In the NFL, player contracts are almost never fully guaranteed. The confusing structure of NFL contracts often causes players to get released midway through contracts and only receive part of their promised pay. Other times, players are asked to restructure contracts in a way that stretches pay over the course of several years to make more favorable conditions for the team and the salary cap. Even still, these 26 players received NFL contracts worth $100 million or more at the time they signed the papers.
26. Marcell Dareus – $100 million
Defensive tackle Marcell Dareus of the Buffalo Bills had several good seasons. Consequently, he earned a six-year $100-million contract that runs from 2016–21. His best year came in 2014, when he had 10 sacks and 35 tackles, making his second Pro-Bowl and his first First-Team All-Pro selection. Since then, however, Dareus has struggled. In the first two games he played in the 2016 season, he only had 1.5 sacks and six tackles.
25. J.J. Watt – $100 million
Defensive end J.J. Watt has been the leader of the Houston Texans the last few years, not to mention one of the best players in the NFL. He’s made four Pro-Bowls and four First-Team All-Pro selections. He also garnered more than 20 sacks in a season twice and led the league in the category twice. Watt signed a six-year deal for $100 million — set to run from 2016–21 — but he missed most of the 2016 season due to a back injury.
24. Brett Favre – $100 million
The Hall of Fame quarterback, known for his time with the Green Bay Packers, received a 10-year $100-million contract set to run from 2001–10. He was 32 at the beginning of the contract, making it unlikely that he’d make it all the way to the end. But Favre was amazingly resilient; he played every game of every season until the final year of his career — missing three games in 2010. He finished his career with 508 touchdowns and 71,838 career passing yards.
23. Albert Haynesworth – $100 million
Defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth was coming off his second consecutive Pro-Bowl season in 2007, and at just 28 years old it looked like a good bet for the Washington Redskins to give the free agent a seven-year $100-million contract to anchor their defense. He’d play in just 12 games the next year with four sacks, and within two more years his career in the NFL was essentially over.
22. Michael Vick – $100 million
Quarterback Michael Vick returned to the NFL with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2009 after missing two seasons for his part in an illegal dog fighting ring. He took over the starting role the next season, having one of the best seasons of his career, and earning a six-year $100-million contract. Injuries limited him over the life of the deal, his skills eventually deteriorated, and he assumed a backup role.
21. Drew Brees – $100 million
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees signed a five-year $100-million contract that was set to run from 2012-2016, after proving himself to be one of the best players at his position in the NFL. He was 33 when the deal began, meaning nobody knew if he’d actually make it to the end of his contract. He started the first 10 games in 2016, leading the NFL with 26 touchdowns and posting a 106.4 rating.
20. Justin Houston – $101 million
Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Justin Houston, who signed a six-year $101-million contract to run from 2015-2020, was coming off a season in 2014 in which he made his fourth straight Pro-Bowl and led the NFL with 22 sacks. In 2015, he missed five games and compiled just 7.5 sacks, and didn’t debut in the 2016 season until the 10th game. So far, the 27-year-old has not been worth his contract.
19. Ben Roethlisberger – $102 million
Back in 2008, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger signed an eight-year $102-million contract. After the ’08 season, Roethlisberger had a career passer rating of just 89.4 and 101 touchdowns to 69 interceptions. In eight seasons since, he’s had 194 touchdowns with just 85 interceptions and a 96.7 passer rating. For the Steelers, he’s been worth every penny they’ve spent on him.
18. Fletcher Cox – $102.6 million
Philadelphia Eagles defensive tackle Fletcher Cox has signed a six-year contract extension, set to run from 2017-2022 and paying him $102.6 million. That’s a good deal for Cox, who has had one elite season to date with 9.5 sacks and 50 tackles in 2015. In the first 10 games of the 2016 season, the 26-year-old had four sacks and 19 tackles. It’ll remain to be seen whether the contract extension was a good idea or not.
17. Drew Bledsoe – $103 million
Drew Bledsoe was a decent quarterback in his heyday, but never one of the top few QBs in the NFL. Interestingly enough, the New England Patriots gave him a 10-year deal worth $103 million set to run from 2001-2010, only to see him get unseated from his starting spot by rookie Tom Brady in the first year of the deal. Bledsoe moved on to play for the Buffalo Bills and Dallas Cowboys while Brady has established himself as one of the best of all time.
16. Matt Ryan – $103.7 million
Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan received a five-year $103.7-million set to run from 2014-2018. Although the team has had a lack of success on the field the last few years, Ryan really hasn’t been the problem. In fact, at the age of 31, he’s having his best ever season in the first 10 games of 2016 — his passer rating of 115.1 is by the best of his career and he’s thrown 24 touchdowns to just five interceptions.
15. Cam Newton – $103.8 million
Cam Newton, the young quarterback for the Carolina Panthers, was signed to a contract extension worth $103.8 million over five years, set to run from 2015-2019. In the first year of his deal, Newton had his best season as a professional. He led his team to the Super Bowl and put up a career-high 35 touchdowns with a career-low 10 interceptions. In the first 10 games in 2016, his play has fallen off a bit and the record of the Panthers has suffered.
14. Tony Romo – $108 million
Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo signed a six-year $108-million deal that runs through the 2019 season. So far, his numbers have been great through the life of the deal. He had a 113.2 passer rating in 2014, which was the best in the NFL. But he only was able to play in four games in 2015 and hasn’t made an appearance in the first 10 games of 2016 due to a back injury. His starting position was overtaken by rookie Dak Prescott.
13. Aaron Rodgers – $110 million
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was signed for $110 million and five years to run from 2015 through 2019. He comes with an impressive resume, including five Pro-Bowl appearances, a career 103.4 passer rating, and a Super Bowl trophy. Rodgers’ production has dropped off a bit through the first two seasons of his deal, but he’s still very good. He’s had a 94.1 passer rating and 6,582 passing yards in 26 games played.
12. Ndamukong Suh – $114 million
Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh was one of the most feared defensive players in the game during his time with the Detroit Lions — becoming known as a dirty player for his many questionable hits. Even still, the Miami Dolphins gave him a six-year $114-million contract prior to the 2015 season. So far in his first two seasons, Suh has been fairly good for Miami. He has 11 sacks and 64 tackles in 26 games played to date.
11. Von Miller – $114.5 million
After winning a Super Bowl in 2015, Denver Broncos defensive tackle Von Miller hit free agency looking for a big pay day. He was coming off two great seasons, with 25 sacks combined. The Broncos gave him a six-year deal worth $114.5 million, and so far he’s looked like a bargain. In just the first 10 games of 2016, he had 9.5 sacks and 29 tackles. Miller is just 27 years old, so he’ll probably continue to be one of the best defenders in the league for a while.
10. Andy Dalton – $115 million
Coming off his second Pro-Bowl season in 2014, Andy Dalton began a contract extension with the Cincinnati Bengals that would pay him $115 million over the next six seasons. He had his best year in 2015, posting a 106.2 passer rating and 25 touchdowns to just seven interceptions in 13 games played for the Bengals. The first 10 games of 2016 were pretty disappointing for both Dalton and the Bengals, raising the question of how far he’ll actually make it into his contract.
9. Donovan McNabb – $115 million
After just three years in the NFL, dynamic quarterback Donovan McNabb was given a huge 12-year contract worth $115 million to stick around with the Philadelphia Eagles. That was back in 2002, and he actually did stay with the team for eight more seasons compiling 216 touchdowns, 100 interceptions, and an 85.6 passer rating. He played two more seasons, one each for the Washington Redskins and Minnesota Vikings, before retiring at the age of 35 in 2011.
8. Carson Palmer – $119.7 million
After just two years in the NFL, Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer was given a nine-year $119.7-million contract extension. He played well at times, but ended up walking away from the Bengals with the threat of retirement in the 2011 season at the age of 32. Eventually, he was traded to the Oakland Raiders and then moved on to the Arizona Cardinals, where he currently plays. In his career, Palmer has an 87.6 passer rating with 272 touchdown passes.
7. Larry Fitzgerald – $120 million
Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald has been one of the best at his position in NFL history. He got an eight-year $120-million deal with the Cardinals to run from the 2011-2018 season — although it appears that 2016 will be his final season in the league. Fitzgerald has caught 103 touchdowns, 1,092 receptions, and has seven seasons of more than 1,000 yards receiving. He’s having an excellent season through 10 games this year, with 74 receptions, 749 yards, and five touchdowns.
6. Joe Flacco – $120.6 million
Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco was pretty average through the first few years of his career, with an 86.3 passer rating and 103 touchdowns with 56 interceptions from 2008-2012. But he led the Ravens to their first Super Bowl victory since 2000 in the playoffs just before becoming a free agent, prompting the team to give him a six-year deal worth $120.6 million. He’s been just as average as ever since then, with a passer rating of 81.3 and 70 touchdowns to 55 interceptions thrown.
5. Colin Kaepernick – $126 million
One of the more controversial figures in the NFL today is San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who signed a six-year $126-million contract extension to run from 2015-2020. Most know him from his refusal to stand during the National Anthem, but he’s had a run as a decent quarterback in the league as well. In 52 career starts, he has a 88.1 passer rating with 63 touchdowns and 28 interceptions.
4. Jay Cutler – $126.7 million
The Chicago Bears gave up a lot to acquire Jay Cutler and his strong, promising arm back in 2009. He’s done little for the Bears, other than be disappointing and get injured frequently. That didn’t stop them from giving him a seven-year $126.7-million contract to run from 2014-2020. So far, the 33-year-old has played in 35 games in three seasons with an 88.9 passer rating and a record of 12-23. It looks like Cutler’s days with the Bears may be coming to an end relatively soon.
3. Michael Vick – $130 million
Vick has already appeared on this list once and is the only player to sign two $100-million contracts in his career. He signed his first huge deal to run from 2005-2014. Of course, he only made it two years into the deal because of his prison sentence and suspension from the league. The fact that he was able to take so much time off from the game and come back and get another huge contract speaks to the amazing talent that Vick had.
2. Calvin Johnson – $132 million
The Detroit Lions wide receiver signed an eight-year deal worth $132 million that was to run from 2012-2019. He was worth every penny the Lions paid him for the first few years of that deal, but for his own personal reasons chose to retire at the age of 30 following the 2015 season. Johnson finished his career with 83 career touchdowns, 11,619 receiving yards, and 731 receptions in 135 career games.
1. Andrew Luck – $139.1 million
Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck is now in the first year of his six-year $139.1-million contract. The former No. 1 overall pick is extremely talented but coming off a down year, in which he had a 74.9 passer rating with just 15 touchdowns and 12 interceptions in seven games. His performance looks to be back to normal this year, with the passer rating up to 93.9 and 19 touchdowns in 10 games. The Colts are counting on Luck to continue to improve and help take the team back to glory over the next six years.
All stats courtesy of pro-football-reference.com.