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Ranking the Highest Paid NFL Players in 2021 – Ranking the Top 10
In the NFL, the quarterback is the most important player. For just about every team, their success runs through them. Therefore, it makes sense that the top paid NFL players all consist of quarterbacks.
These guys aren’t the 10 best players in the league but the quarterback market allows them to earn more money than others.
Which quarterbacks are the highest-paid athletes in the NFL? Let’s check them out.
10. Matt Ryan (Atlanta Falcons)
Throughout the 2010s, I thought of Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons as underrated. Ryan almost always had the Falcons in contention, but they were a step below the true contenders.
Ryan won MVP in 2016 with 4,944 yards, 38 touchdowns, and seven interceptions. He led the Falcons to the Super Bowl, where they infamously blew a 28-3 lead to the New England Patriots.
The following season, Atlanta lost in the Divisional Round after the Philadelphia Eagles stopped them on a goal-line stand.
With the success, the Falcons handed Ryan a five-year, $150 million contract. When he signed the deal in 2018, he became the highest-paid NFL player. He currently makes $30 million a year.
Since signing the deal, we’ve seen Ryan’s numbers remain consistent.
He is still passing for a lot of yards, but the Falcons can’t be happy with the high interception numbers.
Atlanta as a team is 19-30 since Ryan signed the deal. A lot of that falls on their defense, but Ryan’s big cap hit makes it tough for them to upgrade that defense. They even had to trade Julio Jones this offseason.
9. Carson Wentz (Indianapolis Colts)
Talk about a deal that didn’t age well.
Carson Wentz had an uneven rookie season, before breaking about with an MVP-caliber 2017 season. He responded with another great season in 2018.
However, he missed the end of the regular season and playoffs in both seasons. Injuries were beginning to become an issue.
Even so, the Philadelphia Eagles signed Wentz to a four-year, $132 million deal in 2019. In 2019, Wentz posted a career-high 4,039 yards with 27 touchdowns. He played in all 16 games for the first time in 2016.
Unfortunately, it all went downhill last season.
- 2,620 yards
- 57.4 completion percentage
- 16 touchdowns
- 15 interceptions
Philadelphia benched him after 12 games. Less than two years after handing him a big deal, they traded him to the Indianapolis Colts.
This season, Wentz will make $32 million.
Indianapolis hoped that Wentz could recapture his magic with head coach Frank Reich. Early in the season, we’ve already seen Wentz deal with injuries.
He missed time in the offseason with a foot injury, then sprained both his ankles in the Colts Week 2 loss to the Los Angeles Rams.
Among the highest-paid athletes in the NFL, Wentz has to be the biggest surprise.
8. Kirk Cousins (Minnesota Vikings)
Kirk Cousins has always posted good numbers, but he just can’t take his team to the next level.
The Washington Football Team handed Cousins back-to-back franchise tags in 2016 and 2017. In both seasons, he threw for over 4,000 yards and a combined 52 touchdowns. However, Washington missed the playoffs.
In the 2018 offseason, Cousins signed a three-year, $84 million deal with the Minnesota Vikings.
He won his first career playoff game in 2019. However, the overall play left Vikings fans wanting more.
Despite that, Minnesota gave him a two-year, $66 million deal that offseason. Making Cousins one of the top paid NFL players surprised a lot of people.
It’s fair to wonder if the Vikings are all in on Cousins. They reportedly tried to trade up in the 2021 NFL Draft to draft quarterback Justin Fields. They wound up selecting Kellen Mond in the third round.
Cousins has never had much success in the postseason, or even a big game for that matter. However, his numbers warrant big money and that’s exactly what he has received.
7. Jared Goff (Detroit Lions)
Do you remember everything I said about Carson Wentz? You can go ahead and copy and paste that here.
Jared Goff had a rough rookie season before leading an elite Los Angeles Rams offense. He led them to a 13-3 record in 2018.
Check out his numbers.
- 4,688 yards
- 64.9 completion percentage
- 32 touchdowns
- 12 interceptions
Los Angeles advanced to the Super Bowl, falling to the New England Patriots.
With a pair of strong seasons under his belt, the Rams signed him to a four-year, $134 million deal. It seemed like a smart move to lock up their 24-year-old quarterback. Unfortunately, things didn’t turn out the way the Rams hoped.
Over the ensuing two seasons, Goff threw 42 touchdowns and 29 interceptions. As the starting quarterback, he went 18-13.
Just like Wentz, his team cut bait on him this offseason. Los Angeles sent Goff to the Detroit Lions in exchange for Matthew Stafford and draft picks.
The Lions will make him $33.5 million this season.
I can’t imagine Goff will ever return value on his contract.
6. Aaron Rodgers (Green Bay Packers)
When you talk about the highest-paid athletes in the NFL, Aaron Rodgers probably represents the best value.
At 34-years-old, Rodgers signed a four-year, $134 million contract extension with the Green Bay Packers. The move made him the highest-paid NFL player.
Despite passing for 25 touchdowns and two interceptions in 2018, the Packers missed the postseason. Over the next two seasons, Rodgers led the Packers to a pair of NFC Championship Game appearances.
Last season, Rodgers won his third MVP because of these impressive numbers.
- 4,299 yards
- 70.7 completion percentage
- 48 touchdowns
- 5 interceptions
When you consider that Rodgers makes $33.5 million this season, he presents excellent value. He is a top-three quarterback that can lead the Packers to the Super Bowl.
This offseason, we did see a bit of turmoil surrounding Rodgers and the Packers.
Rodgers requested a trade and made it known that he would not suit up for the Packers this season. He ultimately agreed to return, but the Packers had to restructure his contract to make 2023 a void year.
Next offseason, when you ask people who is the highest-paid NFL player? The answer may be Rodgers.
5. Russell Wilson (Seattle Seahawks)
When it comes to reliable quarterbacks that you can depend on, there might not be a better option than Russell Wilson.
Since the Seattle Seahawks drafted him in 2012, he has never missed a game. Seattle has also never had a losing season in the Wilson era.
Wilson passed for 34 and 35 touchdowns in 2017 and 2018, respectively. The following offseason, Wilson agreed to a four-year, $140 million contract extension.
In 2019, Wilson arguably had the best season of his career.
- 4,110 yards
- 66.1 completion percentage
- 31 touchdowns
- 5 interceptions
Had it not been for Lamar Jackson’s historic season, Wilson would have earned some MVP votes. He did however make the All-Pro Second-Team for the first time in his career.
Last season, Wilson passed for a career-high 40 touchdowns and missed setting a career-high in passing yards by eight yards.
He’ll make $35 million this season.
His success and longevity are something that you don’t see too much. Even the best quarterbacks miss a game or two with an injury. However, that doesn’t apply to Wilson.
Because of that, Wilson deserves to be one of the top paid NFL players.
4. Deshaun Watson (Houston Texans)
The only player on this list that has not played in the 2021 season is Deshaun Watson.
After posting three big seasons to start his career, the Houston Texans knew they had to lock up their franchise quarterback. Following the 2019 season, Watson signed a four-year, $156 million contract extension.
Last season, Houston took a huge step back as a team. However, it was through no fault of Watson.
He led the league with 4,823 yards. His 33 touchdowns marked a career-high, while his seven interceptions marked a career-low.
Multiple women have accused Watson of sexual assault. He is dealing with over 20 lawsuits and could be facing legal action. Because of that, the Texans are not activating Watson for any games this season.
Before that, Watson requested a trade from Houston. It’s possible that it still happens, but teams aren’t willing to pay a big price for someone facing those issues.
What was once a great contract now looks like one of the worst in the league.
3. Dak Prescott (Dallas Cowboys)
Dak Prescott’s career got off to a bit of an uneven start. He had a great rookie season with 23 touchdowns and four interceptions.
Over the next two seasons, he threw a combined 44 touchdowns and 21 interceptions. He also failed to clear 4,000 yards in any of his first three seasons.
Then, the 2019 seasons happened.
- 4,902 yards
- 65.1 completion percentage
- 30 touchdowns
- 11 interceptions
Because it was his first big season, the Dallas Cowboys were a little cautious on handing him a big deal. They made the move to franchise tag him.
In 2020, Prescott began the season with three games over 400 yards. Unfortunately, a terrible ankle injury ended his season. A lot of people wondered if Prescott would land his big contract.
The great start was enough to convince Dallas, as they signed Prescott to a four-year, $160 million contract. By signing the contract, he became one of the highest-paid athletes in the NFL. He’ll make $40 million in 2021.
It’s always risky to play on the franchise tag for that exact reason. Luckily, Dallas had enough faith in their franchise quarterback and believed he would still be an elite quarterback after the injury.
Now, he has to prove he can lead the Cowboys on a deep playoff run.
2. Josh Allen (Buffalo Bills)
Say hello to the newest member of the top paid NFL players.
Josh Allen did not look like a franchise quarterback after throwing 10 touchdowns and 12 interceptions during his rookie season. He improved the following season but still barely cleared 3,000 yards.
Last season, we saw Allen go from borderline starter to MVP candidate.
- 4,544 yards
- 69.2 completion percentage
- 37 touchdowns
- 10 interceptions
Allen also rushed for 421 yards and eight touchdowns. He led the Buffalo Bills to the AFC Championship Game, and made the All-Pro Second-Team.
Now, it’s time for Allen to show the Bills that they made the right choice. It’s risky to give someone a big deal after one great season, but Allen looks like a future MVP.
As much as they’ve struggled in the 2000s, Buffalo couldn’t let the 25-year-old quarterback get away.
Does Allen have what it takes to lead the Bills to their first Super Bowl appearance since 1994? Only time will tell.
1. Patrick Mahomes (Kansas City Chiefs)
Well, we finally have an answer to who is the highest-paid NFL player? It’s Patrick Mahomes.
Mahomes only played in one game in his rookie season. Over the next two seasons, he set the NFL on fire.
|2018||2019 (14 games)|
In 2018, Mahomes won MVP and led the Kansas City Chiefs to the AFC Championship Game. The following season, he led the Chiefs to their first Super Bowl title since 1970.
Following the two great seasons, the Chiefs knew they couldn’t let Mahomes get away. They signed him to a massive 10-year, $450 million contract extension. At the time, the deal made him the highest-paid athlete in the world.
After signing the contract, Mahomes went out and threw for 4,740 yards with 38 touchdowns and six interceptions. He led the Chiefs to their second straight Super Bowl appearance.
Combined with head coach Andy Reid, Travis Kelce, and Tyreek Hill, the Chiefs could be the league’s next dynasty.
The Landscape of NFL Contracts in 2021
I think it’s obvious that quarterbacks dominate the market, but a few other positions are creeping up on them.
Six edge rushers make over $20 million, with T.J. Watt making the most with $28 million. DeAndre Hopkins is the highest-paid non-quarterback offensive player. His $27.25 annual salary is over five million more than the next highest wide receiver.
Another position may jump into the top 10 but right now, it’s all about the quarterbacks.
A lot of these guys are searching for their first Super Bowl. Check out the players with the best chance to win their first title this season.