The Highest-Paid NFL Players Heading into the 2017-18 Season

Chris RolingFeatured ColumnistAugust 18, 2017

The Highest-Paid NFL Players Heading into the 2017-18 Season

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    David Goldman/Associated Press

    Like contracts in any sport, the cash doled out to NFL players can be eyebrow-raising.

    Quarterbacks, of course, pepper the top of the lists no matter which way one wants to sort them. It's an arms race with no end in sight as one QB contract one-ups the next.

    But contracts—quarterbacks or otherwise—are often a reflection of a team's situation. It's why someone like Brock Osweiler cashed in on a $72 million deal or a guy like Mike Glennon got $45 million over three years.

    There are countless ways to skin the cat contract-wise, which agents and teams use as a way to boast about new purchases or extensions. So while technically Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr heads into 2017 as the highest-paid player based on average yearly salary, that's only one way to view the hierarchy.

    Comparatively speaking, the same applies to other sports—but often with bigger total numbers and more in the way of guarantees.

    Over in the NBA, Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors sits on the biggest max contract, coming in at roughly $201 million over five years. Giancarlo Stanton of the Miami Marlins comes in at $325 million over 13 years. Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals leads the way in the NHL at $124 million, also over 13 seasons.

    Below, let's outline the top contracts by how much they're costing their teams in 2017 via the metrics at Spotrac.

Top-Paid Players at Each Position

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    Bill Wippert/Associated Press

    QB: Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens: $24.55 million 

    RB: Le'Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers: $12.12 million

    FB: Kyle Juszczyk, San Francisco 49ers, $3.75 million

    WR: Dez Bryant, Dallas Cowboys: $17 million 

    TE: Jason Witten, Dallas Cowboys: $12.62 million 

    OT: Trent Williams, Washington Redskins: $15.14 million 

    OG: Kelechi Osemele, Oakland Raiders: $13.50 million 

    C: Brandon Linder, Jacksonville Jaguars: $11.07 million 

    DE: Muhammad Wilkerson, New York Jets: $18 million 

    DT: Ndamukong Suh, Miami Dolphins: $19.10 million 

    OLB: Justin Houston, Kansas City Chiefs: $22.10 million 

    ILB: Luke Kuechly, Carolina Panthers: $12.76 million 

    CB: Josh Norman, Washington Redskins: $20 million 

    S: Devin McCourty, New England Patriots: $10.94 million 

    K: Stephen Gostkowski, New England Patriots: $4.50 million 

    P: Dustin Colquitt, Kansas City Chiefs: $4.90 million 

    LS: Charley Hughlett, Cleveland Browns: $1.47 million 

10. Cam Newton, QB, Carolina Panthers: $20,166,666

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    Contract detailsFive-year, $103.8 million deal ($22.5 million signing bonus with $60 million guaranteed) signed in 2015

    Newton has one of the more interesting contracts in the NFL.

    The former MVP's deal is a good example of how quickly the quarterback market escalates—getting a pact north of $100 million in 2015 seemed like a big deal at the time. Now, even though he's a cap hit over $20 million every year through 2020, it's starting to fall down the list.

    Alas, the deal is a huge endorsement for the Panthers considering few quarterbacks put their bodies at risk rushing the ball the way Newton does.

    The man helping evolve the position as we know it has rushed 100 or more times five of his first six years in the NFL. Knowing his personality, thoughts about a possible extension with a potential out ahead after the 2018 season probably won't stop him from playing the game in this manner.

9. Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers: $20,300,000

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    David Goldman/Associated Press

    Contract detailsFive-year, $110 million deal ($33.25 million signing bonus with million $54 guaranteed) signed in 2013

    Based on performance alone, this isn't where one would expect to find Aaron Rodgers.

    Rodgers was the league's highest-paid quarterback at one point, but he hasn't made much in the way of noise while careening down the list as the market resets itself. All he's done since inking the deal is throw 30 or more touchdowns in his three fully healthy seasons while never throwing more than eight picks.

    Like a handful of superstar quarterbacks in the past, Rodgers hasn't blinked in taking less than he's worth.

    The Packers know this good fortune can't last in a league that has Rodgers tied with Tannehill and while guys like Glennon pull in $45 million over three years.

    Feel free to call this another list Rodgers will end up topping again.

8. Ryan Tannehill, QB, Miami Dolphins: $20,300,000

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    Gregory Bull/Associated Press

    Contract detailsFour-year, $77 million deal ($11.5 million signing bonus with $45 million guaranteed) signed in 2015

    Tannehill got out ahead of the curve and inked a smart four-year deal with $45 million of the $77 million guaranteed.

    The Dolphins didn't have a problem dishing this backloaded deal at the time—Tannehill was a few years younger, and between 2014 and 2015 he tossed a combined 51 touchdowns against 24 interceptions.

    Granted, the wideout-turned-quarterback threw just seven more touchdowns than interceptions in 2016, setting up one of the league's more interesting showdowns soon because there is an out after the 2017 season.

    For now, Tannehill sits on one of the middle-of-the-road contracts among quarterbacks, though the pendulum could swing in either direction in dramatic fashion as he starts to dip up over the age of 30. A season-ending injury derailing his 2017 campaign will play a big role in which way things pan out in the years ahead. 

7. Von Miller, Edge, Denver Broncos: $20,400,000

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    Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

    Contract detailsSix-year, $114.5 million deal ($17 million signing bonus with $70 million guaranteed) signed in 2016

    In a way, Houston paved the road for Miller to ink his monster contract.

    This couldn't have been a tough call for the Broncos; Miller led the team to a Lombardi Trophy while reeling in the Super Bowl MVP. They paid the man after a month of tough talk. Then he turned around and dropped another 13.5 sacks in 2016.

    Like Houston, Miller's new deal has a potential out right around when he hits the age of 30, which should make for an interesting veteran market in a few years. As for the man himself, though, he made it clear on social media he doesn't want to suit up in different colors.

    There aren't many players like Houston or Miller in the NFL right now, but they're a cut-and-dried example of what teams value after quarterbacks in this pass-happy league. Provided Miller keeps pushing pockets, he'll keep pushing the upper limits of the biggest defender contracts in league history.

6. Matthew Stafford, QB, Detroit Lions: $22,000,000

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    Brandon Wade/Associated Press

    Contract detailsThree-year, $53 million deal ($27.5 million signing bonus with $41.5 million guaranteed) signed in 2013

    Speaking of signal-callers about to turn the market on its head, Stafford seems ready for an arms race with his counterpart in Atlanta.

    Stafford has been nothing short of an elite producer for most of his career, so the $53 million extension inked in 2013 seems like a relic one would find at an antique contract shop.

    The numbers speak for themselves.

    Stafford has eclipsed 4,000 passing yards in six consecutive seasons. In 2015 and 2016, his completion percentage sat on a minimum of 65 percent—with and without Calvin Johnson. In fact, Stafford has saved his best for a contract push, going for 56 touchdowns against 23 interceptions in that span.

    Long story short, the majority of the league wouldn't think twice at making Stafford the highest-paid player in the league by every metric available. Like Ryan, he's not going anywhere.

5. Justin Houston, Edge, Kansas City Chiefs: $22,100,000

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    Ed Zurga/Associated Press

    Contract detailsSix-year, $101 million deal ($20.5 million signing bonus with $52.5 million guaranteed) signed in 2015

    If fans take away one thing from this list, it should be the hierarchy of positional importance in the NFL today. After quarterbacks, an elite edge presence such as Houston isn't far behind.

    Coming off a 22-sack season, the Chiefs saw it fit to make Houston the highest-paid linebacker in NFL history and second only in total money for a defender behind Miami Dolphins tackle Ndamukong Suh. It was one heck of a brave move by Houston at the time, as he seemed poised for a holdout after being slapped with a tag before the Chiefs blinked and pulled out the checkbook.

    Since, Houston restructured his contract in 2016 to shift money into a bonus, helping the Chiefs clear cap space for other moves. He only suited up in five games for the Chiefs that season while recovering from an injury, so the jury will remain out on the value of the overall deal as both sides approach a potential out in 2019.

    Then, Houston will be around 30 years old and will look to climb this list or take a bow out. Don't blink.

4. Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta Falcons: $23,750,000

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    Eric Gay/Associated Press

    Contract details: Five-year, $103.75 million deal ($28 million signing bonus with $42 million guaranteed) signed in 2013

    Ryan is the next big name to alter the quarterback market forever.

    Ryan, coming off an MVP and Offensive Player of the Year campaign and appearance in the Super Bowl, figures to go north of the five-year, $125 million deal the Oakland Raiders just gave Derek Carr.

    And why not? Ryan signed his old extension back in 2013 and has only become more efficient with age, throwing 38 touchdowns against all of seven interceptions during Atlanta's run to the Super Bowl. Now flirting with his mid-30s on his next extension, it might be his last stab at a major contract, depending on how the money shifts along the years to help the team remain in contention.

    Ryan is the rare example of one of those players impossible to criticize for a monster contract. He's a cut above most in the league and lifts the team around him, so the numbers and slotting along a list like this come with the territory.

3. Kirk Cousins, QB, Washington Redskins: $23,943,600

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Contract details: One-year, $23.9 million deal signed in 2017

    Cousins isn't a stranger to coming up in contract chatter.

    He and the Redskins have danced around the extension fire for years, with Cousins being the biggest winner on a series of tags. The first in 2016 paid him almost $20 million, and this year's tag almost hits $24 million. Though there aren't long-term guarantees here, appearing in the top 10 two years in a row isn't a bad deal.

    Washington, presumably, can't complain too much about the investment in a passer in his prime who for his career completes 65.9 percent of his attempts and has 30 more touchdowns than interceptions.

    Performance aside, Cousins should move up to No. 1 on this list in a hurry. Washington doesn't figure to pay him roughly $35 million on a third consecutive tag, meaning he'll be in a position to incite a bidding war on the open market and reshape quarterback costs as we know it.

    For now, Washington seems content to give Cousins what he seeks while waiting to see where he wants to commit for the long term. Cousins should be more than happy to have emerged from Robert Griffin III's shadow onto a list like this for years at a time.

    Everybody wins.

2. Carson Palmer, QB, Arizona Cardinals: $24,350,000

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    Contract details: One-year, $24.35 million deal ($6.75 million signing bonus with $21 million guaranteed) signed in 2016

    If Flacco wasn't expected as the top earner, Palmer likely didn't pop into minds at all for a list like this.

    That isn't a knock on Palmer, but quarterbacks lacking a nameplate that says Brady or Manning don't usually cash in like this despite careening toward the age of 40.

    Regardless, the Cardinals hit Palmer with a one-year extension in 2016, hoping to eek out some serious playoff contention over his last few years in the league. It's not just him, either, as other core pieces like Larry Fitzgerald continue to inch toward leaving the game, putting the Cardinals in a rough patch of rebuilding.

    Palmer, though, lost some noticeable zip on his passes in 2016, completing just 61 percent of his attempts (his lowest mark since 2011) and averaging 7.09 yards per attempt (lowest since 2010) in a vertical-based offense and tossing 14 interceptions (most since 2013).

    A return to form isn't out of the question if the coaching staff in Arizona seems comfortable with the contract situation. As an aside, the alternatives are Drew Stanton and Blaine Gabbert, so the front office isn't likely to lose sleep over Palmer's second-place ranking here.

1. Joe Flacco, QB, Baltimore Ravens: $24,550,000

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    Don Wright/Associated Press

    Contract details: Three-year, $66.4 million deal ($40 million signing bonus with $44 million guaranteed) signed in 2016

    Flacco wouldn't be the first guess for many when asked to name 2017's top earner.

    Alas, Flacco has set a few records over the years after winning Super Bowl XLVII, initially getting a six-year, $120.6 million contract that required renegotiation after 2015 because of its backloaded nature. Said renegotiations resulted in the above contract, getting him the largest signing bonus in league history at the time.

    Any contract this big will come under fire from most angles, especially with Flacco's sitting on a career 61.5 completion percentage and his Ravens having tepid success since hoisting a Lombardi Trophy. Naturally it's fun to blame Flacco given the cash here, but only focusing on him ignores organizational missteps and stars like Matt Birk and Ray Lewis hanging up the cleats.

    Flacco mighty classify as "overpaid" in some circles based on production alone, but any such conversation should take into account how many teams wouldn't mind giving Flacco the same. The quarterback-contract market and iffy state of talent at the position have combined to help Flacco benefit more than any other player heading into 2017.

                   

    Stats and information courtesy of NFL.com. Contract information via Spotrac.