This may sound outlandish, but there are actually very few players in the NFL who make enough money to set themselves up for the rest of their lives. Despite what the media may lead you to believe, the harsh truth of the matter is that most players don’t last long enough in the league to land a contract worth a life-altering amount of money.
The majority of NFL players (even the ones who are lucky enough to play long enough to qualify for retirement benefits) play most of their careers earning salaries right at, or slightly above, the league minimum. There are, however, a select handful of players fortunate enough to stay healthy and play long enough to have career earnings well into nine figures. Here are the 10 richest active NFL players with the highest career earnings.
Note: Earnings data is as of March 23, 2017 and does not reflect off-field endorsement earnings.
10. Tony Romo – $127,422,458
After entering the league as an undrafted free agent, Tony Romo landed two massive contract extensions that should set his family up for multiple generations. His current deal, which he signed in 2013, is for six years at $108 million and makes him the highest-paid player in Dallas Cowboys history. Romo is under contract through the 2019 season and will earn an average of $18 million per season from 2017 through 2019.
However, with his age (currently 36 years old), injury history, hefty salary, and the emergence of rookie quarterback Dak Prescott, it is highly unlikely that Romo will play out the entirety of his current contract. In total, Romo has earned $31,170,000 in base salaries; $38,810,000 in signing bonuses; $300,000 in roster bonuses; $48,965,000 in restructure bonuses; $8,175,000 in option bonuses; and $2,458 in incentives.
9. Matt Ryan – $133,707,925
Matt Ryan entered the league prior to the rookie wage scale. As a result, his first NFL contract was worth a total of $72 million ($34.75 million guaranteed). After playing at a borderline elite level during his first five years as a pro, the Atlanta Falcons rewarded Ryan with a five-year, $103.75 million contract extension back in 2013.
Needless to say, while Ryan may be under pressure to play at a high level in 2016, he has plenty of money to fall back on when his NFL career comes to an end. In total, Ryan has earned $77,045,000 in base salaries; $35,450,000 in signing bonuses; $9,205,000 in roster bonuses; $12 million in option bonuses; and $7,925 in incentives.
8. Larry Fitzgerald – $140,296,387
In his 13 seasons with the team (which accounts for his entire NFL career), Larry Fitzgerald has earned the title of best player in Arizona Cardinals franchise history. The team has generously compensated him for his performance and his loyalty. Fitzgerald is under contract through 2017. Recent rumors suggest that the future Hall of Famer will retire at the end of the 2016 season. If he does, he’s made more than enough money to live comfortably for the rest of his life.
In total, Fitzgerald has earned $43,102,500 in base salaries; $42,500,000 in signing bonuses; $17,150,000 in roster bonuses; $750,000 in workout bonuses; $11,750,000 in restructure bonuses; $25,030,000 in option bonuses; and $18,887 in incentives.
7. Julius Peppers – $155,973,786
Not surprisingly, Julius Peppers is the only defensive player to make this list. The former University of North Carolina two-sport (football and basketball) star has one of the most unique physical skill sets in NFL history. At this point, he’s notched 136 sacks, 11 interceptions, and lock up an eventual spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. All of this allows him to cash in with multiple big money contracts.
In total, Peppers has earned $79,083,000 in base salaries; $23,100,000 in signing bonuses; $21,200,000 in roster bonuses; $2,385,000 in workout bonuses; $20,510,000 in restructure bonuses; $4,050,000 in option bonuses; and $5,645,786 in incentives.
6. Ben Roethlisberger – $158,286,864
With two Super Bowl rings, four Pro Bowls, 11 postseason wins, and 113 regular-season wins, it should come as no surprise that Ben Roethlisberger is one of the richest active NFL players. Big Ben’s current contract runs through the 2019 season, so when it’s all said and done, the former Miami (OH) quarterback will likely have earned well over $200 million over the course of his career.
In total, Roethlisberger has earned $55,952,382 in base salaries; $56,800,000 in signing bonuses; $7,422,000 in roster bonuses; $25,300,000 in restructure bonuses; $7,237,500 in option bonuses; and $5,574,982 in incentives.
5. Carson Palmer – $158,398,722
At one point in time, Carson Palmer looked like the next great NFL quarterback. He helped turn the Cincinnati Bengals into one of the best teams in the AFC. Sadly, shortly after landing his first huge NFL contract, Palmer suffered a gruesome knee injury that nearly ended his career. Fortunately, he landed on his feet with the Arizona Cardinals (after a disastrous stint with the Oakland Raiders). Since then, he’s resurrected his career and his bank account.
In total, Palmer has earned $70,382,500 in base salaries; $47,760,000 in signing bonuses; $7,350,000 in roster bonuses; $21,175,000 in restructure bonuses; $9,000,000 in option bonuses; and $2,731,222 in incentives.
4. Philip Rivers – $173,917,656
Spending his entire NFL career playing for the San Diego Chargers, Philip Rivers has put together a career resume that will likely result in him being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame at some point. The Chargers have fallen on hard times as of late, but Rivers has continued to play at a high level.
At 34 years old, the former North Carolina State quarterback will likely play out the rest of his contract, which runs through the 2019 season. In total, Rivers has earned $90,710,000 in base salaries; $49,700,000 in signing bonuses; $1,075,000 in roster bonuses; $15,875,000 in restructure bonuses; $12,625,000 in option bonuses; and $3,932,656 in incentives.
3. Drew Brees – $181,710,422
We firmly believe that Drew Brees’ greed and refusal to give the New Orleans Saints a hometown discount (in the form of a more team-friendly contract) is one of the main reasons why the team is in bad shape today. That said, Brees did bring a Lombardi Trophy back to New Orleans and helped the Saints go from laughingstock to NFC powerhouse, which is invaluable.
Brees is under contract with the Saints through the 2017 season, which virtually guarantees that he will earn over $200 million over the course of his career. In total, Brees has earned $77,258,000 in base salaries; $76,845,000 in signing bonuses; $2,100,000 in workout bonuses; $10,201,000 in restructure bonuses; $15,301,000 in option bonuses; and $5,442 in incentives.
2. Tom Brady – $191,554,868
In case you’ve somehow missed it, Tom Brady lives a life that most men dream about. Not only is he married to a super model, but Brady has led the New England Patriots to four Super Bowl titles and is widely considered the greatest player in NFL history. He’s also one of the richest active NFL players, earning almost $200 million over the course of his 16-year career.
What’s even crazier is the fact that he could have easily brought home far more money had he not restructured his contract multiple times to give the Patriots more cap flexibility. In total, Brady has earned $43,535,705 in base salaries; $92,038,500 in signing bonuses; $20,000,000 in roster bonuses; $250,000 in workout bonuses; $17,720,000 in restructure bonuses; $18,000,000 in option bonuses; and $10,663 in incentives.
1. Eli Manning – $205,780,004
That’s right, Peyton’s little brother is the richest active player in the National Football League. Eli Manning has earned just over $205 million over the course of his career. The bottom line: The two Super Bowl rings he has earned for the New York Giants make him worth every penny.
Manning is under contract through the 2019 season. However, at 35 years old, he may ultimately end up retiring before his contract expires. In total, Manning has earned $93,990,000 in base salaries; $60,000,000 in signing bonuses; $3,000,000 in roster bonuses; $3,500,000 in workout bonuses; $9,900,000 in restructure bonuses; $26,500,000 in option bonuses; and $8,890,004 in incentives.
Earnings data courtesy of Spotrac.