It is widely accepted, as well as highly inarguable, that the starting quarterback is the most important player on any given football team. Games are won with points, points are accumulated with touchdowns and touchdowns are often products of precision passing. Since pass completion is essential to victory, it is understandable to see why every team desires an outstanding quarterback. A quarterback leads the offensive line on every play that he participates in; however, this gargantuan amount of responsibility does not come without a hefty monetary compensation during each season in the National Football League.
Starting quarterbacks are on average the highest paid athletes on any NFL team, some making up just over 20% of their team’s salary cap. This goes to show every team’s willingness to provide the proper incentive and investment into the right individual to lead the way to victory, down after down and season after season.
Every quarterback looks to maximize their earnings when it comes time to sign contracts before the preseason begins. Many of the greatest quarterbacks have even managed to accumulate total salary figures well beyond the $100 million mark in their active careers. Some would even suggest that a quarterback is a clear representation of “The American Dream” and it doesn’t get any more American then the National Football League.
So with all these lumps of cash being distributed season after season, which quarterback has collected the most wealth? Well let us now find out. Here is a look into the Top 15 Highest Earning NFL Quarterbacks of All Time, a list recognizing some of the greatest quarterbacks to ever grace the gridiron with their talents, and be handsomely rewarded for such services to their teams.
Due to money not always being disclosed for endorsement deals and other side revenue players have, we'll be sticking with the highest earners based on what they made from actually playing the position.
15 Mathew Stafford
Starting the list off at number 15 is none other than Mathew Stafford of the Detroit Lions. After being drafted by Detroit in 2009 as the first overall pick in the first round, Stafford is serving his seventh consecutive season with the team. To this date he has earned $93.8 million. He is expected to make another $33.5 million over the next two years with the Lions. Due to no rookie wage scales being in place when he was drafted, Stafford received $41.7 million in guaranteed money. At the age of 27, the future looks rich for the young, but veteran quarterback.
14 Jay Cutler
Quarterback of the Chicago Bears, Jay Cutler, takes the number 14 position on the list. To this date, Cutler has earned $96.2 million as an NFL quarterback. He has generated $38 million combining just this season with the previous season’s earnings. Cutler’s contract with the Bears sees him playing with the team up until 2020, where it looks as if he may potentially come close to doubling his current to-date earnings in the sport.
13 Donovan McNabb
Philadelphia Eagles legend Donovan McNabb nabs the 13th spot of the list. After being the first round, second overall pick for the Eagles in the 1999 draft, McNabb contributed his efforts to the team for eleven consecutive seasons. In those 11 seasons he was able to earn over $76 million. Combined with his last two seasons, 2010 with the Washington Redskins, and concluding his career in 2011 with the Minnesota Vikings, he produced total career earnings of $97.5 million.
Although he is no longer active, McNabb has chiseled his name beside some of the richest quarterbacks to ever play the game.
12 Aaron Rodgers
For the number 12 spot we look to the Green Bay Packers and their long-term serving quarterback, Aaron Rodgers. At 32 years of age, Rodgers has 11 years experience as an NFL quarterback, and all 11 years have been dedicated to the current team he leads. He is the first athlete on this list to pass the $100 million mark, and coincidentally, he has accomplished this, at the start of this past season in 2015. His accumulated earnings sum up to $111.2 million. In 2013, Rodgers received his biggest single-season payday of $38.25 million. Not bad for a one season’s work. Rogers is expected to play for the Packers until (at least) 2019, where his potential career earnings look to reach just short of $180 million.
11 Matt Ryan
Atlanta Falcons quarterback, Matt Ryan, swoops in to take the 11th spot on the list. In 2008, Ryan was drafted by the Falcons as a first round, third overall pick and he has been with the team ever since. His seasons from 2009-2015 have seen him steadily earning in the eight-figure ballpark, and with his 2008 season he has a combined total earnings of $117.95 million. His next two seasons are signed to his current team, again landing eight-figure paydays each year. In 2019 Matt Ryan will be an unrestricted free agent, where he will continue to look to expand his wealth.
10 Tony Romo
Sitting at the peak of the top 10 on this list is Dallas Cowboy veteran, Tony Romo. The 2015 season marked Romo’s 13th consecutive season with the team. His current total earnings add up to $118.9 million, with the biggest single-season earning coming from his 2013 year where he earned $26.5 million. Despite being a highly praised veteran, Romo has never won a championship ring. On the bright side, he has accumulated a large amount of cash.
9 Michael Vick
In at number nine is Michael Vick. Vick has played for a cross-section of teams in the NFL, including the Atlanta Falcons, Philadelphia Eagles, and New York Jets, but he currently resides with the Pittsburgh Steelers. His total career earnings sum up to $121,211,000. One key consideration to note when reviewing Vick’s total earnings is that he missed two seasons (2007 and 2008) due to his dog-fighting conviction. Because of this, he was not only unable to generate any earnings those years, but also the bad animosity regarding his conviction lowered his earnings in the subsequent years to follow. His convictions also resulted in Vick going into debt, which he just recently paid off.
However, regardless of this, he has still earned an outstanding amount of money in his career.
8 Brett Favre
Retired legend Brett Favre claims the eighth spot on the list. Having dedicated twenty years of his life to the NFL, Favre is remembered most for his time spent in Green Bay. With the Packers alone, he acquired $97,119,000. Combined with his time spent with the Falcons, Jets and Vikings, the sum comes to a total of $137,829,000. His second largest single-season earning was in 1997, where he pocketed $13.6 million. This was also the year that Favre led the Packers to winning their first Super Bowl championship.
7 Carson Palmer
Number seven belongs to the first round, first overall pick of 2003, Carson Palmer. Palmer is currently serving his third consecutive season with the Arizona Cardinals, coming from a two-year service with the Oakland Raiders and eight consecutive years with the Cincinnati Bengals before that. $138.1 million is his current total earnings, with 2014 being his highest single-season earning of $19 million. Palmer will be with the Cardinals until 2018, when he becomes an unrestricted free agent. His earnings during those years potentially look at around $29 million.
6 Ben Roethlisberger
Ben Roethlisberger asserts himself at the number six position of the list. The two-time Super Bowl champ serves as the quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers and has done so since being drafted by the team back in 2004. At this moment, he is participating in his 12th consecutive season. Roethlisberger has acquired the nickname “Big Ben” and it seems well suited not just because of his large physical size, but also because of his large earnings over the year. Currently, his total earnings to date stand at $140.5 million. In 2020, he will become an unrestricted free agent, but in the years prior to that, Roethlisberger is looking to potentially earn an additional $63.75 million.
5 Drew Brees
The NFL’s fifth richest quarterback of all time has the name of Drew Brees. After being drafted in 2001 Brees spent five consecutive seasons with the San Diego Chargers until signing with his current team, the New Orleans Saints. During his professional career to date, he has accumulated just over $150 million, $150,455,000 to be exact. In the 2015 season, Brees has the highest salary cap hit in the NFL at $23.8 million, which will further increase to $30 million next season. He has one season left on his contract with the Saints and will make $20 million.
4 Philip Rivers
At number four we have long-term serving, San Diego Charger Phillip Rivers. At age thirty-four and well seasoned with twelve seasons of NFL football under his belt, Rivers has become a fundamental name in football today. His lack of Super Bowl championship rings is made up for with the dollars he has earned throughout his career, which some would perhaps suggest isn’t such a bad consolation. In his 12 years, including this past season, he has acquired $151.9 million. This season he set his highest single-season earning to a new high; a high to the ring of $32 million. His next four years with the Chargers are promised with about $67 million.
3 Tom Brady
Considered by many to be the best quarterback of his era, and rightfully so as his Super Bowl rings count up to four, the third richest NFL quarterback of all time is none other than Tom Brady. Brady has committed his entire professional career to the New England Patriots and he has been monetarily rewarded accordingly. Receiving a sum of $162.7 million to this date is quite the remarkable accomplishment for any NFL player. However, what is most remarkable about this dollar figure is that it includes many voluntary pay cuts by the champ himself. This selfless behavior comes from wanting to be able to work with the best possible team. Brady just served his first year on a three-year contract extension with the Pats. A cap hit of $15 million for a player like Brady is a remarkable bargain. It is a very humble paycheck for one of the greatest to do it.
2 Eli Manning
Twelve seasons. $187,770,000. $37 million earned this year alone. This tremendous amount of money has made Eli Manning the second highest earning NFL quarterback of all time, and with such a handsome amount, second place probably doesn’t seem so bad. Drafted as the number one overall pick in the first round of the 2004 NFL draft, Manning aspired high hopes for the New York Giants, and delivered champion worthy performances in both 2008 and 2012; in both years he defeated Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.
Manning has four more years left on his contract with the Giants and over that span he is assured to bump up his career earnings to just over $252 million. Hitting a quarter of a billion dollars will surely keep Manning at the top of the richest NFL quarterbacks list in the following years to come and after his retirement.
1 Peyton Manning
The richest NFL quarterback of all time is Peyton Manning. Of course, who else could it have been? For any real football enthusiast, it really wasn’t a secret or even a surprise for that matter. Manning’s staggering total career earnings to date reach the sum of $246,732,000. His highest single-season earning was a whopping $35 million in 2004, around the middle of his 14-year stretch with the Indianapolis Colts. Manning has one final year left in his contract that will add an additional $19 million to his earnings. After winning Super Bowl 50, this might be where Manning's football revenue ends, but his endorsement deals will carry him for life.
Taking the top of the list by a landslide, Manning is surely to remain at the top for years to follow. If anyone is going to surpass him, it is likely to be younger brother Eli Manning, who sits just one spot behind his big brother.