The Highest-Earning Player in Every NFL Team's History
It was fictional wide receiver Rod Tidwell of the Arizona Cardinals who said to his fictional agent Jerry Maguire, “show me the money.”
Well, we are about to.
For your counting pleasure, here’s a look at each of the NFL's 32 teams’ biggest player contract in franchise history. When we say big, we mean big, as in total dollars of the contract.
As for the figures in this piece, we are exclusively using the outstanding work of Spotrac.com (subscription required) in order to be as consistent and accurate as possible. There will also be the occasional mention of other big contracts signed by other players of the same franchise.
Obviously, many of these deals have been inked in recent years and, in this offseason alone, we have seen our share of quarterbacks ink huge contracts. And as we know, there could be more to come.
Count on it.
Arizona Cardinals: WR Larry Fitzgerald
Contract: 8 years, $126 million in 2011
Although he caught a career-low four touchdown passes in 2012, it’s safe to say Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald has earned his worth.
In nine NFL seasons, the productive performer has totaled 764 receptions for 10,413 and 77 touchdowns. He certainly appears to be on course to join the rare company of players with at least 100 touchdown receptions.
And his chances of getting there may have increased greatly this offseason with the team’s acquisition of quarterback Carson Palmer.
Atlanta Falcons: QB Michael Vick
Contract: 10 years, $138 million in 2004
It was games and plays like the one in the enclosed video (from 2002) that helped make the Atlanta Falcons quarterback a lot of money.
In December of 2004, a season which would end with an NFC title game appearance for the franchise, Vick inked a lucrative deal in excess of $130 million.
Unfortunately for many, Vick’s last season with the franchise came in 2006 as his off-the-field issues took him away from the game for two seasons.
By the way, Vick could be short-lived for this spot on the list. We’ll see what current Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, in the final year of contract, winds up commanding in the very near future.
Baltimore Ravens: QB Joe Flacco
Contract: 6 years, $120.6 million in 2013
There’s been so much written about Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco and his big pay day.
Did he deserve the money? Didn’t his demands cause the free-agency exodus from Baltimore? How can he follow winning a Super Bowl in 2012?
For the record, Flacco has been in the league five seasons, the Ravens have made the playoffs all five years and the team has won at least one playoff game each of those seasons. John Harbaugh’s team has also reached the AFC title game three times over that span.
As for Flacco’s impact on the team’s salary cap in 2013, it’s minimal.
As for the team’s chances of repeating as Super Bowl champions, you’ll be getting the maximum effort.
Buffalo Bills: DE Mario Williams
Contract: 6 years, $96 million in 2012
Seven years into his NFL career, defensive end Mario Williams has been a busy man.
The first overall pick in the 2006 NFL draft by the Houston Texans, Williams was a two-time Pro Bowler and made life miserable for opposing quarterbacks. But injuries cut short his 2010 season after 13 games.
Under new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, former right defensive end Williams became an outside linebacker in the club’s new 3-4 scheme. But once again, injuries reared their ugly head as Williams missed the final 11 contests of the season.
The talented defender, now back at defensive end, then opted to shuffle his talents up to Buffalo prior to last season. After a slow start due to a wrist injury, he led the Bills with 10.5 sacks.
Now Williams will line up at left defensive end in Mike Pettine’s 3-4 alignment. It could make for an interesting year in Orchard Park.
Carolina Panthers: DE Charles Johnson
Contract: 6 years, $76 million in 2011
You have to think that, somewhere down the road, Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton may wind up on this list if he progresses.
Speaking of progress, that is exactly what defensive end Charles Johnson has done when it comes to chasing down opposing quarterbacks.
Over the last five seasons, the former third-round draft choice has totaled 43.5 sacks, including a career-high 12.5 sacks in 2012. Johnson also forced seven fumbles last season.
Now teamed with defensive end Greg Hardy (11.0 sacks in 2012), that career-high sack total for Johnson may be short-lived indeed.
Chicago Bears: DE Julius Peppers
Contract: 6 years, $84 million in 2010
After eight seasons, 81.0 sacks, six interceptions and five Pro Bowl invitations with the Carolina Panthers, defensive end Julius Peppers opted to take the free agency path and signed with the Chicago Bears.
You could make the case he’s been the team’s best defensive player since his arrival in the Windy City in 2010. More importantly, Peppers has emerged as a leader on the Bears defense. That will be a big factor this season with the retirement of middle linebacker Brian Urlacher.
In three seasons in Chicago, Peppers has been named to three Pro Bowls and 30.5 sacks. And with 111.5 career sacks in 11 NFL campaigns, we could be talking about the talented defender in a different vein in a few years.
Cincinnati Bengals: QB Carson Palmer
Contract: 10 years, $119.5 million in 2005
The Cincinnati Bengals saw enough of quarterback Carson Palmer early in his career to lock him up for many years.
Or so they thought.
The first overall pick in the 2003 NFL draft, Palmer never played a down as a rookie. But he would make up for it eventually. After a so-so season in 2004, the former Heisman Trophy winner led the Bengals to their first division title in 15 years in 2005. Palmer would throw 32 touchdown passes and only a dozen interceptions that season.
But the talented quarterback would also suffer a severe knee injury in the first quarter of their playoff meeting with the Pittsburgh Steelers that, perhaps, he never overcame. In 2008, an elbow issue sidelined him for a dozen games.
Still, Palmer and the team rebounded in 2009 to win another division title. But it once again came apart for the franchise and by 2011, Palmer was threatening retirement if things did not change for the beleaguered franchise. Owner Mike Brown was content to let him sit, but eventually Palmer was dealt to the Oakland Raiders in October of 2011 in a deal that would up benefit the Bengals very well.
Cleveland Browns: T Joe Thomas
Contract: 8 years, $80.5 million in 2011
Sometime it doesn’t take many words to show the impact of a player.
Tackle Joe Thomas was the third overall pick by the Cleveland Browns in the 2007 NFL draft. The former Wisconsin standout had a standout rookie season and helped lead his team to a 10-6 record.
But it has been downhill ever since for the franchise. The club has lost at least 11 games each of the last five seasons.
Meanwhile, Thomas remains perfect. In six NFL campaigns he's received six invitations to the Pro Bowl. The Browns rewarded that kind of consistency a few years ago with a new eight-year contact.
Dallas Cowboys: QB Tony Romo
Contract: 7 years, $119.5 million in 2013
Tony Romo certainly understands the responsibility and scrutiny that comes with being the quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys.
So, after he signed a new seven-year deal this offseason worth $119.5 million ($40 million guaranteed), the questions came: why so much money for a player that has led his team to only one playoff win?
A legitimate question indeed, but, of course, Romo isn’t the only reason the team has failed in the postseason. The Cowboys are actually just 1-6 in the playoffs dating back to 1997, well before Romo’s days in Dallas.
Still, more will be expected of the Cowboys quarterback in 2013 and beyond. A year ago, Romo threw 28 touchdown passes while also serving up an NFL-high 19 interceptions (tied with New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees).
That won’t get it done for Dallas, which captured the NFC East in 2009 but has failed to have a winning season since. Fair or unfair, Romo will be getting the majority of the credit or blame one way or another.
Denver Broncos: QB Peyton Manning
Contract: 5 years, $96 million in 2012
Sometimes it is still hard to believe that Peyton Manning is quarterback of the Denver Broncos.
The first overall pick of the Indianapolis Colts in 1998, the prolific signal-caller was a four-time NFL MVP for the franchise and led the club to a pair of Super Bowl appearances. Manning capped off the 2006 season with a victory in Super Bowl XLI.
After starting 208 consecutive regular-season games, Manning was shelved for the 2011 season due to several neck surgeries. Early in 2012, the Colts released the iconic quarterback and, soon afterwards, he became a member of the Denver Broncos.
As for Manning’s first season in the Mile High City, all he did was lead his team to a 13-3 mark. That record was tied for tops in the NFL. Manning threw 37 touchdown passes, his best performance since 2004 (when he had 49), breaking the old Broncos franchise record by 10 scores.
The 2012 NFL Comeback Player of the Year and his Broncos fell short of a Super Bowl appearance last season, but look for Manning and company to be in the thick of the chase in 2013.
Detroit Lions: WR Calvin Johnson
Contract: 8 years, $150.5 million in 2012
Thank you very much.
Certainly similar words were spoken by Detroit Lions wide receiver after he signed a contract in March of 2012, currently the biggest in NFL history.
Thank you came in the form of a league-high 122 receptions and an NFL single-season record 1,964 yards. Johnson only totaled five touchdowns, but that was good enough to lead the Lions in scoring receptions.
Could “Megatron” actually reach the 2,000-yard mark in receiving in 2013? It’s a question that’s been posed several times and will be answered before we know it.
Green Bay Packers: QB Aaron Rodgers
Contract: 7 years, $130.75 million in 2013
Aaron Rodgers had big shoes to fill when he took over as the starting quarterback for the Green Bay Packers in 2008.
So far so good for the team’s first-round pick in 2005.
In his five seasons as Green Bay’s starting quarterback, Rodgers has forged a 52-26 record, throwing 170 touchdown passes and just 45 interceptions. The Packers have been in the playoffs four straight years and over that span captured Super Bowl XLV.
Rodgers was named league MVP in 2011 after throwing 45 touchdown passes while being picked off only six times. Over the past two seasons, the productive quarterback has thrown for six times as many scores (84) as interceptions (14).
This offseason, Rodgers was rewarded with a new seven-year contract. It would appear to be a very wise investment.
Houston Texans: WR Andre Johnson
Contract: 7 years, $67.8 million in 2010
In April, the Houston Texans made DeAndre Hopkins their first-round selection in the NFL draft.
It was the first time the franchise had selected a wide receiver in the first round in 10 years. In 2003, the Texans make University of Miami wideout Andre Johnson the third overall pick.
It’s been quite a run for the six-time Pro Bowler, who has totaled 818 receptions in 10 seasons with the club. After back-to-back seasons of 100-plus catches and 1,500 or more receiving yards, Johnson was rewarded with his current contract.
That looked like a shaky investment after a pair of injury-plagued years in 2010 and 2011 caused him to miss a combined 12 games. But last season, Johnson responded with 112 catches, good for a career-high 1,598 yards last season.
There appears to be plenty of football left in Johnson, who will now mentor Hopkins in 2013 while their team looks to make its first Super Bowl appearance.
Indianapolis Colts: QB Peyton Manning
Contract: 7 years, $99.2 million in 2004
Yes, this is the second time you have seen prolific quarterback Peyton Manning on this list. But this was the first time he signed such a lucrative contract.
But ponder this.
It is interesting to note that Manning has come up big each year after signing a new deal? After agreeing to a new contract in 2004 with the Indianapolis Colts, Peyton placed 49 touchdown passes in his receivers’ hands, the second-highest single-season total in NFL history.
And a year ago, Manning signed that big contract with the Denver Broncos and went on to throw for 37 scores, the second-highest total of his career.
Jacksonville Jaguars: QB David Garrard
Contract: 7 years, $60 million in 2008
In 2007, the Jacksonville Jaguars finished with an 11-5 record and captured a playoff berth. The team would go on to defeat the Steelers in Pittsburgh in the wild card round before losing to the New England Patriots a week later.
That Jaguars team was led by quarterback David Garrard, who the team rewarded with a seven-year contract in 2008.
But the versatile signal-caller would play that year and two more seasons after that. And unfortunately for Jacksonville fans, the franchise has not been back to the playoffs since 2007.
Garrard made comeback attempts with the Miami Dolphins and New York Jets in each of the last two seasons, but he finally opted to retire this offseason.
Kansas City Chiefs: QB Matt Cassel
Contract: 6 years, $63 million in 2009
Talk about ups and downs.
Quarterback Matt Cassel, a seventh-round pick by the New England Patriots in 2005, was forced into the spotlight in 2008 when star quarterback Tom Brady was lost for the season with a knee injury in the first quarter of the team’s season opener.
Cassel would respond by throwing for 3,693 yards, 21 scores and 11 interceptions. The Patriots would finish 11-5 but miss the playoffs.
By 2009, Cassel was a member of the Kansas City Chiefs via a trade. After a shaky first year with the team, he put together a solid year in 2010 and led the team to the AFC West title. Cassel would throw 27 touchdown passes and just seven interceptions during the regular season. However, the Chiefs failed to win in the playoffs.
Fast forward to 2012, when Cassel played in only nine games and still committed more than half (19) of the Chiefs’ 37 turnovers. He was released this offseason and is hoping to renew his career with the Minnesota Vikings.
Miami Dolphins: WR Mike Wallace
Contract: 5 years, $60 million in 2013
No pun intended, but the Miami Dolphins did want to make a splash in the 2013 free agency pool.
That they did with the quick signing of wide receiver Mike Wallace, late of the Pittsburgh Steelers. The big-play wideout totaled 235 catches for 4,042 yards (17.2 yards per reception) and 32 touchdowns in four seasons with his former employer.
Now Wallace hopes to make second-year pro Ryan Tannehill a better quarterback. More importantly, the Dolphins look to end a four-year stretch of losing seasons and return to the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
If Wallace can help the team get back to the postseason, he will prove to be a worthwhile investment.
Minnesota Vikings: RB Adrian Peterson
Contract: 7 years, $96 million in 2011
In his first four years in the league, Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson had already shown that he was arguably the best running back in the league.
He has certainly cemented that fact and more since.
But it didn’t look good for a bit. Late in 2011, after signing a new contract earlier in the year, Peterson suffered a severe knee injury in Week 16 vs. the Washington Redskins and his immediate future was in doubt.
Of course, we all know the story by now. Peterson was the league’s Most Valuable Player in 2012 after rushing for 2,097 yards, the second-highest single-season total in NFL history. He was also a major factor in the team’s 10-6 record and surprising playoff appearance last season.
And is his best yet to come?
New England Patriots: QB Tom Brady
Contract: 5 years, $78.5 million in 2010
There’s a not a lot of bad things you can say about New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.
As of late, the three-time Super Bowl champion has put up astounding numbers. Brady has thrown 187 touchdown passes and only 45 interceptions in 81 regular-season games since 2007. And over the past three seasons, since Brady inked his latest deal, the Patriots are a league-best 39-9 and have won at least a dozen games each year.
But the prolific signal-caller, who threw a record 50 touchdown passes in 2007, may have to really earn his paycheck in 2013.
Gone are five of his top six pass-catchers from a year ago, including wide receiver Wes Welker. The only exception is tight end Rob Gronkowski, and we’re not sure when the former Pro Bowler will be healthy enough to take the field.
It could be a different kind of year for the Brady and the Patriots. But that may not necessarily be a bad thing. Stay tuned.
New Orleans Saints: QB Drew Brees
Contract: 5 years, $100 million in 2012
It was a little surprising that the San Diego Chargers, who made quarterback Drew Brees the first pick in the second round in 2001, would eventually go in a different direction.
Perhaps it was even more surprising that Brees, signed by the New Orleans Saints as an unrestricted free agent in 2006, would ever let any contract of his expire.
But there it was in 2012 as the Super Bowl XLIV champion and MVP was slapped with the exclusive franchise tag that offseason.
Eventually the deal would get done. And Brees followed his record-setting season of 5,476 passing yards with a league-high 5,177 yards this past season. Brees has also combined to throw an amazing 89 touchdown passes the last two years, 43 of those in 2012.
But the real payoff for the talented passer and his club would be a return to the Super Bowl.
New York Giants: QB Eli Manning
Contract: 7 years, $106.9 million in 2009
No quarterback in the league has currently started more consecutive games than Eli Manning (135), who took over the job with seven games to go in 2004 and hasn’t looked back since.
And the New York Giants have been the direct beneficiaries. Two years after he led the team to a win in Super Bowl XLII, Manning would ink a new seven-year contract. Two years later, Manning would spearhead a late-season charge and helped Big Blue win another NFL title courtesy of a victory in Super Bowl XLVI.
While the nine-year signal-caller has had his ups and downs on the field, he remains one of the top quarterbacks in the game and figures to have the Giants in the hunt once again in 2013.
New York Jets: T D’Brickashaw Ferguson
Contract: 8 years, $73.6 million in 2010
In 2006, the New York Jets made talented University of Virginia tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson the fourth overall pick in the NFL draft.
The standout blocker improved as time wore on and the accolades would come. In 2009, Ferguson would be named to the first of three straight Pro Bowls.
A year later, the Jets would re-sign Ferguson to an eight-year deal and they hope he will be around for years to come as this new-look club looks to get back in the playoff hunt.
Oakland Raiders: CB DeAngelo Hall
Contract: 7 years, $70 million in 2008
Eight was obviously not enough.
The eighth overall pick in the 2004 draft, cornerback DeAngelo Hall had his good and bad moments with the Atlanta Falcons.
But after four seasons with that franchise, the defender was dealt to the Oakland Raiders and went onto sign a lucrative seven-year, $70 million dollar deal with the Silver and Black. However, that relationship lasted a mere eight games as Hall was released by the Raiders at midseason.
The two-time Pro Bowler with the Falcons would find a home with the Washington Redskins and has been there ever since, earning another Pro Bowl invitation following the 2010 season.
Philadelphia Eagles: QB Michael Vick
Contract: 5 years, $80 million in 2011
No, this is not a typo. Michael Vick is on this list for the second time after signing a new deal with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2011. In 2004, he signed a huge deal with the Atlanta Falcons.
Vick enjoyed a solid season with the Birds in 2010, leading Philadelphia to the NFC East title. The talented performer started a dozen games and threw 21 touchdown passes compare to only six interceptions and also ran for nine touchdowns.
Of course, the last two seasons were less than scintillating for the Eagles. Injuries limited Vick to only 23 games and in those contests he threw 30 touchdown passes, but turned over the football 33 times.
There’s a new sheriff in town with head coach Chip Kelly. We’ll soon find out if Vick will get the opportunity to see the remainder of that contract.
Pittsburgh Steelers: QB Ben Roethlisberger
Contract: 8 years, $102 million in 2008
We all like to speculate on how professional athletes will fare after they get the big contract.
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was at the helm of the team when it won Super Bowl XL in 2005. In his second season, he became the youngest starting quarterback to hoist the Lombardi Trophy.
In 2008, entering his fifth year with the club, Roethlisberger was rewarded with an eight-year, $102 million dollar deal that obviously raised a few eyebrows.
But Big Ben didn’t blink and, by season’s end, he had helped deliver a second Super Bowl title via a clutch drive in the final two-plus minutes to beat the Arizona Cardinals, 27-23. Two years later, Roethlisberger would lead the Steelers to another Super Bowl appearance.
How’s that for getting some bang for your buck?
St. Louis Rams: QB Sam Bradford
Contract: 6 years, $78.045 million in 2010
Three years into his original contract, we are still waiting to see the best of quarterback Sam Bradford.
That may be coming in 2013.
The first overall pick in the 2010 draft signed a six-year deal that included $50 million dollars in guarantees.
Bradford comes off his best season to date. After missing six games the previous year, the Rams signal-caller threw 21 touchdown passes and just 13 interceptions in 2012.
With an influx of new talent aboard this season, most notably in the form of former free agent tight end Jared Cook and rookie wide receiver Tavon Austin, it could be a big year for Bradford and the surging Rams.
San Diego Chargers: QB Philip Rivers
Contract: 7 years, $98.25 million in 2009
The San Diego Chargers head into 2013 with quarterback Philip Rivers but plenty of new faces. That would include new head coach Mike McCoy, who previously served as the offensive coordinator of the Denver Broncos.
After leading his team to three straight AFC West titles from 2006-08, Rivers was given a new contract. And he rewarded the club with a 13-3 record and another division championship in 2009.
There will be the skeptics who point to the fact that Rivers hasn’t done much in recent years and rightfully so. The Bolts have failed to make the playoffs three straight years. Over the last two seasons, the Chargers are a combined 15-17 and have committed 54 turnovers, 47 of those by Rivers.
Perhaps McCoy and new offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt can make Rivers an on-the-money quarterback once again.
San Francisco 49ers: CB Nate Clements
Contract: 8 years, $80 million in 2007
It wasn’t for a lack of trying.
From 2003-10, the San Francisco 49ers had their issues. Over that eight-year span, the team failed to post a winning season.
In 2007, looking to bolster their defense, the team opted to sign former Buffalo Bills cornerback Nate Clements to a lucrative contract. And the Niners would get their man via an eight-year, $80 million dollar deal.
But in 2011, Clements was released and would eventually sign with the Cincinnati Bengals. His four seasons in San Francisco saw him total 10 interceptions. The good news is that his current team, like his previous employer, has been to the playoffs two straight years.
Seattle Seahawks: WR Percy Harvin
Contract: 6 years, $67 million in 2013
This offseason, the Seattle Seahawks gave up their share of draft choice to acquire wide receiver Percy Harvin from the Minnesota Vikings.
The big-play performer hopes to add a different dimension to an up-and-coming offense led by quarterback Russell Wilson. Seattle would wind up scoring 412 points last season, which ranked eighth in the NFL in 2012.
With the Vikings, Harvin did miss 10 games in four seasons. But he also put up impressive numbers when he was on the field, totaling 280 receptions, 20 for scores. Harvin also ran for 683 yards and four touchdowns and has taken back five kickoffs for scores, at least one in each of his four NFL campaigns.
By next February, head coach Pete Carroll could be kicking back and watching his team in the playoff for a second straight year. And Harvin would be one of the star attractions.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: CB Darrelle Revis
Contract: 6 years, $96 million in 2013
Somehow it’s fitting that there will be a “Revis Island” in Tampa Bay.
But let’s not water down the impact cornerback Darrelle Revis could have with the Buccaneers in 2012.
A four-time Pro Bowler with the New York Jets, Revis’ sixth season in the Big Apple was one that lasted only three games. A knee injury in a Week 3 win over the Miami Dolphins sidelined the standout defender for the remainder of the year.
It seemed inevitable that Revis was destined to leave New York with another potential contract dispute looming. And the Buccaneers were willing to give up at least a first-round draft choice and more to get the shutdown corner. More included a hefty six-year contract.
Now all Revis has to do is help fix the NFL’s worst pass defense in 2012.
Tennessee Titans: QB Steve McNair
Contract: 6 years, $112.25 million in 2004
The third overall pick by the Houston Oilers in 1995, quarterback Steve McNair watched and waited. And once he got his chance, he proved to be one of the league’s top offensive performers.
But it is funny how things work. The Oilers would become the Tennessee Titans and the franchise would parlay McNair’s talents into several playoff appearances, including a berth in Super Bowl XXXIV. In 2003, McNair was co-MVP of the National Football League.
But two years after re-upping with the franchise in 2004, McNair was quarterbacking the Baltimore Ravens to the playoffs in 2006.
Still, the late and great McNair made his impact with the Titans and the enclosed video clip of McNair in Super Bowl XXXIV epitomized his overall performance.
Washington Redskins: DT Albert Haynesworth
Contract: 7 years, $100 million in 2009
Simply put, it proved to be a disaster for the Washington Redskins. And in some strange way, it also turned out to be the final straw.
In 2008, the Redskins field one of the better defensive units in the league, ranking fourth in the league in yards allowed. Washington was eight vs. the run and seventh vs. the pass that season.
So what would owner Daniel Snyder and the front office do? Add defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth and give him $100 million dollars in the process.
In two seasons (20 games) with the team, Haynesworth totaled only 6.5 sacks. That was two sacks less than he managed with the Tennessee Titans in 2008.
It’s safe to say that the Redskins have begun to stress the draft much more in recent years. A wise choice indeed.
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