The Size of the Biggest Contracts in NFL History Will Blow Your Mind

Over the last quarter-century, the National Football League has turned into a multibillion-dollar entity. As a result, the size of player contracts increases significantly every year. After news broke that Matthew Stafford signed a record-breaking contract with the Detroit Lions, the Cheat Sheet decided to take a look at the 20 other biggest contracts in NFL history, based on total contract value.

20. Justin Houston – $101 million

Kansas City Chiefs outside linebacker Justin Houston celebrates a sack.
Justin Houston is dominant when healthy. | Kyle Rivas/Getty Images
  • Years: 6
  • Year signed: 2015
  • Average value per year: $16,833,333

This contract helped set the current market rate for elite NFL edge defenders. Justin Houston landed this deal, which included $52.5 million guaranteed, following the 2014 season when he posted a league-high 22 sacks. When healthy, Houston is one of the most dominant pass rushers in the league.

Next: Big Ben makes big bucks.

19. Ben Roethlisberger – $102 million

Ben Roethlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers watches from the sideline.
Big Ben has earned his money. | Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
  • Years: 8
  • Year signed: 2008
  • Average value per year: $12.75 million

Ben Roethlisberger signed this deal, which included $36 million in guaranteed money, during the 2008 offseason. At the time it was one of the largest contracts in league history. He’s since restructured this pact (to give the Steelers extra salary cap flexibility) and signed another hefty extension in 2015.

Next: A well-deserved contract for an underrated player.

18. Fletcher Cox – $102.6 million

Fletcher Cox of the Philadelphia Eagles reacts to a sack.
Fletcher Cox is a very wealthy man. | Mitchell Leff/Getty Images
  • Years: 6
  • Year signed: 2016
  • Average value per year: $17.1 million

Fletcher Cox may be one of the lesser-known players on this list, but he unquestionably deserves this massive deal. The 26-year-old, who has two All-Pro selections on his resume, received $36.3 million guaranteed at signing and total guarantees of $63 million. To top things off, Cox also has a Super Bowl ring to go with his big contract.

Next: Going back in time a bit …

17. Drew Bledsoe – $103 million

Drew Bledsoe meets with the press during Super Bowl media day.
Drew Bledsoe lost his job to Tom Brady. | Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
  • Years: 10
  • Year signed: 2001
  • Average value per year: $10.3 million

At the time Drew Bledsoe put ink to paper on this deal, which included roughly $30 million in guaranteed money, he signed the single largest contract in NFL history. Of course, as history would have it, the emergence of a young quarterback named Tom Brady resulted in Bledsoe only playing one year of this deal for the Patriots.

Next: Speaking of franchise quarterbacks …

16. Matt Ryan – $103.75 million

Matt Ryan of the Atlanta Falcons celebrates after defeating the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game.
Matt Ryan is closing in on a massive contract extension. | Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
  • Years: 5
  • Year signed: 2013
  • Average value per year: $20.75 million

Matt Ryan signed this deal — which came with $59 million guaranteed — before he reached his full potential as an NFL quarterback. With a Super Bowl appearance and NFL MVP now on his resume, Ryan’s next deal following the 2018 season was presumed to be even bigger. (He inked a five-year, $150 million contract extension in May 2018 with $100 million guaranteed.)

Next: How ’bout them big contracts?

15. Tony Romo – $108 million

Tony Romo of the Dallas Cowboys looks on from the sideline.
Tony Romo cashed in during his NFL career. | Jason Miller/Getty Images
  • Years: 6
  • Year signed: 2013
  • Average value per year: $18 million

This contract made Tony Romo the highest-paid player in Cowboys history. The deal came with $55 million in total guarantees, but Romo missed out on the contract’s final three years after he chose to retire this offseason and transition to a career in broadcasting.

Next: We’re waiting to hear if this player’s contract extension is even bigger.

14. Aaron Rodgers – $110 million

Quarterback Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers looks on during an NFL game.
Aaron Rodgers is actually underpaid. | Mike McGinnis/Getty Images
  • Years: 5
  • Year signed: 2013
  • Average value per year: $22 million

Believe it or not, this contract actually qualifies Aaron Rodgers as underpaid. And he knows it. Nonetheless, this deal, which came with $54 million in total guarantees, is still one of the largest in NFL history. When Rodgers inevitably lands his next contract, it will likely set a new record for average annual value. Of course, the emphasis here is on “when” since Rodgers entered training camp in 2018 without having a solid extension in place.

Next: A big bag of money for a free agent.

13. Ndamukong Suh – $114 million

Ndamukong Suh watches from the sideline.
Ndamukong Suh landed a massive contract with the Miami Dolphins in 2015. | Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
  • Years: 6
  • Year signed: 2015
  • Average value per year: $19 million

After he earned first-team All-Pro honors for the Detroit Lions in each his first four NFL seasons, Ndamukong Suh became one of the best and most anticipated free agents to hit the open market in the last decade.

With that being the case, it should come as no surprise that he signed a contract with the Miami Dolphins during the 2015 offseason that made him the highest-paid defensive player in NFL history. Side note: Had the Lions managed their cap more effectively, they likely would not have lost Suh to the Dolphins.

Next: A Super Bowl MVP.

12. Von Miller – $114.5 million

Super Bowl MVP Von Miller of the Denver Broncos celebrates with the Vince Lombardi Trophy after winning Super Bowl 50.
Von Miller carried the Broncos to a win in Super Bowl 50. | Patrick Smith/Getty Images
  • Years: 6
  • Year signed: 2016
  • Average value per year: $19,083,333

The Denver Broncos really had no choice but to sign Von Miller to a record-breaking contract after he led them to a victory in Super Bowl 50. The five-time All-Pro inked his deal, which includes $70 million in guaranteed money, shortly before training camp opened last offseason. This deal is now the benchmark for defensive contracts going forward. Look for Khalil Mack of the Oakland Raiders to set his sights on eclipsing Miller’s numbers.

Next: This next contract deserves an explanation.

10. (tie) Andy Dalton – $115 million

Andy Dalton pumps his fist after a touchdown pass.
Andy Dalton is one of the highest-paid players in the NFL. | Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
  • Years: 6
  • Year signed: 2014
  • Average value per year: $19,166,667

Don’t let the total value of Andy Dalton’s six-year contract extension fool you; this is a team-friendly deal. The only guaranteed money in Dalton’s contract came in the first year (2014). From then on, the Bengals did an excellent job of protecting themselves and their salary cap.

Basically, Dalton has to earn his payday every year, and if he doesn’t, Cincinnati can cut him without incurring a significant amount of dead money on their cap. While Dalton played at an MVP level prior to getting hurt in 2015, he will have to eventually win a playoff game (he has a 0-4 career postseason record) if he wants to ensure that his job with the Bengals is safe.

Next: Going back a few years …

10. (tie) Donovan McNabb $115 million

Donovan McNabb jogs off the field.
Donovan McNabb joined the $100 million quarterback club in 2002. | Nick Laham/Getty Images
  • Years: 12
  • Year signed: 2002
  • Average value per year: $9,583,333

When Donovan McNabb signed this contract back in 2002, it was the richest contract in NFL history at the time. However, by today’s standards, this contract — despite carrying a nine-figure total value — isn’t really all that large.

When spread out over the length of the deal (12 years), it carries an average annual value of just over $9.5 million, which isn’t much when you consider that today’s top starting quarterbacks earn around $20 million per year.

Next: And back a little further …

9. Carson Palmer  $119.75 million

Carson Palmer signals a play.
Carson Palmer was once the face of the Cincinnati Bengals franchise. | Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
  • Years: 9
  • Year signed: 2005
  • Average value per year: $13,305,555

It’s hard to believe it’s been over a decade since Carson Palmer played at an MVP-caliber level for the Cincinnati Bengals. He signed this contract toward the end of his second season (his third season in the NFL) as the Bengals’ starting quarterback, and it was meant to keep Palmer in a Cincinnati uniform for the remainder of his career.

However, 10 days after he signed this contract extension, Palmer suffered a gruesome knee injury in a 2006 playoff game. He’s never regained his elite form with the Bengals.

Palmer battled inconsistencies with the Bengals and the Oakland Raiders for the next seven seasons before landing on his feet with the Arizona Cardinals in 2013. Ironically, two days after he signed a three-year, $50 million extension with Arizona, Palmer suffered another serious injury — to the same knee he hurt in Cincinnati.

Next: A wideout worth every penny.

8. Larry Fitzgerald $120 million

Larry Fitzgerald looks concerned from the sideline.
Larry Fitzgerald is one of the highest-paid wide receivers in NFL history. | Christian Petersen/Getty Images
  • Years: 8
  • Year signed: 2011
  • Average value per year: $15 million

When Larry Fitzgerald signed this contract back in 2011, it was clear that the Arizona Cardinals wanted the 6-foot-3, 225-pound wide receiver to retire as a member of their organization. Truth be told, he earned this contract.

Regardless of who the team had playing quarterback, Fitzgerald put up All-Pro caliber numbers. In an era of diva wide receivers, he went about his business like a true professional.

Next: Did his commentary speak louder than his contract?

7. Joe Flacco $120.6 million

Joe Flacco looks at the scoreboard.
Joe Flacco cashed in on a massive contract after leading the Baltimore Ravens to a Super Bowl title. | Patrick Smith/Getty Images
  • Years: 6
  • Year signed: 2013
  • Average value per year: $20.1 million

This contract may be one of the worst NFL contracts (from a team-friendly perspective) in recent history, but it’s hard to blame the Baltimore Ravens for making it happen. The Ravens originally offered a much more reasonable contract to Joe Flacco during summer 2012, after the former Delaware quarterback infamously claimed that he was “elite” and that he is “the best quarterback in the NFL.”

To his credit, Flacco bet on himself, and while his regular-season performance was nothing special, he was outstanding during Baltimore’s postseason run to the Super Bowl XLVII title. As a result, the Ravens were more or less forced to sign him to this deal, which made Flacco the highest-paid player in the league at that time.

Next: This contract was no surprise.

6. Derek Carr – $125 million

Derek Carr of the Oakland Raiders celebrates after a two-yard touchdown pass.
Derek Carr just became a very wealthy man. | Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
  • Years: 5
  • Year signed: 2017
  • Average value per year: $25 million

We saw this one coming for a while. Derek Carr helped revive the Oakland Raiders, so it was only a matter of time until the former second-round pick out of Fresno State officially got paid. The former second-round pick out of Fresno State got $40 million guaranteed at signing and $70 million in total guarantees. His average per year value of $25 mullion set a new league record.

Next: The most polarizing contract on our list?

5. Colin Kaepernick $126 million

Colin Kaepernick looks for a target.
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick landed one of the biggest NFL contracts in history in 2015. | Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
  • Years: 6
  • Year signed: 2014
  • Average value per year: $21 million

Let’s put the national anthem storyline aside and strictly talk football. When Colin Kaepernick signed this contract, he was one of the fastest rising players in the league. The San Francisco 49ers were legitimate Super Bowl contenders under coach Jim Harbuagh’s command. In the deal, the 6-foot-4, 225-pound dual-threat quarterback received a then-league record $61 million in guarantees and a $12.33 million signing bonus. Unfortunately for the 49ers, they fell on hard times, which partially attributed to Kaepernick’s inconsistent play and stalled development.

Next: And there this QB blunder …

4. Jay Cutler $126.7 million

Jay Cutler looks sad.
Jay Cutler’s immense potential led to a massive contract extension from the Chicago Bears. | Joe Sargent/Getty Images
  • Years: 7
  • Year signed: 2014
  • Average value per year: $18.1 million

There may not be a more frustrating player in the NFL than Jay Cutler. Based on physical ability alone, you could legitimately argue the former Vanderbilt signal caller was one of the top two or three quarterbacks in the game. But as we’ve learned on many occasions, physical ability alone doesn’t equate to success in the NFL. With that being said, the Bears bet big on Cutler’s immense potential with this deal. To say they didn’t get their money’s worth is a bit of an understatement.

Next: A controversial figure in the early 2000s …

3. Michael Vick $130 million

Michael Vick looks for a target in the backfield.
Michael Vick signed two $100 million NFL contracts during his career. | Joe Murphy/Getty Images
  • Years: 10
  • Year signed: 2004
  • Average value per year: $13 million

Michael Vick’s unique skill set took the NFL by storm from the moment he entered the league with the Atlanta Falcons in 2001. He had arguably the strongest arm in the league and was faster than most wide receivers, running backs, and defensive backs. Needless to say, he caused many sleepless nights for opposing defensive coordinators.

The Atlanta Falcons rewarded him with this record-breaking contract toward the end of the 2004 season, but due to his role in an illegal dog-fighting ring, Vick only played two more seasons in Atlanta. Interestingly, after serving his jail sentence, Vick got a second chance with the Philadelphia Eagles, which he ultimately parlayed into another $100 million contract.

Next: This contract became quite controversial …

2. Calvin Johnson $132 million

Calvin Johnson celebrates a touchdown.
Calvin Johnson was arguably the most dominant wide receiver in NFL history. | Leon Halip/Getty Images
  • Years: 8
  • Year signed: 2014
  • Average value per year: $16.5 million

Calvin Johnson, who retired from the NFL, was the most physically imposing wide receiver the league has ever seen. His combination of size (6-foot-5, 239 pounds) and speed (he ran a 4.3-second 40-yard dash) made him a flat-out matchup nightmare for opposing secondaries.

The Lions signed Johnson to this massive contract during the 2014 offseason, which at the time was the largest contract in NFL history. However, with his decision to walk away from the game, “Megatron” will miss out on earning the bulk of the money in this deal.

Next: Last but not least …

1. Andrew Luck   $140 million

Andrew Luck doesn't look excited about having the biggest contract in NFL history.
Andrew Luck recently signed the largest contract in NFL history. | Christian Petersen/Getty Images
  • Years: 6
  • Year signed: 2016
  • Average value per year: $23.3 million

The Indianapolis Colts made history by signing Luck to this six-year, $140 million contract extension. The total value of the contract was a new league record, as are the average value per year and guaranteed money ($87 million) in the deal.

Since entering the league back in 2012, Luck has been highly-regarded — many people called him the best quarterback prospect since John Elway in 1983 — and up to this point he hasn’t disappointed. He has emerged as a perennial All-Pro and MVP candidate, despite playing behind below-average offensive lines during his time in Indianapolis.

If he can lead the Colts to a Super Bowl title, this contract will be worth every penny.

Statistics courtesy of ESPN and Pro-Football-Reference.

Writer Chelena Goldman contributed to this article.