A common complaint made by high-profile National Football League players is that they are underpaid when compared with other professional athletes. Unlike deals that are made by owners of Major League Baseball and National Basketball Association franchises, NFL contracts are, for the most part, not fully guaranteed. A quarterback who has not yet won a Super Bowl for his club could, as an example, put pen to paper on a contract that could be worth up to $80 million, but only $10-17 million of that deal could be guaranteed. This gives a team the ability to cut ties with under-performing players without losing too much available salary cap space.
NFL players earn every cent of their contracts each time that they take the field for a meaningful game. They put their bodies and even their long-term futures on the line every fall, and careers can be over in an instant via a nasty hit or a misstep that leads to a torn ligament. The truth of the matter is that NFL players probably deserve even more cash than they take home when you consider the grueling nature of pro football. One way these great athletes pocket more money is through local and national endorsement deals that they are able to net.
NFL player contracts are paid out in different ways. Along with base salaries, money is made via signing bonuses and also incentives. It is also not uncommon for a player to restructure his deal to free up some salary cap space for his team. This pushes the amount of money that player will receive back a year, but it does affect the guaranteed cash that he will eventually take home before his contract expires. You may, upon seeing how the numbers break down for just 2015, be surprised to see the names atop of the list of NFL players making crazy money for this year.
20 Jay Cutler
Any list of NFL players making “crazy money” has to least include Jay Cutler, if not begin with the current starting quarterback of the Chicago Bears. Cutler is routinely mentioned as one of the most disliked players in the league, his leadership has been questioned on multiple occasions and he hasn't won a championship. The Bears nevertheless awarded Cutler with a new contract after the 2013 regular season that guaranteed him $54 million, a deal that could be worth over $126 million up through 2020. It could be the worst overall contract in all of the NFL and it allows Cutler to pass on endorsement deals as he has done in the past.
19 Jadeveon Clowney
Jadeveon Clowney was the highest-rated defensive prospect in recent memory heading into the 2014 NFL Draft and so it was not at all surprising that companies such as Puma, Wilson, New Era and Gillette inked deals with the defensive end. Clowney then guaranteed himself over $22 million by being the first overall pick of last year's draft. The biggest reason that the money he has earned can be called “crazy” is because he only played in a handful of games before being downed by a serious knee injury, one that could sideline him up through the start of the upcoming regular season.
18 Philip Rivers
The starting quarterback of the San Diego Chargers was in the headlines on August 18th, 2015 when it was learned that he put pen to paper on a contract extension that will pay him at least $65 million in guaranteed money. Did Rivers celebrate by buying a brand new car or by going out for an expensive steak? Nah. The conservative family man decided to grab a Domino's pizza. Rivers does not need the money regardless of how many children he has, but Domino's should at least consider reaching out to the QB to see if a deal can be made. That'd be one funny commercial, at least.
17 Russell Wilson
Did you ever wonder why you have seen the quarterback of the Seattle Seahawks who won a Super Bowl in so many television commercials? It was because he was not making a ton of NFL money per the terms of his rookie deal. That is all about to change, though, as the Seahawks gave him a contract that is filled with over $61 million of guaranteed cash. $31 million of that money was awarded to the champion QB through a signing bonus. His base salary is not all that impressive for 2015, but that number skyrockets for the 2016 season. Wilson could make $87.6 million in NFL cash up through the end of the decade.
16 Maurkice Pouncey
Is Maurkice Pouncey really the best center in the NFL as he is often advertised to be by experts and journalists? The Pittsburgh Steelers clearly believe that to be the case, and the Steelers are paying Pouncey $18.8 million in salary as proof. Pouncey did well to recover from a serious knee that he suffered in 2013 and he made the Pro Bowl for his work last season. Offensive linemen, even those who can feature at multiple positions as can Pouncey, only make so much money off of endorsements, and so it is not all that much of a surprise that Pouncey will take home only $100,000 from such deals.
15 Aaron Rodgers
In a world in which life was fair and players were truly paid their worth, Aaron Rodgers would be atop such lists for the foreseeable future. The man who is widely perceived to be the best player at what is often referred to as the most important position in all of sports will make $11.6 million in salary for 2015, a paltry sum when compared with other salaries around the NFL. That famous “Discount Double-Check” ad and other endorsements featuring Rodgers will make the quarterback of the Green Bay Packers an additional $7.5 million for 2015 according to Forbes.
14 Devin McCourty
It was back in September of 2012 when identical twins Devin and Jason McCourty teamed up for a Doublemint advertisement campaign. The New England Patriots safety is not making a fortune off of such endorsements, though, as Forbes has him taking home only $250,000 off of those types of deals. The $19.1 million that McCourty is making from the Patriots will soften that blow and then some. It is difficult, if not impossible, to have any real criticisms about the way that the Patriots have spent money throughout the years. New England has been the only dynasty in the NFL over the past decade and a half.
13 Alex Smith
There are a few things you have to remember while picking your jaw off of the floor upon seeing Alex Smith make this list. Quarterbacks who win in the NFL get paid big bucks. It is the state of the league in 2015. Smith is not a household name and recognized star as are Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning, and so he is only, according to Forbes, making $500,000 off of endorsements in 2015. All of that makes his $19.1 million in salary money reasonable, although it is understandable if you believe that a QB who has not won a championship is not worth that amount of cash.
12 Tyron Smith
The name Tyron Smith is probably not one that jumps off of the screen at you unless you are a diehard fan of the Dallas Cowboys. His lack of star-power as it pertains to his name and reputation is probably the biggest reason Smith is, according to Forbes, only making $250,000 off of endorsements this year. One cannot put a price on a solid offensive line, though, and thus the Cowboys are happily paying Smith $21.1 million in salary this year. Smith has been a bit banged up during the summer months, but all indications are that he will be able to go at the start of the regular season. Phew.
11 Drew Brees
One of the more humorous NFL endorsement stories of 2014 involved the quarterback of the New Orleans Saints. Drew Brees had entered into a partnership with Can-Am Spyder, but there was just one small issue: Brees cannot, per the terms of his NFL contract that will earn him $11 million in salary for 2015, ride a motorcycle. I guess he will have to live with the additional millions in endorsement money Forbes has him making this year. Enjoy riding any motorcycle you want while you are in your 40s and 50s, Drew. Just be sure to wear a helmet while doing so. You have a lot of money to spend during the second half of your life.
10 Tony Romo
The player contract of Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo is one that has been scrutinized and criticized by NFL analysts and fans for years, and that Romo and the club restructured that deal this past spring has not silenced those hot takes. Is a quarterback who has never won anything of merit while featuring for “America's Team” really worth $17 million in player salary and an additional $5 million in endorsements? Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and companies such as DirecTV believe so, but Dallas fans may start to believe differently if Romo does not lead the team to a championship and soon.
9 LeSean McCoy
The value of top-tier NFL running backs decreases with every season they play and with every hit that they sustain. LeSean McCoy will be looking to prove to new employers the Buffalo Bills and former team the Philadelphia Eagles that he is still very much worth the $21.3 million owed to him for 2015. Those paying McCoy the $900,000 in endorsement money were probably a bit concerned to see the Buffalo running back go down to a leg injury during a joint practice with the Cleveland Browns on August 18th. The hope is that McCoy should not be sidelined for too long. We shall see.
8 Andy Dalton
Congratulations go out to the starting quarterback of the Cincinnati Bengals, who is already surpassing the $17 million that was guaranteed to him back in 2014. Andy Dalton will, according to Forbes, add an additional $1 million in endorsement deals to the $22.3 million in NFL money that he will make this year. Those numbers are unquestionably nice to see if you are Dalton or his accountant, but it is not all good news for the signal caller. The Bengals could, per the terms of his current contract, cut ties with Dalton without suffering too serious of a cap hit in 2017. Dalton should probably start winning playoff games if he wants to remain in Cincinnati up through the end of the decade.
7 Eli Manning
It is good to be the two-time Super Bowl champion quarterback of the New York (football) Giants. Manning's endorsement deals that are worth $8 million make for nice add-ons to the $15.7 million in salary that he will earn for 2015. He also recently put his Hoboken condo, which could be worth around $5 million, on the market. Manning is on the verge of signing what could be the final contract of his NFL career, and it could make him the highest-paid player in all of the league for 2016 if he has an impressive campaign playing behind a bolstered offensive line and throwing to the likes of Odell Beckham, Jr. and Victor Cruz.
6 Gerald McCoy
Gerald McCoy making this list, let alone being in the top-six, could surprise some casual football fans who do not pay all that much attention to the money these great athletes make per season. While McCoy is only, per Forbes, set to cash in on $150,000 of endorsement money for 2015, his salary of $26.6 million from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will fill his bank accounts rather nicely. McCoy was, as recently as last year, the highest-paid player at this position, but the defensive tackle has since fallen to No. 2 on that list after a former Detroit Lions player cashed-in on a new contract.
5 Peyton Manning
When you are on the verge of taking home $12 million in endorsement money, you can afford to give your NFL employer a bit of a financial break. Peyton Manning making only $15 million in player salary is, on paper, close to criminal until you remember that he entered the NFL all the way back in 1998 at a time when there were no real caps on the money paid out to rookies. One should also consider the numerous investments, such as those Papa John's restaurants, that Manning has made over the years. Manning is financially doing just fine for himself at this point of his life.
4 J.J. Watt
Woo Woo! That sound you hear is the J.J. Watt hype train leaving the stationand companies such as Reebok have jumped on board. The defensive superstar of the Houston Texans who has featured in commercials with Ultimate Fighting Championship title-holder Ronda Rousey is, according to Forbes, set to make $7 million in endorsements in 2015. That makes for a nice bonus to the $20.9 million in salary that Watt is earning per the terms of his new contract. Watt could, when all is said and done, easily make well over $100 million in total NFL money so long as he is able to remain healthy up through the prime of his playing days.
3 Carson Palmer
The NFL is filled with cases of quarterbacks being paid more so for what they accomplished in the past than for what they will achieve in future days. That was the case for Carson Palmer last year when he inked a contract extension with the Arizona Cardinals before he suffered a torn ACL that prematurely ended his season. The 35-year old will take home $28.5 million in salary and an additional $500,000 in endorsement deals. Palmer could very well be the most overpaid player in the NFL for 2015 if he is either rusty or unable to return to form following what was yet another serious leg injury.
2 Ndamukong Suh
Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh entered the 2014 NFL season with one clear objective in mind: become the highest-paid defensive player in the league. Mission accomplishment, as Forbes has the new member of the Miami Dolphins behind only a single NFL player in total earnings for 2015. His player salary of $38.2 million is coupled with endorsements that are worth around $400,000. It does not seem like it was all that long ago when Suh was perceived to be a dirty player not worth the hassle or salary cap space. The Dolphins are banking on Suh behaving himself on and off of the field.
1 Ben Roethlisberger
Not Tom Brady. Not Peyton Manning. Not J.J. Watt. It is the starting quarterback of the Pittsburgh Steelers who is set to make more money than any other NFL player for 2015. Along with the $46.4 million that Ben Roethlisberger will take home in player salary, Forbes also has the two-time Super Bowl champion raking in an additional $2.5 million in endorsements. Those who have followed his career have seen Roethlisberger take beatings during games, and Big Ben likely only has a few good seasons left in the tank. Enjoy your money, Mr. Roethlisberger. You've earned it.