It’s been called the most strenuous, difficult and important job in the NFL, but it’s safe to say quarterbacks are more than fairly compensated for their services.
Seven quarterbacks have eight-figure salaries this season, compared to four wide receivers, two defensive ends, two defensive tackles and two line backers, with just one running back, center and offensive tackle reaching the threshold.
With teams hesitant to give running backs long, lucrative deals, that money may start shifting to the offensive line, the players responsible for protecting the even higher-paid quarterbacks. The latest example is the Dallas Cowboys agreeing to an eight-year, $109 million deal with left tackle Tyron Smith Wednesday. According to the Dallas Morning News, the 23-year-old will make $32 million in the first three years of the deal and average $12.2 million over the life of the contract. Depending on how his bonuses are structured, Smith could rank in the top 10 of highest paid NFL players for the next decade or so.
But this go round we’ll look at the base salary each quarterback makes, rather than including the various bonuses that can balloon their overall salary cap hit. Case in point, Green Bay Packers Pro Bowl passer Aaron Rodgers, despite signing a five-year, $110 million contract before last season, will only make $900,000 in salary in 2014. If we included his signing, roster and workout bonuses that are spread out over the next six years Rodgers’s cap hit fluctuates from $17.55 million this year to more than $21 million by 2019.
In this instance, Rodgers actually did Green Bay a favor. By reducing Rodgers’s cap hit, the Packers were able to parlay the cap space into the signing of defensive end Julius Peppers in the offseason to upgrade the d-line. Another result is Rodgers’s absence from this list, and he likely won’t make it until 2016 when his salary jumps from $1 million in 2015 to $11.5 million in the next.
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Unlike Rodgers’s deal, the Bears actually frontloaded Cutler’s new contract with more salary in the first three years and his $2.5 million roster bonuses won’t kick in until 2017. Cutler has a huge contract to live up to and how he responds to all the money this season will be a much discussed topic in Chicago. Cap Hit: $18.5 million
Representing the biggest cap hit of any QB this season, Manning could move up to No. 1 next season with $17 million in base salary for 2015. After that he’s an unrestricted free agent, and how much he signs for in his next, and likely final, contract will be largely determined on his performance this season. Cap Hit: $20.4 million
Before he underwent four neck surgeries, Peyton Manning could have demanded $20 million in salary per season for the rest of his career. But Manning took less salary and spread out his bonus to give the Broncos cap space, and to assure them he wasn’t continuing to play just for the money. Cap Hit: $17.5 million
Bradford has one more year left on his rookie deal, but this will be the highest-earning year of his career so far, even though he’s failed to take the Rams to the postseason. As recently as February it was reported that St. Louis had no intentions of extending Bradford’s deal, but that could change if he lives up to his potential in 2014. Cap Hit: $17.6 million
In terms of cap hit, Rivers is ninth among quarterbacks and like Eli Manning he’s scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent in 2016. He just led the Chargers back to the playoffs, and has shown no signs of slowing down. Cap Hit: $16.6 million
Another from the 2004 QB draft class with a deal expiring in 2016, Roethlisberger and the Steelers are reportedly waiting until the end of his season to talk about a new contract, according to CBS Sports. It doesn’t help that Pittsburgh also needs to find space to extend linebacker Jason Worilds, as well as guard David DeCastro, d-tackle Steve McLendon and d-end Cameron Heyward over the next two years. Cap Hit: $18.895 million
Other than Manning, no other offense relies on their quarterback as much as New Orleans does Brees. His contract reflects that, and next year he’ll jump to $18.75 million in salary and $19.75 million in 2016, unless he restructures. Cap Hit: $18.4 million
Now into the seven-figure wages, Ryan had his worst year as a pro last in 2013 with 17 picks to 26 touchdowns. Still Ryan is the same quarterback that’s staged 17 fourth quarter comebacks since he entered the league in 2008. He’s another QB whose overall compensation jumps to eight-figures if we included bonuses. Cap Hit: $17.5 million
Palmer turned the Cardinals offense around in his first full season. He did throw 22 interceptions, but he provided Arizona stability at quarterback they haven’t had since Kurt Warner. At times Palmer looked like the Pro Bowl-caliber passer he was in Cincinnati, and at $9 million a season he’s relatively cheap for the Cards. Cap Hit: $12 million
Smith will be a free agent at the end of the season unless he and the Chiefs can agree on an extension. The talks are still ongoing, and as recently as Wednesday Smith spoke publicly about his contract situation. One of the most accurate and risk-averse passers over the least three seasons, Smith is coming off a career-year with 23 touchdowns to seven picks. At $7.5 million he’s a steal. Cap Hit: $8 million