The Biggest Contracts In NFL History Prove The Risk Is Worth The Reward

Football | 4/2/20

There’s no question that there is a lot of money in the NFL for players. The salary cap has exploded over the last decade and is now over $200 million. This has led teams to hand out mind-boggling contracts to their franchise players. From Matt Ryan’s $150 million contract to elite wide receivers breaking the $100 million barrier, it’s a good time to be an NFL player. These are the biggest contracts that teams have ever handed out!

Matt Ryan – $150 Million

matt ryan nfl
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The player who currently sports the largest contract in the NFL is Matt Ryan. The franchise QB and one-time league MVP is in the middle of a five-year deal that could pay him $150 million. His average annual salary is $30 million and $100 million of the deal is fully guaranteed.

Ryan will look to bounce back in 2020 after a disappointing 2019 season that saw the Falcons go 7-9. The bad year nearly cost head coach Dan Quinn his job, but the team, including Ryan, rallied around him.

Khalil Mack – $141 Million

khalil mack nfl
Will Newton/Getty Images
Will Newton/Getty Images

Khalil Mack struck gold when he was traded from the Raiders to the Bears. As soon as he landed in Chicago, he signed a six-year, $141 million deal that made him the highest-paid defensive player in the league.

In his first season in Chicago, Mack lived up to the hype and was nearly named the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year. The second year of the contract didn’t go nearly as well, but we expect him to bounce back to elite levels in 2020.

Andrew Luck – $140 Million

andrew luck nfl
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

Andrew Luck made history in 2016 when he signed this massive six-year extension with the Indianapolis Colts. The $140 million deal made him the highest-paid player in the league with an average yearly salary of just under $24 million.

Unfortunately for the Colts, the contract didn’t work out. A string of injuries ended Luck’s career before he turned 30 years old. After a year without a reliable QB, the Colts signed Philip Rivers to a one year, $25 million deal for the 2020 season.

Russell Wilson – $140 Million

russell wilson nfl
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Coming out of college, Russell Wilson was considered too short to be a franchise QB at the NFL level. Then, as a rookie, he beat out Matt Flynn for the starting job in Seattle and became one of the most successful QBs of his generation.

After winning one Super Bowl and setting record numbers for Seattle, the team rewarded the underdog star with a four-year, $140 million contract which averaged $35 million a year.

Jimmy Garoppolo – $137.5 Million

jimmy garoppolo NFL
Scott Taetsch/Getty Images
Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

At one time viewed as the successor to Tom Brady in New England, the 49ers traded for Jimmy Garoppolo in 2018. After five straight wins for the team in 2017, he was awarded a $137.5 million contract.

Jimmy G’s first season under his new contract turned into a disaster when he tore his ACL early on. The next year proved he was worth every dollar, though, as he threw 26 touchdown passes and helped lead the 49ers to the Super Bowl.

Matthew Stafford – $135 Million

matthew stafford nfl
Dylan Buell/Getty Images
Dylan Buell/Getty Images

In 2017, Matthew Stafford signed a monster $135 million contract with the Detroit Lions. The franchise QB starved team knew they couldn’t let the young star sign with another team and made sure to lock him up.

So far, the money has been worth it. Stafford has performed at a near-elite level, even if the team has consistently underperformed and missed the playoffs. Perhaps 2020 will be the year Stafford finally gets to the shine in the NFL Postseason.

Aaron Donald – $135 Million

aaron donald rams
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Defensive Lineman Aaron Donald gets paid like he’s a quarterback. The former Defensive Player of the Year has been one of the most disruptive players in the NFL since being drafted and gets paid as a result.

Donald’s best year came in 2018 when he recorded 20.5 sacks and helped lead the Los Angeles Rams to the Super Bowl. Holding the Patriots to 13 points should have meant a win for the Rams, but the offensive side of the ball failed to deliver in the clutch.

Aaron Rodgers – $134 Million

aaron rodgers nfl
Grant Halverson/Getty Images
Grant Halverson/Getty Images

If you haven’t yet caught on, the most lucrative position to play in the NFL is the quarterback. When Aaron Rodgers signed his massive contract, he was the highest-paid player in the NFL. Now he’s the barely in the top ten!

Averaging $33 million a year, Aaron Rodgers has survived in Green Bay for over a decade, winning one Super Bowl and two league MVP awards. The only question left Rodgers has to answer is when he will take his cleats off for good.

Jared Goff – $134 Million

jared goff nfl
Harry How/Getty Images
Harry How/Getty Images

If one thing is certain about Jared Goff, it’s that he can afford to live the Los Angeles lifestyle. After being taken with the first overall pick by the Rams, Goff struggled to start his career and looked like a bust.

When Sean McVay was hired to be the Rams’ new head coach, Goff showed just how much talent he had. He was incredible in 2018, guiding the offensive side of the ball and the Rams to the Super Bowl. His performance in that big game, and a disappointing 2019 campaign, have fans wondering if he was really worth all that cash.

Calvin Johnson – $132 Million

calvin johnson nfl
Jeff Gross/Getty Images
Jeff Gross/Getty Images

Nicknamed “Megatron,” Calvin Johnson was a rare combination of size and speed at the receiver position. If he couldn’t blow past defensive backs, he could just reach over them, making him impossible to stop and turning him into the highest-paid wide receiver of all-time.

Like Andrew Luck, Johnson chose to hang up his cleats early. Despite producing monster numbers in Detroit, his success wasn’t turning into victories on the field, leading him to look towards his life off it.

Michael Vick – $130 Million

michael vick nfl
Maddie Meyer/Getty Images
Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Before Matt Ryan was the franchise QB in Atlanta, Michael Vick was. He was ascending as a player and had just signed a $130 million contract when it all came crashing down. The Falcons franchise would have been left in disarray if they hadn’t drafted Matt Ryan.

As for Vick, he might not have lived up to that contract because of his prison sentence, but he did live up to his next one. After three years away from the game, and society, Vick was signed by the Eagles, and eventually became the team’s starting QB until injuries began piling up.

Carson Wentz – $128 Million

carson wentz eagles
Stacy Revere/Getty Images
Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Carson Wentz under center has meant great things for the Philadelphia Eagles. He was even on pace to win the league MVP before tearing his ACL in 2017. Of course, Nick Foles went on to win the Super Bowl, but Wentz got paid like a king.

Wentz has arguably been worth the price. In 2019 he threw 27 TDs and only seven interceptions. With healthier receiving talent around him (nearly the entire team’s receiving core got hurt) Wentz should put up even bigger numbers in 2020.

Jay Cutler – $126.7 Million

jay cutler nfl
Elsa/Getty Images
Elsa/Getty Images

At the time, paying $126.7 million for Jay Cutler seemed like an easy decision for the Chicago Bears. The team has been desperate for a starting QB since the ’80s and saw the opportunity after Cutler got booted out of Denver.

Once Cutler started playing games, though, it became clear why he lost favor in the Mile High City. His perceived lack of personality on the field also didn’t help when he got injured during a playoff game.

Colin Kaepernick – $126 Million

colin kaepernick nfl
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

After replacing Alex Smith as the starting quarterback in San Francisco and leading the team to the Super Bowl, Colin Kaepernick was rewarded with a $126 million contract by the team. But was he worth the money?

The answer depends on who you ask. Kaepernick quickly became one of the most complicated figures in the league as a “protest athlete.” A few years after signing his deal he was out of the NFL entirely and began working as a full-time activist.

Derek Carr – $125 Million

derek carr raiders
Mitchell Leff/Getty Images
Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

When Derek Carr signed his $125 million contract extension with the Raiders in 2017, he set the bar for an average annual salary. While that bar has been raised since the same can’t be said for Carr’s performance on the field.

One of the league’s most efficient QBs, Carr has been criticized for playing it too safe in games. That means that while his stats remain off the charts, watching him play has become less than entertaining.

Joe Flacco – $120.6 Million

joe flacco nfl
Patrick Smith/Getty Images
Patrick Smith/Getty Images

The Ravens made an easy decision giving Joe Flacco a $120.6 million contract after he beat the 49ers in the 2012 Super Bowl. He put on one of the greatest postseason runs in NFL history, tossing 11 TDs without throwing an interception.

The years that followed didn’t leave up to that performance though. Flacco was good enough to play out his contract and sign another extension with Baltimore, but once Lamar Jackson became the team’s starting QB he was shipped off to Denver.

Larry Fitzgerald – $120 Million

larry fitzgerald nfl
Norm Hall/Getty Images
Norm Hall/Getty Images

One of the NFL’s best all-time wide receivers, Larry Fitzgerald signed his $120 million contract extension with the Arizona Cardinals in 2011. A consummate professional, his time in Arizona has been filled with more downs than ups, but he has always played at an elite level regardless.

Fitzgerald was a key component of the Cardinals team that made it all the way to the Super Bowl in 2009. He even caught what looked to be the game-winning touchdown catch. The Steelers managed to play spoiler in the closing minutes, however, leaving Larry “Legend” hungry for a ring.

Carson Palmer – $119.75 MIllion

carson palmer nfl
Tim Warner/Getty Images
Tim Warner/Getty Images

Love him or hate him, Carson Palmer earned every penny he ever made in the NFL. When he was drafted by the Bengals, he was tasked with taking the bad luck franchise and turning them around. He did that spectacularly and earned this big-money deal.

The good times were not meant to last as Palmer, upset with the organization, “retired” to force a trade. The Raiders came calling, where he under-performed and was shipped off to Arizona. With the Cardinals, Palmer revived his career and the franchise, leading them to the NFC Championship Game in 2015.

Ryan Tannehill – $118 Million

ryan tannehill nfl
Maddie Meyer/Getty Images
Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Ryan Tannehill found a renaissance in Tennessee. The former top pick and starting QB for the Miami Dolphins, the talented signal was oft-injured, leading to the team moving on and sending him to the Titans in 2019.

With his new team, Tannehill started as the back up to Marcus Mariota, but became the starter, stayed healthy, and led the team to the playoffs as well as a surprise birth in the AFC Championship Game. The Titans rewarded the rejuvenated QB with a big extension at the start of the offseason.

Andy Dalton – $115 Million

andy dalton bengals
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

After Carson Palmer worked his way out of Cincinnati, the team turned to Andy Dalton to keep the good times rolling. He became a steady presence for the team and earned his $115 million extension in 2014.

Since signing the extension, Dalton has been criticized for failing to be a big play QB. His lack of postseason success has not helped his case either. After the 2019 season, the Bengals decided to cut ties with him as their starter.