So often in the NFL, you hear about players getting huge contracts worth millions of dollars over x amount of years. But then the player gets released only a couple years into his deal, after seeing only a fraction of the total money promised. NFL contracts are seldom what they initially appear.
Russell Okung’s contract that got signed just a couple weeks ago is a good example of this. The original contract was reported as a 5 year deal, worth $53 million. A nice deal that looks to be paying out over 10 million a year. However, the structure of the deal allows Okung to be cut after the first year, which would net him $8 million at most.
Ranking players by how much money they’ve actually received tells a different story. It shows how much each team truly values their star players. It’s one thing for a team to sign a player to a massive contract. It’s another for the team to actually pay it. Given what we all know about contracts ( in general), that’s a statement that seems very weird but is true none-the-less.
Here’s the top 15 players who have earned more money that what you would’ve thought. When looking through the article, the place's rank for career earnings among active players is noted. All figures were taken from Spotrac.com.
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15 Alex Smith
Earned - $78,975,000
Rank - 27th
Alex Smith is almost unanimously considered to be the most average quarterback in the league. It seems somewhat strange that a player can be perfectly mediocre and cash in $79 million, more than all but a couple dozen other players.
It goes to show just how important the quarterback position really is in the NFL. Smith gets paid because he can do his job without completely ruining everything.
14 Reggie Bush
Earned - $61,696,734
Rank - 43rd
Reggie Bush was considered one of the greatest prospects to ever come out of college.
But since entering the league, he's been invisible. Some of it has been due to injury, a lot of it has been failing to come anywhere close to his expectations. When talking about NFL running backs, Bush will seldom come up. Yet, when we talk about the highest earning NFLers, his name will come up there.
While a lot of it is due to the fact that Bush was drafted before the rookie pay scale, you also have to consider that the Saints could've gotten out of his contract pretty much whenever they wanted, given that NFL contracts are basically a grade above toilet paper.
13 Matthew Stafford
Earned - $93,778,969
Rank - 19th
After being drafted in 2009, it felt like every season Matt Stafford was close to taking his game to the next level. It just didn't happen. To be fair, part of it was due to injuries and a lack of talent around him apart from Calvin Johnson, but still.
Stafford is close to hitting the 100 million mark, but at this point his career feels largely disappointing. Any player drafted 1st overall is expected to be more than just adequate at his position.
12 Jay Cutler
Earned - $96,196,087
Rank - 18th
Over the offseason last year, Jay Cutler was considered by many to be a player the Bears should look to get rid of. A decent 2015 season put some of those discussions away, but Cutler still remains a barely adequate starting quarterback. He's one bad season away from being on the chopping block.
Even still, a player like Cutler can earn more than nearly all of his peers and that's because he plays the correct position.
11 Matt Cassel
Earned - $59,639,057
Rank - 46th
Matt Cassel has made a killing as a result of a single good season. After Tom Brady went down with a season ending injury in 2008, Matt Cassel led the New England Patriots to a 11-5 record. Though, they somehow didn't manage to make the playoffs (something that would've made Cassel's resume quite a bit better and could've led to even more money).
Matt Cassel was dealt to Kansas City the following year and pretty much disappeared. Nearly $60 million is a decent haul for one good season.
10 Mark Sanchez
Earned - $69,150,832
Rank - 35th
Mark Sanchez has been a player that has had a ton of potential but has never quite lived up to it. Despite never playing better than an above average backup, he's managed to cash in on the hope that he might be able to make the leap.
Of course, this has never been the case. While there were hopes he could resurrect his career under Chip Kelly, at this point everyone has pretty much accepted that Sanchez is nothing more than a decent backup, which is likely what he will be in Denver.
9 Chris Long
Earned - $84,696,160
Rank - 24th
Chris Long is another player that's been very good, but not great throughout his career. For defensive players in particular, it's very hard to make your way up this list without being a Superstar or testing the open market.
Long hasn't done either of those, but has still managed to rake in nearly $85 million; more than all but 23 NFLers.
8 Matt Schaub
Earned - $80,805,000
Rank - 26th
Matt Schaub had several very nice seasons with the Houston Texans. Currently, however, the quarterback appears to be ending his career the same way he began it - riding the bench.
He had a few seasons where he was impressive, but his impact on the NFL never felt like anything more that a small blip. He's easy to forget.
7 Philip Rivers
Earned - $151,917,656
Rank - 3rd
When people talk about the best NFL quarterbacks, Philip Rivers is often forgotten. He's better than the "good" quarterbacks, but not as good as the elite ones. He's in a group by himself off to the side.
Rivers' ranks third, one spot a head of Drew Brees and three spots ahead of Ben Roethlisberger in terms of career earnings. He's a very good player, but doesn't feel like third-highest-earning-NFLer good.
6 Mario Williams
Earned - $111,900,000
Rank - 12th
Mario Williams is about as good as you can be without actually being a superstar; or at least he was several years ago. The top part of the career earnings list is almost exclusively a list of quarterbacks. The only non-quarterbacks are elite, blue chip players who have dominated the NFL for a very long time..... and then you have Mario Williams.
Mario Williams is a very talented player who's done a lot. But he's clearly a step below other non-quarterbacks who surround him - Joe Thomas, Darrelle Revis, and Charles Woodson for example.
5 Matt Ryan
Earned - $117,957,925
Rank - 11th
Matt Ryan is one of the most forgettable quarterbacks in the league. He's an above average player on a continuously mediocre team. He's good enough that there’s no threat of him being replaced, yet, not good enough to establish himself as one of the premier quarterbacks.
As a result, Matt Ryan doesn't come to mind when you think of the players that have earned the most money.
4 Michael Vick
Earned - $121,258,908
Rank - 9th
Michael Vick manages to crack the top ten despite being out of football for a couple years in the middle of his prime. In addition, the controversial quarterback has been largely ineffective the past few seasons.
He's signed two $100 million contracts, but has failed to live out either one. Even still, he managed to pocket more cash than what many might expect.
3 Larry Fitzgerald
Earned - $29,296,387
Rank - 8th
Larry Fitzgerald has been one of the most widely beloved players throughout his career, by fans of all teams.
During his prime, many fans loved to make the comment that Fitz deserved better than the lowly Cardinals; a team that struggled to find success. However, the Cardinals gave Fitzgerald one of the most player-friendly contracts in the NFL. The team rewarded incredibly well. To say that he deserved better was entirely unfair. Today, he's being fairly compensated AND playing on a true contending team.
Many people forget how good the receiver had it during his prime in Arizona. He was able to cash in his talents to the fullest.
2 Julius Peppers
Earned - $147,973,786
Rank - 5th
Julius Peppers is the highest earning non-quarterback among active players. The surprise comes from seeing a defender surrounded by quarterbacks. The veteran has been a good player recently, but his best years are behind him. It can be easy to forget that a few short seasons ago, he was one of the premier NFL pass rushers.
Nearing the end of his career, Peppers has a lot to be proud of. He's accomplished an unbelievable amount for the teams he's played for and he's been paid accordingly.
1 Eli Manning
Earned - $187,780,004
Rank - 1st
Eli Manning is no doubt a very talented quarterback. However, it should come as a massive surprise that Eli has managed to earn more cash than any other active NFLer. He beat out two notable players in particular, Tom Brady and Ben Roethlesberger, both of which are widely considered to be more talented.
Brady had even been in the NFL (and won a Super Nowl) several years before Manning entered. He's had more time to rake in cash. Yet, Manning managed to not only catch Brady, but also build up quite a lead. Currently, Eli has roughly $25 million more than Tom; who’s ranked second with about $162 million.
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