As teams splash the cash in free agency this offseason, it’s worth keeping in mind that many NFL players won’t have long careers in which they can keep accumulating money.
The nature of contracts in the NFL, combined with the high turnover and relatively short athletic peaks of players, means earning potential can wildly fluctuate year to year.
The players that do go on to have long, lucrative careers are usually stars and household names – and often quarterbacks.
Here are the active players who have the highest career earnings at their position, according to Spotrac.com.
Quarterback: Eli Manning
If you were expecting Tom Brady or Drew Brees, they’re second and third on the list behind the New York Giants quarterback. The younger Manning brother has so far raked in $219,280,004 for his career, which is second only to brother Peyton ($248,732,000) all-time. Manning’s stats may not justify his bank account, but his two Super Bowl rings have made him worth every penny.
Running back: Adrian Peterson
It’s difficult to sustain a prolonged career as a running back, considering the short shelf-life for the position. But Adrian Peterson, who is arguably the greatest running back ever for a player at his peak, has managed to keep the paychecks coming in even now at the age of 33, having collected $98,208,319 in total.
Wide receiver: Larry Fitzgerald
There are only three wide receivers who’ve cracked nine figures for career earnings, with the Arizona Cardinals star topping Calvin Johnson and Andre Johnson with $151,296,387. The 34-year-old will enter his 15th season this year, which could be his final one as retirement beckons.
Tight end: Jason Witten
The ageless wonder holds a slight edge over Tony Gonzalez with $72,753,000 banked so far. It seems like every year the Dallas Cowboys tight end catches at least 60 passes and provides the quarterback with a reliable safety valve. What’s truly remarkable is the 35-year-old has missed all of one game in his career.
Offensive lineman: Joe Thomas
Thomas isn’t technically an active player anymore, but because he just announced his retirement and is the all-time leader for offensive linemen with $122,850,000, we’ll count it. The Cleveland Browns will miss his consistent protection and blocking as they cope without the mainstay for the first time in a long time.
Defensive lineman: Julius Peppers
The defensive end is still collecting paychecks all these years later. It feels like a long time ago Peppers was one of the game’s premier pass rushers in his first stint with Carolina, but he’s still managed to carve out a long career after his prime and earn $159,973,786. Any retirement plans are on hold for another year.
Linebacker: Terrell Suggs
The Baltimore Ravens linebacker isn’t bowing out of the league just yet. And why should he? Suggs racked up 11.0 sacks last season and continues to strike fear in opposing quarterbacks as an effective pass rusher. With $101,210,000 already made, it’s likely money isn’t the main factor in him continuing to play at 35.
Cornerback: Darrelle Revis
It’s been a fast decline for the cornerback, who not that long ago was considered the best at his position and earning an annual salary of $17 million in 2016. But Revis’ future in the NFL is uncertain after being released by the Kansas City Chiefs last month. At least he has $124,211,129 to fall back on.
Safety: Eric Berry
Charles Woodson is the all-time top-earner for safeties, but Berry slides in behind him and ahead of Troy Polamalu with $71,850,300 collected over his career. Just last year, the Kansas City Chiefs playmaker inked a six-year, $78m deal, but ruptured his Achilles in the 2017 opener to miss the rest of the season.
Kicker: Sebastian Janikowski
No one would be surprised if the left-footed kicker called it a career at the age of 40, but he apparently isn’t retiring just yet. Regardless, he won’t be on the Oakland Raiders next season as he tries to find a new home. But his $51,270,137 career earnings should be more than enough to rest his head on at night.
Some of the biggest free agents in the NFL offseason have already been taken off the board before contracts can even be officially signed.
We’ve already seen the top three quarterbacks reportedly agree to deals, while several other key players have seemingly made their decision during the legal tampering period, ahead of the start of the new league year on Wednesday when parties can put pen to paper.
Here’s a breakdown of some of the noteworthy signings and how they’ll affect the league’s landscape.
YOU LIKE THAT?!
Unsurprisingly, Cousins’ average annual salary of $28.6m sets a new benchmark in the NFL by surpassing the $27.5m Jimmy Garoppolo netted in his recent deal. The more interesting nugget is that Cousins’ contract will be fully guaranteed, which is perhaps an indication of how much leverage he held after Case Keenum was taken out of play by Denver.
They now have a quarterback that could potentially be their franchise cornerstone, adding the 29-year-old to a roster which was already stocked with enough talent to be a Super Bowl contender.
Though it’s not a lock Cousins will be a massive upgrade over Keenum, his body of work with Washington gives him both a safe floor and a high ceiling. And with the weapons around him on offence – Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen and Dalvin Cook – and one of the league’s best defences on the other side of the ball, Minnesota have every reason to be excited for the present and future.
They’ll just have to hope now that they made the right decision, considering the money they handed out and the other quarterback options they passed over.
BRONCOS MAKE THEIR CASE
While other teams set their sights on Cousins, Denver were apparently content to roll with Keenum at a much cheaper price tag.
The details of the contract aren’t fully known, but reports have claimed it will be a two-year deal worth around $18m per season – about a $10m difference from what Cousins will receive.
A glass-half empty perspective on the deal for Denver is that they paid for past production – Keenum’s outlier 2017 season – instead of projecting future performance, because even with the difference to Cousins’ figure, $18m is a significant chunk to give to a quarterback who may not be better than average.
But another way to look at this for the Broncos is that they may have just gotten a quarterback who isn’t that far off from Cousins, but at a frugal rate, with the difference in money allowing them to pursue another key contributor in free agency.
And with the deal appearing to be a short one, they’re not so committed that they can’t use the number five overall pick in April’s draft to tab a quarterback prospect they like.
Of the two big-time wide receivers to find new homes, the Chicago Bears may have done better in securing their playmaker.
Robinson is coming back from a torn ACL suffered in Week 1 last season, but he’s already proven he can produce elite numbers for a season, having hauled in 80 passes for 1,400 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2015. And that was with Blake Bortles throwing him the ball.
Watkins, on the other hand, carries a reputation which may surpass his abilities.
As talented as the former fourth overall pick is, he’s been wildly inconsistent over his career, failing to top 1,000 yards in three of his four seasons.
Kansas City will unquestionably be fun to watch with Patrick Mahomes slinging the ball and Watkins and Tyreek Hill burning rubber down the field, but fun doesn’t necessarily mean effective.
If Robinson returns to his full health and form, the Bears may have gotten the better receiver at a better price.
Richard Sherman seems like the type to be motivated by slights, so it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that he was “vengeful” in his decision to join his former team’s division rivals.
And the 29-year-old told The MMQB that the opportunity to play the Seahawks, who he spent the first seven years of his career with, twice a season played a role in his move to the Bay Area.
“Vengeful,” Sherman said. “I love the fan base to death, and I loved playing there. It was such a great opportunity. I helped the organisation get to a great place and stay there. But now it’s like I abandoned them. People are out there burning my jersey. Come on. I’m not the one who let me go. They let me go. I didn’t abandon anybody.”
During his time with the Seahawks, Sherman was arguably the best cornerback in the league and a significant part of the ‘Legion of Boom’ defence.
But faced with the decision to pay Sherman, who is recovering from an Achilles rupture, $11 million for the coming season, Seattle chose to move on.
Sherman also told The MMQB what he was thinking in negotiating his own incentive-laden contract with the 49ers, without the use of an agent.
“I don’t think any agent in the business could have done a better job of negotiating this contract,” Sherman said. “As long as I’m content with what I’m making, nothing else matters to me.
“Once I make a Pro Bowl, $8 million the next year is guaranteed for me. It gives me the ability to control my destiny. The 49ers have skin in the game. I have skin in the game. In my former contract, no matter what I did this year, nothing would be guaranteed to me next year. I couldn’t feel secure in my contract. Now, if I play the way I know I’m capable of playing, I know I’m going to get paid.”
The outspoken Sherman, who has an undergraduate degree from Stanford, has proven to be an intelligent guy.
Whether or not he ends up hitting his incentives, Sherman is putting his faith in himself.