According to an article from USA Today Sports on October 24th, 2013 the average yearly salary for an NFL athlete is $1.9 million dollars. The same article also states that the average career for an NFL player equates to only 3.5 years, the 2nd lowest among the major professional sports in the United States. If you multiply those two numbers it equals an average career earning of only $6.7 million dollars. Now the hardworking 9-5, 40 hour-a-week folks may look at that and say "Only?!" But for the current and retired players featured on this list, only would be a huge understatement. This list contains the top 25 richest NFL players of all time. This list contains current and retired athletes that have played at least a down in the NFL. So John Madden isn't on list even though he was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in 1958, because he was never able to play a down due to a bad knee injury suffered in training camp the following year. Each of the players on this list have signed a lucrative deal or 2 placing them as highest earning for their respective position, had a long career, been major players in terms of endorsements, and in one case, an athlete turned a self-started business into a fortune.
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25 Kerry Collins, $39.5 Million
Journeyman and NFL recorder holder (for fumbles in a season) certainly saw his ups and downs during his 17 year career in the NFL. Collins led the New York Giants to Super Bowl XXXV (lost 34-7 to the Ravens) and that's about as good as it got for Collins. He struggled with an alcohol addiction early in his career, never could latch on with a team long-term, and often turned the ball over. After being called out of retirement to replace an injured Peyton Manning in Indy and also getting injured, Collins has since been away from the game and public eye.
24 T19. Fran Tarkenton, $40 Million
As one of the greatest dual-threat quarterbacks to play the game, the former Vikings and Giants player paved the way for quarterbacks such as Randall Cunningham, Steve Young, Donovan McNabb, and Michael Vick. “The Mad Scrambler” compiled 50,677 yards (47,003 passing, 3,674 rushing) and 374 total touchdowns (342 passing, 32 rushing) in his illustrious 18-year career. Tarkenton was the 1975 NFL MVP and was also selected to 9 Pro Bowls. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1986 and had his number 10 jersey retired by the Minnesota Vikings. He also owns the Vikings franchise records for passing yards and passing touchdowns. Tarkenton founded Tarkenton Software, a computer generator company, which later merged with KnowledgeWare with Tarkenton serving as President until the company was sold in 1994.
23 T19. Steve Young, $40 Million
3-time All-Pro player and the MVP of Super Bowl XXIX, Steve Young made it as easy as possible for anyone in his position could for 49ers fans to forget the legend who preceded him as the team's quarterback. Young who started his NFL career as a Buccaneer, was traded to San Fran in 1987, took over the starting role in 1991 and wasted little time in asserting himself as the new general of the Niners. He had his best yer in 1994 where he lead the 49ers to a win in Super Bowl XXIX, tossing a record 6 touchdowns in the game. He won two other titles as 49er as well. Young was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2005. Young continues to serve as an analyst for ESPN, most notably on Monday Night Countdown.
22 T19. Bryant Young, $40 Million
Another 49ers legend and member of the 1990s All-Decade Team, Bryant Young is the 3rd $40 million dollar man on this list. The former defensive tackle spent all 14 of his years in the NFL as a member of the Niners, where he cemented his place as one of the best to do it at his position. Young ranks 41st in career sacks with 89.5 as a DT, was voted to the Pro Bowl 4 times and named an ALL-Pro 4 times also. He tallied 6 sacks in his rookie season, which was the same season in which the 49ers won Super Bowl XXIX. After retiring in 2007, Young served multiple coaching roles, most recently as a defensive line coach with the Florida Gators.
21 T19. Deion Sanders, $40 Million
The best cornerback to play the position and one of the most versatile athletes of all-time, "Prime Time" high-steps his way on the list with a net worth of $40 million dollars. Sanders did a bit of it all in the NFL, serving as a shutdown CB, an elite returner, and a viable option as a WR on occasion. Sanders has numerous NFL accolades including being a 2-time Super Bowl Champion, an 8 time All-Pro and Pro Bowler, 1994 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, and a member of the 1990s All-Decade Team. Sanders holds the record for most defensive/special teams return touchdowns with 19, tied with Devin Hester. Sanders was inducted in the Pro Football Hall Of Fame in 2011. But that's not all. Sanders also had a pretty decent career in Major League Baseball as an outfielder, most notably for the Atlanta Braves. Sanders totaled 558 hits and was the 1992 National League Triple's Champion. Sanders is now an analyst on NFL Network.
20 T19. Larry Fitzgerald, $40 Million
One of the best wide receivers in the NFL, and one that will go down as one of best to ever do it, Larry Fitzgerald is showing no signs of slowing down any time soon. Since being drafted 3rd overall out of Pitt in the 2004 NFL Draft. Fitzgerald has been an elite player in the NFL. Fitz holds multiple NFL records including the most receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns in a postseason when he tore through every defense on the Cardinals route to Super Bowl XLIII. Fitz is entering his 10th season in the NFL (all with Arizona) and is in the middle of an 7 year, $113 million dollar deal he signed back on August 20, 2011.
19 T19. Jay Cutler, $40 Million
The enigma that is Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler. He has all of the tools to be one of the greatest to play the game but also makes questionable decisions that drives his team, coach and fans nuts. Overall he's had an above average career so far in the NFL. After spending 3 season with the team who drafted him, the Denver Broncos, Cutler was traded to Chicago after an ugly split from the former. Since then he has done nothing but break Chicago Bears franchise records. He currently holds 12 of them (10 good, and the other 2 not so much) and will have plenty of time to own more having signed a 7-year deal on January 2nd, 2014 with the team. Cutler is sure to put up some serious statistics during the 2014-15 season with an impressive arsenal of weapons surrounding him. Some have estimated his net worth to be around $30 million while others have marked it at $40 million. We'll take the more generous estimation.
18 T14. Tony Romo, $45 Million
The quarterback of "America's Team," and who most NFL fans outside of Dallas (and some in Dallas) love to hate, certainly has had a roller coaster ride of an NFL career. While Romo, who signed a six year, $108 million dollar extension with the Cowboys on March 29th, 2013, continues to break team records, it's the mistakes and bad decisions that seem to be harped on all the time. He has yet to have a season with a QB rating of under 90 and owns/shares 14 Cowboys' team records, but no one wants to hear that. Can he lead Jerry's Bunch to the Promised Land or at least double the amount of playoff win Dallas has the past 17 years (1)?
17 T14. Albert Haynesworth, $45 Million
To this day, Washington Redskins have to regret helping Haynesworth make this list. They were crazy enough to make Haynesworth the first $100 million dollar defensive player and it certainly was a move to regret. After becoming one of the league's most dominant defensive tackles as a member of the Tennessee Titans, Haynesworth and Washington agreed to a 7 year, $100 million dollar deal on the first day of free agency in 2009. The result? One of, if not, the worst free agent signing in NFL history. Haynesworth lasted only 2 and a half seasons with the Skins before being cut and eventually finding himself out of the league.
16 T14. Orlando Pace, $45 Million
A stalwart left tackle in the NFL for 13 seasons, Orlando Pace was a good as it gets as a blind-side protector. After a great college career at Ohio State University, where he became the second true freshman ever to start for the team, a two-time All American, and a two-tome Lombardi Award winner (best lineman or linebacker), Pace was selected by the St. Louis Rams number one overall in the 1997 NFL Draft. Pace would go on to start 165 games out of 169 he played in, earning him seven Pro Bowl nods, five 1st Team All Pro nods, a Super Bowl (Super Bowl XXXIV), and he was also named to the 2000s All-Decade Team. Canton will come calling very soon for Pace.
15 T14. Ray Lewis, $45 Million
Ray Lewis was the heart and soul for not only the Baltimore Ravens, but the entire city, for the 17 seasons he suited up. He was the most feared linebacker to play the game this side of Lawrence Taylor. Lewis earned 13 Pro Bowl selections, was an All Pro ten times, a two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, two time Super Bowl Champion and was selected for the 2000s All Decade Team. The inspiration that Lewis provided to the Ravens could not be measured and was no more evident then when he returned from injury to help fuel Baltimore to the Super Bowl XLVII Championship in his last season. Canton might as well have Lewis' bust done because he is a sure fire first ballot Hall Of Famer when his time comes.
14 T14. Michael Strahan, $45 Million
The infectious, gap-toothed smile that won the hearts of Giants fans, along with his hard work and dedication to chasing down quarterbacks, belongs to none other than Michael Strahan. Strahan embodied everything New York wants in an athlete and he surely delivered each Sunday. He ranks 5th in league history with 141.5 sacks, owns the all-time single season sack record with 22.5, was voted to the Pro Bowl 7 times, a 4-time 1st team All Pro, and a member of the 2000s All Decade team. Strahan was able to retire after a 15-year career with New York by winning Super Bowl XLII. He was recently inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Strahan has had a very successful post-career in the media, most notably as the co-host on the popular "Live! With Kelly and Michael."
13 T12. Drew Bledsoe, $48 Million
The face of the New England Patriots franchise before that Brady guy, Bledsoe was one of the most prolific passers in NFL history. It has been argued that because he attempted a great number of passes, his stats are better than what they should be for a quarterback who was erratic at times and not the most accurate. In any event, Bledsoe enjoyed a 14-year career in the NFL with the New England Patriots, Buffalo Bills, and Dallas Cowboys. He was selected to 4 Pro Bowls and inducted into the Patriots Hall of Fame. On top of his playing career, Bledsoe has been successful in his business ventures. He opened a winery with his friend and owns a stake in Bledsoe Capital Group.
12 T12. Antrel Rolle, $48 Million
For a safety to be this high on the list, and still active, kind of gives an insight into his career. Antrel Rolle has turned in a pretty decent career for himself since being drafted 8th overall out of the University of Miami in the 2005 NFL Draft by the Arizona Cardinals. After a solid 5 year stint in Arizona, the New York Giants made Rolle one of the highest paid safeties in the league with a 5 year, $37 million dollar contract. Rolle was an integral part of the Giants team that won Super Bowl XLVI and continues to be, coming off of a 6 interception season in 2013.
11 T10. Jim Brown, $50 Million
Cleveland Browns legend Jim Brown was the greatest player of his time. At the time of his retirement from professional football in 1965, Brown owned every major running back statistic record. Brown finished with 12,312 rushing yards, 106 rushing TDs, and 15,549 all-purpose yards playing 12 then later 14 game schedules. He was a nine-time Pro Bowler, eight-time first Team All-Pro, eight-time NFL Rushing Champion and is a member of the NFL 50th and 75th Anniversary All-Time Teams. His list of athletic accomplishments runs long, as does the list of films he has starred in his life after football. Brown had lead roles in 17 films and did well for himself outside of football.
10 T10. Carson Palmer, $50 Million
Coming off of his first season with the Arizona Cardinals, Carson Palmer seems like he’s been around forever. Palmer started his career with the Cincinnati Bengals after going 1st overall in the 2003 NFL Draft. During his best season in the NFL in 2005, Palmer would sign a 6 year, $118.75 million extension while in the process of leading the Bengals to their first winning season in 15 years. After an ugly split with the Bengals in 2010, Palmer had two underwhelming seasons for the Oakland Raiders, before signing with Arizona. Palmer now heads into his 12th season in the NFL.
9 Jerry Rice, $55 Million
There isn’t much else to say about the greatest player to ever play in the NFL that hasn’t already been said. Rice’s legendary Hall of Fame career saw him not only break, but demolish every important statistic for wide receivers, many of which he still holds. Rice is the NFL’s all-time leader in receptions (1,549), yards (22,895), and touchdowns (208). Rice is a three-time Super Bowl Champion, a ten-time 1st Team All-Pro, a thirteen-time time Pro Bowler and has a plethora of other awards that would take a while to list. Rice was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2010 and his number 80 was retired by the San Francisco 49ers.
8 Walter Jones, $65 Million
When talking about the greatest offensive linemen to ever play the game, Walter Jones should be at the beginning of the discussion. Playing what many feel is the most important position on the offensive line, left tackle, Jones played in 180 games with the Seahawks and started every one of them. The stalwart Jones gave up only 23 sacks in over 5,500 passing plays and was called for holding a meager 9 times. Jones, who was recently inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, was selected to nine Pro Bowls, was a 1st Team All-Pro six times and had his number 71 jersey retired by the Seahawks.
7 T6. Joe Montana, $80 Million
“Joe Cool” is widely regarded as the greatest quarterback to play the game. As the leader of the team of the 1980’s decade, Montana and the San Francisco 49ers won Super Bowls XVI, XIX, XXIII, and XXIV, with Montana winning MVP in three of those contests. Montana never faltered in the Super Bowl, throwing 0 career interceptions in the games that mattered most to go with 11 touchdowns. He was named to the NFL 75th Anniversary Team and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2000. His number 16 was retired by the San Francisco 49ers.
6 T6. Eli Manning, $80 Million
The younger Manning with the heavier ring finger is entering his 11th season with the New York Giants. Manning has never put up the greatest and most consistent statistics but he seems to always show up when a game is on the line. That is backed by his NFL record 15 touchdown passes in the 4th quarter in 2011. Manning is a two-time Super Bowl Champion and Super Bowl MVP who will be looking to bounce back from a bad 2013-14 season where he tossed 27 interceptions. Manning continues to be one of the highest paid celebrity endorsers making $7.5-8 million a year in endorsements.
5 Brett Favre, $100 Million
It is not hard to figure out how Brett Favre is the 5th richest NFL athlete of all time. You have no further to look than his usual postgame press conference attire. Jeans, t-shirt and the same cap that is probably older than I am. Favre holds the NFL record for touchdown passes (508), passing yards (71,838), attempts (10,169), completions (6.300) and interceptions (336). Oh, and he didn’t miss a start for over 18.5 years starting 297 consecutive games (321 including the playoffs). Favre is also known for his indecisiveness with retirement but that doesn’t overshadow the greatness he displayed on the field.
4 Tom Brady, $120 Million
By now, we all know the story. A great career at the University of Michigan. Drafted with the 199th pick in the 6th round of the 2000 NFL Draft. Took over for the injured franchise quarterback in the 2nd week of the 2001-02 season. And well, you know what happened from there. Heading into his 15th season with the New England Patriots, Tom Brady is considered one of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game. He is a three-time Super Bowl Champion, two-time Super Bowl MVP, and holds the NFL record for most playoff starts for a quarterback (26) and the most playoff wins for a quarterback (18). Brady has pretty much done it all in the league, if beating the Giants in the Super Bowl or winning the big game post Spygate is excluded. Brady, who earns $7 million a year in endorsements, is a lock to be a first ballot Hall of Famer when he steps away from the game.
3 John Elway, $145 Million
Another one of the all-time greats at the quarterback position, John Elway got better with age during his career. The greatest quarterback in Broncos history spent his entire 16-year career in Denver where he won back-to-back Super Bowls in 1997 and 1998, becoming the oldest quarterback to do so. He owns numerous Broncos team records including total offensive yards, total touchdowns, winning percentage and touchdown passes. Elway retired after winning his 2nd Super Bowl and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2004. He currently is the General Manager/Executive Vice President of Football Operations of the Broncos. Adding to Elway’s net worth has been his business ventures during his post playing days. He once co-owned the Arena Football League's Colorado Crush, owns 2 restaurants named Elway’s in the Denver area, and owns various auto dealerships in Colorado and California.
2 Peyton Manning, $165 Million
It should be no surprise that Peyton Manning is the second richest NFL athlete of all time and the richest active player. His last two contracts have each been worth over $90 million dollars overall, the second of which came when he signed with the Denver Broncos for $96 million, one year removed from a serious and career threatening neck injury. Contracts such as those are warranted when talking about a player the caliber of Manning. Manning is a five-time NFL MVP, a Super Bowl Champion and MVP (XLI), thirteen-time Pro Bowler, seven-time 1st Team All-Pro, and the owner of every important passing record in Indianapolis Colts history and the holder of numerous NFL records. Manning earns $12 million a year in endorsements from companies such as DirecTV, Nationwide, and became a Papa John’s franchisee in 2012, as he owns 12 in the Denver area.
1 Roger Staubach, $600 Million
Talk about a jump between entries. Legendary former quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys, Roger Staubach made the most of the salary he earned during his playing days. Staubach quarterbacked the Cowboys from 1969-1979, winning two Super Bowls, winning the 1971 NFL MVP award, being named to six Pro Bowls, and having the secomd highest rated passer in NFL history at the time of his retirement. Staubach was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1985 and the Dallas Cowboys Ring of Honor. Staubach’s climb to his enormous wealth began in 1977 when he began The Staubach Company, a commercial real estate business. Staubach’s great work ethic allowed the business to grow over the years and in 2008 he was able to sell The Staubach Company for well over $600 million dollars to Jones Lang LaSalle. Even with athletes today making tons more than they did back in the 70s, they could stand to learn something from Staubach about being smart with their money post retirement.
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