The Highest-Paid Quarterbacks in the NFL
Jimmy Garoppolo has started just seven games in his NFL career, but that didn't deter the San Francisco 49ers from making him the highest-paid quarterback for the 2018 season.
This ranking of the 10 highest-paid quarterbacks is based solely on cap hit for the upcoming season, as determined by Spotrac. We could have looked at average salaries for the duration of contracts, guaranteed money or several other things, but cap space is the bottom line that matters the most. And Garoppolo is eating up a whopping $37 million of San Fran's cap this year.
For each of these rich men, we'll take a look at their overall contract, how they fared this past season and what factors made them so indispensable that owners were willing to fork over at least $22 million for their services in 2018.
Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons, $17.7M
Ryan is in the final year of the five-year extension he signed with the Falcons during the 2013 offseason, so he's several million away from ranking in the top 10 this year. But he signed a five-year, $150 million extension this spring, meaning he'll be making an average of $30 million per year for 2019-23—the NFL's highest average salary, per Spotrac. Safe to say he'll be one of the highest-paid quarterbacks for the first few years of the next decade.
Alex Smith, Washington Redskins, $18.4M
Similar to Ryan, Smith is still playing out the end of his last contract, but he is already guaranteed quite the income beyond 2018. After the Chiefs traded him to the Redskins this past winter, Smith signed a four-year, $94 million extension, putting his average salary at $23.5 million for that time. Were he getting paid that money this year, he'd be in the top 10.
Tom Brady, New England Patriots, $22M
No one knows how many years Brady's well-maintained body has left, but we do know the soon-to-be 41-year-old quarterback will make $22 million from the Patriots this coming season. If we could factor in endorsement deals, his income for 2018 would almost certainly rank top-five among quarterbacks.
Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers, $21.5M
When the Panthers signed Newton to a $103.8 million extension ($60 million guaranteed) three offseasons ago, it seemed like a gigantic risk because of ever-present injury concerns. But did you know he has only missed three games in his seven-year career? This big contract might be a bargain after all.
Philip Rivers, Los Angeles Chargers, $22M
Speaking of games played, did you know Rivers has started every game for the Chargers since the beginning of the 2006 season and is the NFL's active leader in consecutive starts? He'll never catch Brett Favre (297 regular season, 24 postseason), but Rivers would be No. 5 on the NFL's all-time list of consecutive starts (at any position) with 224 of them if he remains the healthy starter through the end of his contract (2019).
Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers, $20.6M
When Rodgers signed his five-year, $110 million extension in 2013, it gave him the highest per-season salary in NFL history. Now nearing the end of that deal, he's only the 14th-biggest cap hit in the NFL for 2018. At some point over the next few months, though, he's probably going to get a massive extension, ensuring he'll be on this list for years to come.
10. Eli Manning, New York Giants, $22.2M
Contract Details: 4-year, $84 million extension (through 2019) signed in September 2015
2017 Stats: 61.6% CMP, 3,468 YDS, 19 TD, 13 INT, 41.7 QBR
Despite struggling through a horrendous 3-13 season, the New York Giants stuck with Eli Manning at quarterback for 15 of 16 games. (The one exception resulted in the termination of head coach Bob McAdoo, as well as a death threat to the father of backup quarterback Geno Smith.)
Given how much money Manning is owed through 2019, it was both surprising they didn't opt to protect that investment from injury once the season was lost and not surprising they didn't want to make him the highest-paid backup ever.
Prior to the infamous one game on the bench, Manning had started every game for the Giants since Week 11 of the 2004 season. In those 14 years, he has accumulated 51,682 yards and 339 touchdowns, ranking top-10 on the all-time list in both categories. And, of course, Manning led the Giants to Super Bowl titles in 2007 and 2011.
Manning has thrown for at least 3,200 yards in 13 straight years and should have no problem doing so again if the receiving corps can stay healthy this time around. Odell Beckham Jr. and Brandon Marshall were supposed to be the stars, but they combined to appear in just nine games last season, leaving Sterling Shepard and Roger Lewis as the most targeted wide receivers on the roster.
Between that and the porous offensive line, it's no wonder things spiraled out of control for this offense. But it should get better with a (presumably) healthy OBJ and the addition of No. 2 overall draft pick Saquon Barkley at running back.
9. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers, $23.2M
Contract Details: 4-year, $87.4 million extension (through 2019) signed in March 2015
2017 Stats: 64.2% CMP, 4,251 YDS, 28 TD, 14 INT, 62.9 QBR
Even with several years and many million dollars remaining on his contract, Ben Roethlisberger spent a good chunk of the 2017 offseason contemplating retirement. And when he did decide to return to the field, he told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Ed Bouchette he couldn't guarantee that this past season wouldn't be his last.
But he didn't much look like a man who had one foot out the door, and it didn't take long for Big Ben to confirm he'd be back this year.
Roethlisberger threw for more than 4,000 yards for the first time since 2014, playing in every game except for a regular-season finale that didn't matter for playoff seeding. In terms of both yards per game and touchdowns, it was the fourth-most successful season of his 14-year career.
Once in the postseason, he obliterated his previous career highs with 469 yards and five touchdowns in the 45-42 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars in the divisional round. It was the first time since winning the Super Bowl in February 2006 that Roethlisberger threw at least five touchdowns in an entire postseason, let alone in a single game.
To make a long story short, there's still plenty left in Roethlisberger's tank, even though he has taken way more than his fair share of hard hits over the years. If he can replicate last year's success, he'll be worth every penny he's owed.
8. Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks, $23.8M
Contract Details: 4-year, $87.6 million extension (through 2019) signed in July 2015
2017 Stats: 61.3% CMP, 3,983 YDS, 34 TD, 11 INT, 58.1 QBR
Since drafting Russell Wilson in 2012 and immediately making him the starter, the Seattle Seahawks have an overall record of 65-30-1. Wilson has started all 96 of those games—a miracle for a guy averaging 96 rushes and 41 sacks per year—leading his squad to a winning record in all six seasons. Seattle is also 8-4 in the postseason during that time, including winning Super Bowl XLVIII.
When he was doing it on a rookie contract for less than $820,000 in each of his first three seasons, Seattle was getting away with grand larceny.
But even at $23.8 million this year and $25.3 million in 2019, the Seahawks will still be getting a respectable return on investment if he continues to perform at his established level of excellence.
While last season wasn't his best as far as completion percentage or QBR are concerned, Wilson led the NFL with 34 passing touchdowns. He also had a TD-INT ratio of 3.0 or better for just the second time in his career. It's just too bad Seattle's defense was (by far) the worst it has been since Wilson was drafted, causing him to miss the playoffs for the first time in his career.
Between the offseason acquisitions of veteran targets Brandon Marshall and Ed Dickson, as well as first-round draft pick Rashaad Penny, this might be the most talented offense Wilson has gotten to work with.
6 (tie). Kirk Cousins, Minnesota Vikings, $24M
Contract Details: 3-year, $84 million deal (through 2020) signed in March 2018
2017 Stats: 64.3% CMP, 4,093 YDS, 27 TD, 13 INT, 50.5 QBR
Here's a fun fact: Kirk Cousins and Philip Rivers are the only two quarterbacks who have thrown for at least 4,000 yards and 25 touchdowns in each of the last three seasons.
Not too shabby for a guy the Redskins never wanted to commit to for more than one season at a time, hitting him with the franchise tag in both 2016 and 2017 before letting him walk this offseason.
Their loss is Minnesota's gain, as the Vikings snatched up Cousins for an average salary of $28 million. He'll only make $24 million this year, but Minnesota is on the hook for $29 million and $31 million in 2019 and 2020, respectively.
Given the mediocrity this franchise has endured at this position for more than a decade, it's no wonder the Vikings were willing to shell out the big bucks. If Cousins is the starter for all three years of the deal, it would be the first time since Daunte Culpepper in the early 2000s that the same player led Minnesota in passing for at least three consecutive years.
But considering what he was able to do last year with Jamison Crowder and Josh Doctson as his primary targets, Cousins should have a lot of fun in Minnesota with the likes of Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs and Dalvin Cook at his disposal.
6 (tie). Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints, $24M
Contract Details: 2-year, $50 million deal (through 2019) signed in March 2018
2017 Stats: 72.0% CMP, 4,334 YDS, 23 TD, 8 INT, 61.1 QBR
Prior to 2006, there had only been one incidence of a quarterback throwing for at least 4,841 yards in a single season. (Dan Marino did it with 5,084 yards in 1984.) But over the last 12 years in New Orleans, that has been Drew Brees' average mark per season.
A quarterback has thrown for at least 5,000 yards in a season nine times, five of which were Brees.
Before he showed up, New Orleans did not once rank higher than 10th in total yards gained in a season between 1980 and 2005, and the franchise only had one playoff win in 39 years of existence. Since his arrival, the Saints have ranked top-six in yards gained in every single season—including six years at No. 1—and won seven playoff games, including Super Bowl XLIV.
Barring injury, Brees will become the NFL's all-time leader in passing yards about five games into the upcoming season, and he will bypass Peyton Manning for the most career touchdowns midway through the 2019 season. At this point, it's just a question of whether he or Tom Brady (both at 488 touchdowns) will finish on top.
Yes, Sean Payton is due a lot of the credit for masterminding this offensive scheme predicated on high-percentage passing, but it also only works as well as it does because of Brees. So, even though he'll be 40 before the next Super Bowl is played, and even though he will be the sixth-highest-paid player in the NFL, there's still a strong case to be made that Brees isn't getting enough money.
5. Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts, $24.4M
Contract Details: 5-year, $123 million extension (through 2021) signed in June 2016
2017 Stats: Did Not Play (Shoulder)
Over the last six seasons, it has become abundantly clear just how important a healthy Andrew Luck is to the success of Indianapolis.
The year before the Colts drafted him first overall, they went 2-14 and were a complete disaster on offense. When he played just seven games in 2015 because of multiple injuries, they finished near the bottom of the league in total offense once again. And last year without Luck, Indianapolis went 4-12, finished 30th in scoring and were 31st in total offense. They averaged 279.7 points in those three seasons.
When Luck has been healthy, though, it's a completely different story. In 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2016, the Colts finished in the top half of the league in total offense each year and averaged 404.3 points per season, reaching the playoffs three times.
So, if he's able to return to the field this season good as new, an average cap hit of $25.3 million over the next four years seems like a small price to pay, given how hapless this team has been without him. Considering the history of injuries, though, this is the riskiest of the massive investments on this list.
4. Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens, $24.75M
Contract Details: 3-year, $66.4 million extension (through 2021) signed in March 2016
2017 Stats: 64.1% CMP, 3,141 YDS, 18 TD, 13 INT, 46.0 QBR
Pro Football Reference has a statistic called "approximate value." The idea is similar to wins above replacement (WAR) or value over replacement player (VORP) in other sports in that the objective is boiling down a player's overall value added (during the regular season) to one easily digestible and comparable number.
Joe Flacco's cumulative approximate value for his decade in the NFL is 106, which ranks him 40th out of the 41 quarterbacks who have made at least 150 career starts. Only Chris Chandler (102) was worse. Moreover, Flacco has never gone to a Pro Bowl, has never had a TD-INT ratio greater than 2.5 and has only once had a QBR greater than 62.5 (68.2 in 2014)*.
And yet, he's getting paid more than Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Co. once again.
One of the reasons Flacco is one of the highest-paid players in the history of the sport—and why people on social media are constantly debating whether the man is an elite quarterback—is because he has a career postseason record of 10-5 with one Super Bowl victory. In the process of winning that Super Bowl in 2012, he had 11 touchdowns against zero interceptions.
A lot of good that postseason success has done him lately, though, as Baltimore has missed the playoffs in each of the last three years. If things don't turn around soon, the Ravens may need to turn to Robert Griffin III or Lamar Jackson, regardless of how much it hurts to pay a guy roughly $25 million to hold a clipboard.
*For the sake of comparison, Tom Brady's QBR has been 68.0 or greater in 10 of the last 11 seasons.
3. Derek Carr, Oakland Raiders, $25M
Contract Details: 5-year, $125 million extension (through 2022) signed in June 2017
2017 Stats: 62.7% CMP, 3,496 YDS, 22 TD, 13 INT, 47.2 QBR
Before drafting Derek Carr, Oakland was a dumpster fire.
From 2003-13, the Raiders had a combined record of 53-123 and did not once finish better than .500. They went through 17 different starting quarterbacks during those 11 seasons, and Jason Campbell (11-7 from 2010-11) is the only one who gave them at least as many wins as losses. Most notable among the disasters was JaMarcus Russell (7-18 in 25 starts), who might be the biggest bust in NFL draft history.
But then they got Carr, and things began to turn around.
Not immediately, mind you. Carr went 3-13 in his first season as a starter. But he improved in each of the next two seasons, culminating in a 28-6 TD-INT ratio and a 12-3 record in 2016. It was the Raiders' first playoff appearance since Super Bowl XXXVII in January 2003. Unfortunately, they lost in the first round in large part because Carr suffered a broken leg in Week 16 and wasn't able to play—further proving his value added.
After seeing signs of life for the first time in more than a decade, Oakland went all-in on Carr, temporarily making him the highest-paid QB ever with a $125 million extension.
2. Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions, $26.5M
Contract Details: 5-year, $135 million extension (through 2022) signed in August 2017
2017 Stats: 65.7% CMP, 4,446 YDS, 29 TD, 10 INT, 61.8 QBR
Matthew Stafford has thrown for at least 4,250 yards and 20 touchdowns in each of the last seven seasons. Early on, he had Calvin Johnson to thank for a lot of that success, but Stafford has remained effective even after Megatron abruptly retired following the 2015 season.
Because he was able to orchestrate eight game-winning drives in the first season without his security blanket, the Lions knew they needed to make Stafford one of the richest quarterbacks of all time—even though he had a career record of 51-58 and has never won a playoff game.
The Lions have been mediocre with Stafford behind center, but they would be so much worse without him—particularly since the start of 2015. Over the past three seasons, he has completed better than 66 percent of his pass attempts and has a much better TD-INT ratio (2.58) than he had in his first six seasons (1.54).
Detroit hasn't had a running back gain more than 592 yards in any of the last three years, and its defense has been consistently below average. And yet, it is 25-23 with one playoff appearance during that stretch because of Stafford.
He'll probably never be named the league MVP, but there might not be a player in the country who is more important to his team than Stafford is.
1. Jimmy Garoppolo, San Francisco 49ers, $37M
Contract Details: 5-year, $137.5 million deal (through 2022) signed in February 2018
2017 Stats: 67.4% CMP, 1,560 YDS, 7 TD, 5 INT, 78.2 QBR
As far as cap hit is concerned, Jimmy Garoppolo is making $10.5 million more than any other player in the NFL this season.
On the whole, Jimmy GQ's contract isn't that much more ridiculous than those of his peers. In fact, on a per-year basis, both Matt Ryan and Kirk Cousins will make more than Garoppolo with the deals they signed this offseason. It's just that Garoppolo's contract is front-loaded. After a $37 million cap hit this year, he'll only count as $20 million in 2019 and won't exceed $27 million again.
Still, it's quite the payday for a guy who has thrown for just 2,250 yards and 12 touchdowns thus far in his career.
Compare that to Russell Wilson, who made a combined total of $2.04 million while amassing 9,950 yards, 72 TDs and a Super Bowl ring in his first three seasons in the NFL. And even after that, he still didn't get a deal as lucrative as Garoppolo did.
To his credit, Garoppolo is a perfect 7-0 as a starter, and he averaged better than 300 passing yards per game in his five starts with the 49ers last year. He might be the franchise quarterback that San Francisco has been searching for since Steve Young retired two decades ago. That's clearly what this team is hoping for after guaranteeing him $74.1 million of this massive contract.
Kerry Miller is a multisport writer for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter, @kerrancejames.