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Highest paid players in NFL history

Can you put a price on the importance of a good quarterback? Seemingly not after another off-season in which signal callers have reset the market when it comes to the NFL’s highest-paid players.

Weeks after leading his team to the brink of NFL Championship glory, the Philadelphia Eagles, who are 8/1 to win the title this season, made quarterback Jalen Hurts the best-paid player in the league when handing him a five-year extension worth $255million. 

With the highest-paid player in the NFL generally regarded as the individual with the biggest yearly salary, Hurts went straight in at number one with an annual wage package worth $51million. 

But in these days of the ever-increasing salary cap, Hurts was only the best-paid player for just over a week before being surpassed by Lamar Jackson’s five-year, $260million deal with the Baltimore Ravens, giving him an annual salary of $52million. 

But just like Hurts, Jackson is unlikely to hold the accolade of the NFL’s top earner for long with Joe Burrow, Justin Herbert and each top-level quarterback after them likely to eclipse the man who went before him in a never-ending cycle of eye-popping contracts.

From Favre’s fortune to Mahomes’ millions

It’s hard to justify saying anyone in any walk of life deserves to earn the amounts of money elite NFL players take home. 

But, with teams having to spend 89 per cent of their salary cap or risk being penalised, and given how competitive the league is, if you find a good player, why wouldn’t you give him a huge chunk of your budget to keep him? 

While the average NFL salary hasn’t always guaranteed riches, the top talent has tended to be well compensated with William ‘Pudge’ Hoffelfinger, the first recorded man to be paid to play football, taking home $500 cash to represent the Allegheny Athletic Association in 1892. 

That was no small sum at the time and as the revenue generated by football has gone up, so have wages. But in the last 30 years, the figures have sky-rocketed. 

In 1997, one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history, Brett Favre, signed the most lucrative contract ever in NFL at the time with the Green Bay Packers - a seven-year, $42.25million deal. 

Four years later, Farve landed the NFL’s first $100million contract, quite a jump in a short space of time. But the deal was for 10 years, giving him an annual salary which would put him on a par with New Orleans Saints backup quarterback Taysom Hill in today’s NFL. 

The NFL has since given us the world’s first half billion dollar contract in the extension Patrick Mahomes penned with the Kansas City Chiefs in 2020. But this league waits for no man and Mahomes’ average salary and guaranteed money both rank seventh amongst his peers.

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Watson in a world of his own 

Mahomes may soon want an extension which reflects his standing as the NFL’s number one quarterback and the gold standard when it comes to contracts is one that’s fully guaranteed. 

While the highest earning player is traditionally calculated via the average annual value, those figures and the overall value of the contract are just projections of what they could earn if all the various clauses are met. 

Jackson’s new deal could be worth up to $260m but only $185m of that is guaranteed, with Hurts’ guaranteed money totalling $179.3m, all tidy sums but meagre when compared to Deshaun Watson’s deal. 

Watson signed a four-year deal with the Cleveland Browns after leaving the Houston Texans in 2022, with the Browns taking the unprecedented step of guaranteeing his entire $230m contract. 

That might only rank him seventh in average value, but he’s still likely to earn more than the majority of his peers over the lengths of their contracts.

Donald collecting plenty of dollars 

Of the top 20 highest paid players in the NFL currently, the first 14 positions are occupied by quarterbacks with Daniel Jones and Derek Carr jumping into the top 12 with their freshly signed terms. 

The first non-quarterback you come to on that list is Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who is currently earning $31.7million per year. 

That’s no small sum, but is now $20million less per year than Baltimore’s Jackson takes home for a player who has won an NFL Championship, been named Defensive Player of the Year three times and has 103 career sacks. 

Donald is worth his weight in gold to the Rams, but across town, there’s a guy who penned the largest-ever deal for a non-quarterback. 

Khalil Mack was handed a six-year, $141million contract by the Chicago Bears in 2018, who have since traded him to the Chargers, where he plays alongside Joey Bosa, fourth on the list of biggest contracts for non-quarterbacks. 

Pass rushers certainly get paid well, and yet two, Donald and Pittsburgh’s T.J. Watt crack the current top 20, with three wide receivers sneaking in, led by Dolphins speedster Tyreek Hill with an annual salary of $30million per year. 

He’s followed by Davante Adams of the Raiders and Cardinals wideout DeAndre Hopkins, all earning big money, but still some way off those throwing them the ball. 

To get the big money, it seems you either need to be a quarterback, be catching passes from one or be trying to knock them off their feet. 

The pay gap between positions is starting to shrink, but for now, it pays to be a quarterback or be connected to one.

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