As nice as it feels to be liked by the masses, the NFL is not a popularity contest. Many of today’s top players would rather be respected as great talents than be adored for being pleasant individuals. Of course, when it comes to earning massive paychecks as the highest-paid NFL players, it never hurts to be a hit both on and off the field.
Although the average salary in the National Football League is $2.1 million, according to the fine folks at Forbes, the 15 players at the top of the financial food chain combined to make $535 million in salary, bonuses, and endorsement money during the past year. In case you wonder how this figure is calculated, take a look at Forbes’ methodology:
Our earnings figures consider salary and bonuses (signing, roster, option, playoff and workout) earned between June 1, 2015 and June 1, 2016. They also include estimated earnings from endorsements, appearances and licensing money paid by the NFL Players Association. Our June cutoff means we did not include players with new contracts signed over the summer like Luck ($139.1 million), Von Miller ($114.5 million) and Fletcher Cox ($102.6 million).
In the end, of course, all anyone cares about is which players came out on top. With that in mind, here’s a look at the 15 highest-paid NFL players in 2016.
15. Trent Williams
Total earnings: $25.6 million
Since the Washington Redskins selected Trent Williams with the No. 4 overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, he quickly emerged as one of the top left tackles in the game today. The former Oklahoma Sooner has earned four consecutive trips to the Pro Bowl. He was handsomely rewarded to protect the blind side, and according to Forbes, was the 15th highest-paid NFL player over the past year with $25.6 million in total earnings. Given this information, the above picture is clearly not Williams’ reaction to his most recent bank statement.
14. Cameron Jordan
Total earnings: $25.9 million
Now in his sixth NFL season, all with the New Orleans Saints, defensive end Cameron Jordan has amassed 40 sacks, recovered eight fumbles, and made two separate trips (2013 and 2015) to the Pro Bowl. For his efforts, the Saints rewarded the former Cal Bear with a five-year, $55 million contract that runs through the 2020 season. While Jordan has only earned $100,000 in endorsements this past year, when you’ve managed to collect $25.8 million in salary and bonuses, you can afford to let the little things slide.
13. Luke Kuechly
Total earnings: $27.1 million
The Carolina Panthers know full well what kind of player they have in Luke Kuechly, which is why they had no problem rewarding him with a five-year, $62 million deal back in 2015. Of course, when you’re arguably the best inside linebacker in the game, as evidenced by three trips to the Pro Bowl and three First-Team All-Pro selections since 2012, not only do you make money for your work on the field ($26.1 million in salary and bonuses), you also earn coin from endorsement opportunities ($1 million in the last year) with companies like Nike and Pepsi among others.
12. Julio Jones
Total earnings: $27.2 million
In 2015, Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones had the best season of his career. He led the NFL in receptions (136), receiving yards (1,871), and yards per game (116.9); earned his third career trip to the Pro Bowl, and received First-Team All-Pro honors. As far as his total haul ($27.2 million) over the last year is concerned, it’s safe to say he more than earned it.
11. Olivier Vernon
Total earnings: $29 million
Don’t let the above picture fool you, Olivier Vernon is no longer with the Miami Dolphins, as the defensive end signed with the New York Giants this past offseason for a cool $85 million over fives years. The real joke, however, is that the former Miami Hurricanes star has banked $29 million in the last year without ever having made a Pro Bowl or received All-NFL honors. Yeah, this is us laughing.
10. Drew Brees
Total earnings: $31 million
Quarterback Drew Brees would’ve been higher on this list, however, his recent two-year, $44.25 million extension occurred after Forbes’ earnings time period. No matter, the future Hall of Famer still banked $19 million in salary and bonuses and pulled in another $12 million in endorsements from companies like Nike, Wrangler, and Microsoft, making him No. 10 on the list of the NFL’s highest-paid players in 2016. You go, Drew Brees.
9. A.J. Green
Total earnings: $33.3 million
Although the Cincinnati Bengals are known for coming up short at crunch time, it’s hard to place any of that blame on star wideout A.J. Green. Since coming into the league in 2011, the former Georgia Bulldog has amassed over 6,000 receiving yards, caught almost 50 touchdowns, and earned five trips to the Pro Bowl. In the last year, Green pulled in $32.8 million in salary and bonuses and produced $33.3 million in total earnings. Next up (hopefully), a victory in the postseason.
8. Peyton Manning
Total earnings: $34.2 million
Although the great Peyton Manning called it a career prior to the start of the 2016 season, given the time period used by Forbes for its earnings calculations, he easily secured a spot on this particular list. From June 1, 2015 to June 1, 2016, Manning amassed $34.2 million in total earnings, courtesy of $19.2 million in salary and bonuses and $15 million in endorsements. Any way you slice it, there will never be another player like him.
7. Marcell Dareus
Total earnings: $35.2 million
In spite of being suspended for the first four games of the 2016 season, Buffalo’s Marcell Dareus is still the highest-earning defensive player in 2016. The Buffalo Bills’ two-time Pro Bowler has raked in $35.1 million in salary and bonuses while collecting a whopping $35.2 million in total earnings. If only this money could help the Bills put a winning team out on the field… Now that would be something.
6. Philip Rivers
Total earnings: $38 million
Philip Rivers might not have the prettiest release in the NFL, but he’s easily one of the toughest and most reliable quarterbacks in all of football. For this reason, along with the fact that he consistently throws for over 4,000 yards a season, Rivers is paid quite handsomely; he earned $37.5 million in salary and bonuses over the past year. Considering some of his top targets are lost for the 2016 season on account of injuries, Rivers better be prepared to earn his paycheck and then some.
5. Russell Wilson
Total earnings: $41.8 million
Russell Wilson may have had to wait until the third round (No. 75 overall) of the 2012 draft to hear his name called, but the Seattle Seahawks quarterback has quickly emerged as one of the most valuable players — both on and off the field — in the National Football League. Aside from the $31.8 million he’s earning from his salary and bonuses, Wilson, through sponsorships with with companies like Nike, Bose, Braun, and Microsoft, has netted $10 million endorsement money over the last year. We may get sick of him at times, but based on these figures, clearly not everyone feels the same way.
4. Tom Brady
Total earnings: $44.1 million
Suspension or not, this is still Tom Brady’s world and we’re all just living in it. As one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game, No. 12 earned $36.1 million in salary and bonuses to go along with an impressive $8 million in endorsement money. He may not top the highest-paid NFL players list, but there are very few people out there who have it as good as the New England Patriots superstar.
3. Joe Flacco
Total earnings: $44.5 million
Didn’t see this one coming? It’s cool, we forgive you. Although Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco only earned $500,000 in endorsements, thanks to his recent three-year deal — one that netted him a $40 million signing bonus, the former Super Bowl MVP is looking at $44.5 million in total earnings in the last year. Yeah, we’re pretty jealous too.
2. Eli Manning
Total earnings: $45 million
As much as we like to make fun of Eli Manning’s face (he brings it on himself), there’s nothing funny about the amount of money he earns on a regular basis. In the last year, Eli collected $8 million from endorsements and took home another $37 million in salary and bonuses. Simply put, Peyton’s younger brother is swimming in Scrooge McDuck money.
1. Cam Newton
Total earnings: $53.1 million
This one wasn’t even close. From June 1, 2015 to June 1, 2016, Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton made $12 million in endorsements and added another $41.1 million in salary bonuses, making him the highest-paid NFL player in 2016 with a ridiculous $53.1 million in total earnings. At this moment in time, the reigning MVP may very well be the face of the National Football League. Of course, if you ask us, the only way he’ll ever reach legendary status is by winning a Super Bowl, but we’ll leave that discussion for another day.