Building an NFL franchise is renowned as one of the toughest tasks in sport. As a result, the league has a reputation for being brash and lucrative with its spending in an effort to keep top players from joining rival teams in the free agency period that occurs every offseason.
A plethora of whopping contracts have been offered to players since the turn of the century thanks to increased profits and broadcasting deals that increase year-on-year. With the Conference Championship games just around the corner, 90min counts down the 30 biggest NFL contracts of all time.
29= Albert Haynesworth – $100m
We kick off this list with potentially the biggest free agency flop of all time. Albert Haynesworth enjoyed some groundbreaking seasons as a member of the Tennessee Titans, but was unable to match that in a disastrous stint with the Washington Redskins, recording a paltry 6.5 sacks in two seasons in the capital.
29= Michael Thomas – $100m
Michael Thomas has been a sensation for the Saints since entering the league in 2016. Thomas has more than proved his worth in New Orleans too, leading the league in receiving yards in 2019, as well as tying the all-time record for most receptions in a single season with 149, all at the age of just 26.
28. Justin Houston – $101m
It is fair to say that Houston earned his paycheque, having almost broken Michael Strachan’s single-season sack record of 22.5, eventually falling just short with 22 during the 2014 season. Back from injury, Houston looked to have re-discovered his old touch in 2019, notching up ten sacks after moving to the Indianapolis Colts.
27. Brett Favre – $101.5m
One of the great modern quarterbacks, Favre more than merited the $101.5 million he received from the Green Bay Packers in 2001. Despite stating that he ‘wanted to be a Packer for life’, he ended up leaving Green Bay for the Big Apple, signing with the New York Jets in 2008 before finishing his career playing against the Packers with the division-rival Minnesota Vikings.
26. Daunte Culpepper – $102m
The curious case of Daunte Culpepper is one that leads many to the same conclusion: what could have been for him and the Vikings had he not suffered a serious knee injury in 2005, just a year after becoming the first quarterback in NFL history to pass for 5,000 yards in a single season.
25. Ben Roethlisberger – $102m
Although the immediate future of Ben Roethlisberger remains uncertain following his public flirtation with retirement for the past few off-seasons, ‘Big Ben’ has been a cornerstone of the Steelers franchise since he entered the league in 2004.
24. Fletcher Cox – $102.6m
The money that Philadelphia elected to invest in the behemoth defensive tackle in 2016 certainly payed off, as he was an integral member of the Eagles side that shocked the Patriots to win Super Bowl LII. Much like the rest of his team-mates however, Cox suffered from a lack of consistency in 2019, with a disappointing 3.5 sacks.
23. Drew Bledsoe – $103m
This Day In 2001: Patriots sign QB Drew Bledsoe to a 10-year, $103 million deal as Robert Kraft says he’s locking up one of the great Patriots of all time. He plays less than two games under the deal, gets hurt, gets replaced by Tom Brady & never plays again for New England. pic.twitter.com/zWmzMTrgjA
— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) March 7, 2018
As demonstrated by the above Tweet, this mammoth contract went down like a cup of cold sick for Kraft and co. Luckily for the Patriots, it just so happened to be the dawn of one of the most dominant periods in sporting history, with Brady going on to win six Super Bowls.
22. Matt Ryan – $103.75m
There could be a compelling case made for the argument that Matt Ryan is one of the most underrated quarterbacks in the modern game. It would be compelling until one got to the point where his team somehow blew a 28-3 lead versus the Patriots in Super Bowl LI. Matty ‘Ice’ doesn’t seem so apt a nickname when that slice of infamous history is brought up, does it?
21. DeMarcus Lawrence – $105m
Since inking a mega-deal last offseason, Lawrence hasn’t really reached the levels that he or other members of the Cowboys organisation would have hoped for. 2019 was a year to forget for Dallas, with long-time head coach Jason Garrett relieved of his duties are failing to make the playoffs.
20. Frank Clark – $105.5m
Clark enjoyed his best season in the NFL in 2018 which, fortunately for him, occurred in a contract year. Since being traded to Kansas City from Seattle last off-season, Clark has been impressive without being the unstoppable force many hoped he would turn into, helping his side dominate in the 2020 AFC Championship.
19. Tony Romo – $108m
More recently known for his expert analysis as a broadcaster of the NFL on CBS, Romo was seen as the future in Jerryworld when he signed a colossal extention for Dallas back in 2013. However, he was plagued by injuries in the latter part of his career, leading to a premature retirement in 2016.
18. Ndamukong Suh – $114m
Although Suh earned a reputation for bulldozing offensive linemen in his career, he has struggled with a combination of inconsistency and ill-discipline since he was paid the big bucks by the Miami Dolphins back in 2015. Boy could the Dolphins do with a player like the Suh of old at this moment and time.
17. Von Miller – $114.5m
First off, props to Erin Coscarelli for the image on this tweet. Secondly, and perhaps disappointingly for her, Miller did eventually sign this enormous deal with the Denver Broncos after being named Super Bowl MVP the previous season, where he led Peyton Manning into retirement with a battering of Cam Newton, who went 15-1 that season with the Carolina Panthers.
16. Andy Dalton – $115m
Dalton doesn’t seem to have ever been able to justify the hype he has received from various camps over the years, never being able to end the Bengals’ horrendous hoodoo in the playoffs. There must be, deep in the gods, a footballing jinx in the state of Ohio when you add in to the mix the recent misfortune of the Cleveland Browns.
15. Donovan McNabb – $115m
Although the award of a lucrative contract to McNabb may have seemed premature, he received over $100 million after just one season as a starter in the NFL, he did lead the Eagles to Super Bowl XXXIX. However, McNabb did not display the elite composure required in the playoffs, never lifting the Lombardi Trophy despite nine playoff appearances.
14. Carson Palmer – $119.75m
Somewhat of a journeyman, the first overall pick of the 2003 draft played for three different teams throughout a career constantly blighted by injuries. Despite being an efficient passer, Palmer often went missing in the biggest moments when his teams needed him most, such as the 2015 Cardinals playoff run where he threw four touchdowns and six picks in two games.
13. Larry Fitzgerald – $120m
Unquestionably the most accomplished active player to have never won a Super Bowl, Fitzgerald’s 2008 post-season alone is one for the ages. Taking that into account along with the rest of his illustrious career highlights and it is merely a matter of time until he is enshrined in Canton. A true great of the game.
12. Joe Flacco – $120.6m
With Lamar Jackson putting together one of the all-time great dual-threat seasons by a quarterback, the time when Joe Flacco led the Ravens to a Super Bowl in 2013 seems a long while ago. Flacco’s shortcomings as a QB were emphasised a season later where he endured the worst season of his career and, after Jackson’s emergence, Flacco was traded to Denver.
11. Derek Carr – $125m
Derek Carr enjoyed an excellent season in 2016 with 28 touchdowns to six interceptions. Unfortunately for him and the Raiders, Carr suffered a broken leg towards the end of that season and has struggled to replicate his 2016 form ever since.
10. Colin Kaepernick – $126m
Before his infamous public dispute with the NFL over alleged collusion to keep him out of the league, Kaepernick was setting the league alight in San Francisco.
Leading the 49ers to two successive NFC Championship games in the 2012 and 2013 seasons, Kaepernick manipulated defences with his stunning blend of speed, athleticism and accuracy when throwing on the run. Will he ever return to the NFL? It looks unlikely after being without a job for three seasons.
9. Jay Cutler – $126.7m
One of the most unfathomable entries on this list, Cutler never enjoyed a winning season in the league again after being given a ludicrous seven year contract by the Chicago Bears in 2014, worth a whopping $126.7 million. Not bad going for a guy who never reached a Super Bowl.
8. Michael Vick – $130m
If you are unfamiliar with the supernatural abilities of Michael Vick in Madden 2004, dust off your PS2 and enjoy the rollercoaster ride of a quarterback with a speed rating at 95. One of the most iconic and recognisable names in recent memory, the rushing ability of Vick has already been written in footballing folklore.
7. Calvin Johnson – $132m
Potentially the most unstoppable receiver of the past decade in the NFL, ‘Megatron’ celebrated this blockbuster contract by smashing the single-season record for receiving yards, finishing the 2012 season with a staggering 1,964 yards – averaging 122 yards per game – with 11 consecutive games over 100 yards. The unique abilities of Johnson will be sorely missed by any fan of the sport.
6. Aaron Rodgers – $134m
Rodgers has enjoyed a renaissance under rookie head coach Matt LaFleur in Green Bay, following a couple of stagnating seasons with Mike McCarthy. He was fired at the end of the 2019 season, though, with the Packers again shining brightly in the NFC after his departure.
5. Matthew Stafford – $135m
The fastest player to throw for 40,000 yards in his career, Stafford earned this contract on the back of an impressive 2016 season, where he led no fewer than eight wins from behind, a league record. In recognition of this feat, Detroit decided to make him the highest-paid player of all time with this record deal in 2017.
5. Aaron Donald – $135m
A nightmare for offensive coordinators around the NFL, Donald is able to tear up double-teamed linemen with alarming ease. The Rams reached the 2019 SuperBowl because of his superb performances, so it’s little wonder that he’s regarded as one of the best active defensive tackles.
3. Jimmy Garoppolo – $137.5m
Many questioned the wisdom of this decision at the time, after Garoppolo was traded to the 49ers in mid-season. But Jimmy G has resoundingly answered his critics, leading the Niners to an NFC West division title with a number of all-conquering displays.
2. Andrew Luck – $140m
That contract is tinged with sadness after Luck’s impressive career was prematurely cut short last season due to a number of injuries. Never quite able to stay healthy, it is a case of what could have been for Luck and the Indianapolis Colts, with this contract an indicator of the winning ability Luck brought to the team.
1. Khalil Mack – $141m
Khalil Mack earned every single cent he got in that contract extension from the Bears because he’s essentially the quarterback of that defense.
Presence alone adds more pressure for CHI defense. pic.twitter.com/3dui2mFZcH
— Johnny Kinsley (@Brickwallblitz) September 18, 2018
Following months of speculation over his future with then-employers the Oakland Raiders, Khalil Mack was traded to the Chicago Bears ahead of the 2018 season. Mack fully justified his gigantic pay-packet by being named a first-team All-Pro in 2018 and notched an impressive 8.5 sacks in 2019, despite the Bears struggles.