered offenses in the league.
With Julio Jones gone, Ryan’s task to keep the Falcons afloat will be challenging but rookie tight end Kyle Pitts may become the cog in Atlanta’s passing game.
Because of a previous restructure, Ryan will get a very juicy bonus of around $27,000,000 in 2021 but he may be cut in 2022 leaving behind $40 million in dead cap value. That’s not a small amount for a player ranking 9th on the highest paid NFL players list.