Anyone who makes it to the NFL can expect a generous paycheck, but the ones playing quarterback will typically find their bank accounts getting the biggest boost. A great quarterback often makes the difference between a franchise ruling the league and one that is mired in mediocrity, which is why teams are willing to shower their signal caller with tens of millions of dollars per year, despite the constant risk of injury in professional football.
We’ve taken a look at the riches piled up by NFL quarterbacks over the years and ranked the top career earners as they stand following the 2020-21 season. While active passers dominate the list, there are several retired stars who still rank among the richest ever.
30. Drew Bledsoe
Career Earnings: $80 million
While Drew Bledsoe hasn’t played in an NFL game since 2006, he pulled in enough coin to still rank among the game’s richest today. Tenures with the Patriots, Bills and Cowboys contributed to his healthy retirement fund, with the majority of it coming from New England. In nine seasons with the team — which Bledsoe led under center right before his backup, Tom Brady, took over — he earned more than $52.6 million, according to the financial stat-keeping wizards at Spotrac.
29. Jared Goff
Career Earnings: $80.7 million
Last season, Jared Goff earned $31 million from the Rams, which is more than Tom Brady has ever earned in a single season. Let that sink in for a second. The current Lions starter, who went to two Pro Bowls in five seasons in Los Angeles, has earned a reputation for mediocre play ever since he led the Rams to an NFC Championship in 2019, despite putting up consistent numbers during his brief career so far. This season, Goff stands to earn another $25.6 million, making him one of the few athletes to cross the $100 million threshold in NFL history so far.
28. Andy Dalton
Career Earnings: $86.6 million
The vast majority of Andy Dalton’s career bankroll came from his tenure in Cincinnati, which saw him clear more than $83.5 million in nine seasons that were mostly underwhelming for fans of that tortured franchise. It looked like the “Red Rifle” had fired his last meaningful shot downfield when the Bengals cut him loose and he landed as a backup in Dallas in 2020, but he impressed the brass in Chicago enough during that season for the Bears to sign him as their likely starter in 2021, setting him up to climb even higher on this list.
27. Matt Hasselbeck
Career Earnings: $88 million
Matt Hasselbeck managed to make a ton of money and have a great career as an NFL starter, despite being drafted with low expectations in the sixth round. It wasn’t until his fifth season in the league that the three-time Pro Bowler surpassed just $1 million in career earnings, but his paychecks took off after that. In 18 seasons, Hasselbeck earned just over $88 million, nearly $63 million of which came from the Seahawks, whom he led to the Super Bowl in 2006.
26. Jimmy Garoppolo
Career Earnings: $88.7 million
Of all the guys who have earned enough money to crack this list, Jimmy Garoppolo has to be the biggest head-scratcher. This is a quarterback who has started six games or fewer in six of his seven seasons so far, giving him the equivalent of two full seasons as a starter in terms of games to this point. But when “Jimmy G” starts, he rarely loses, which was on full display during the 2019-20 slate, when he led the 49ers to a 13-3 record and an NFC championship, making up for the $41.9 million the team paid him the previous season in the first year of his monster deal with them.
25. Derek Carr
Career Earnings: $91 million
Although it’s been a few seasons since Derek Carr was invited to the Pro Bowl, the longtime Raiders starter has been playing arguably the best football of his career in the past couple years. He’s had three consecutive 4,000-yard passing seasons and two straight seasons with a passer rating above 100 and has been paid handsomely for his efforts. Since 2017 alone, Carr has taken in more than $86 million in salary and bonuses from the Silver and Black.
24. Matt Schaub
Career Earnings: $94.3 million
If you are stunned to see Matt Schaub among the 25 highest paid quarterbacks in NFL history, you are not alone. A single playoff victory, two Pro Bowl appearances and fewer than 100 games as a starter were all it took this retired veteran to collect a lifetime of cash in the NFL. Best known for his days in Houston, Schaub was under center when the Texans won their first playoff game as a franchise in 2012. He made nearly $22 million that year alone, making it easily the most lucrative of the 17 seasons he spent in the league before retiring in 2021.
23. Donovan McNabb
Career Earnings: $99.6 million
Donovan McNabb retired after the 2011 season and had all the stats of a Hall of Famer. The Eagles star made six Pro Bowls while with Philadelphia and was one of the league’s marquee players in the early 2000s. Over 13 seasons, McNabb earned nearly $100 million, $76 million of which came from the Eagles. It might surprise you to know that his most lucrative season came in 2010-11, when the Washington Football Team gave a 34-year-old McNabb more than $18.5 million only to see him post a passer rating of 77.1, the lowest for any of his years as a full-time starter.
22. Andrew Luck
Career Earnings: $109.1 million
A former No. 1 overall draft pick, Andrew Luck raked in an enormous amount of money in what was ultimately a very short career as an NFL quarterback. Before he shockingly retired after the 2018-19 season, the Colts star was among the most consistent — and highest-paid — passers in the game. The four-time Pro Bowler’s richest year came in 2016, when he commanded $30 million from Indianapolis, but his most enjoyable had to be in 2019, when he took home $12 million in previously agreed-upon bonus cash despite being retired all season!
21. Ryan Tannehill
Career Earnings: $115.4 million
For eight seasons with Miami, Ryan Tannehill rarely lived up to his sizable paychecks, but he’s turned that around in the past couple years with Tennessee. In those mediocre-at-best years with the Dolphins, the former top-1o selection earned more than $72.5 million while never starting in a playoff game. Since he joined the Titans in 2019, he’s taken them to the postseason twice, been named to his first All-Star Game and cashed in roughly $43 million, which fans would say is well worth his services. He stands to make at least another $24.5 million this season, which would vault him into the top 15 all-time.
20. Michael Vick
Career Earnings: $115.9 million
Despite a career that was a roller coaster from the jump, Atlanta Falcons legend Michael Vick managed to earn more than $115 million over his 13 seasons in the NFL. The former comeback player of the year saw his tenure split into two halves that are almost dead-even in terms of his earnings. In his first six seasons with Atlanta, from 2001-2006, Vick collected $57.4 million and likely would’ve seen that figure skyrocket if he hadn’t missed two whole seasons after his arrest on dogfighting charges. His improbable comeback saw him earn another $58 million with the Eagles, Jets and Steelers from 2009-2015.
19. Jay Cutler
Career Earnings: $122.1 million
Ask any NFL fan to describe Jay Cutler’s NFL tenure and they’ll likely muster up a solid, “Meh.” The former starter for the Bears, Broncos and Dolphins managed a single 4,000-yard passing season — which was also his lone All-Star campaign — and a single appearance in the postseason, in which Chicago went 1-1. Despite that lack of prowess, Cutler managed to be a magnet for cash, averaging more than $10 million in NFL earnings a year for 12 seasons.
The most insulting of those years for Bears fans came in 2014-15 and 2015-16, when he collected more than $37 million in paychecks despite the team winning six of his starts or fewer out of each slate.
18. Cam Newton
Career Earnings: $125.4 million
It’s insane to think that after a career that has included an MVP honor, an offensive rookie of the year title and a Super Bowl appearance, Cam Newton still hasn’t surpassed Sam Bradford’s career earnings. It’s been 10 seasons since he was selected No. 1 overall by the Panthers and spent years being hit more times than any quarterback in the league. Newton made more than $121 million from his deals with Carolina over the course of nine seasons before inking a humbling deal with the Patriots that should see him earn less than $10 million across two seasons, including the 2021-22 slate.
17. Tony Romo
Career Earnings: $127.4 million
Another guy who just attracts ungodly paychecks, Tony Romo reportedly gets paid about $18 million per year for his broadcasting gig with CBS, despite already being set for life from his NFL career. In his 14 seasons as the starter for the Cowboys, Romo collected more than $127 million, making him easily the highest-paid undrafted player in league history. His richest year on the field came during the 2013-14 season, when he made $26.5 million, according to Spotrac, which he followed with his final of four Pro Bowl seasons.
16. Sam Bradford
Career Earnings: $130 million
Remember that thing I said about Jimmy Garoppolo being the biggest head-scratcher on this list? Sam Bradford has something to say about it. The former No. 1 overall pick for the Rams landed a rookie contract that is considered the stuff of legend today, as it will likely be the biggest one ever given to a new NFL player. That $76 million deal and the way he never came close to justifying it brought an end to massive rookie contracts after a new collective bargaining agreement was signed the following year.
Bradford never reached a Pro Bowl or made a playoff appearance before his career ended in 2019 following nine seasons of robbing the league blind.
15. Brett Favre
Career Earnings: $137.8 million
It’s a testament to Brett Favre’s earning prowess that his NFL career began in 1991 and he still ranks among the 20 wealthiest quarterbacks in history. In 2001 — when some players on this list were still playing peewee football — he became the first player in NFL history to sign a contract worth at least $100 million. The Hall of Famer would end up making nearly $138 million in 20 seasons, 16 of which were with the Packers, with whom he won a Super Bowl.
Despite claiming more than $97 million from Green Bay in total, his most lucrative single seasons came in his golden years with the Jets and Vikings. His final season, in Minnesota, saw him bring home a career-best $16 million.
14. Kirk Cousins
Career Earnings: $140.6 million
While the Vikings were incredibly underwhelming in 2020, Kirk Cousins’ bank statements were anything but. The veteran passer cashed in more than $40 million in checks from the franchise during the 2020-21 season alone and some would say he earned it by having arguably the best all-around year of his career. But even the most understanding fan in the Twin Cities would have a hard time justifying the $94 million the Vikings have paid Cousins in the past three seasons alone, especially since he’s yet to lead them past the divisional round of the playoffs.
13. Russell Wilson
Career Earnings: $162.3 million
Seahawks veteran Russell Wilson has had three different seasons that have seen him bring home more than $30 million in earnings, which has helped him vault up this list. During the 2020-21 season alone, which saw him throw a career-best 40 touchdowns, Wilson earned $53 million from the franchise that he has helped cement among the elites in the NFL. He’s set to collect at least another $19 million in salary from Seattle during the 2021-22 slate, which will land him just outside the all-time top 10.
12. Joe Flacco
Career Earnings: $167.5 million
Very few guys on this list could be described as journeyman players, but that’s what Joe Flacco has become in recent years. After his legendary performance during the playoffs of the 2012-13 season, which saw him lead the Ravens to a Super Bowl victory, Flacco inked a $120 million contract that put him among the biggest earners in league history. In total, he was paid nearly $150 million over the course of 11 seasons by that franchise before fleecing the Broncos for another $18.5 million for one season of work that saw him start in only eight games.
11. Carson Palmer
Career Earnings: $174.1 million
Despite a 1-3 lifetime record as a starter in the playoffs, Carson Palmer did enough during his regular seasons to command top-tier money for years. The former Heisman Trophy winner made the majority of his cash while starting for the Bengals, landing more than $84 million over eight seasons that saw him hovering amidst the league’s top passers regularly. Palmer’s richest single year came in 2014 with the Cardinals, however, when he brought in $19 million, including a $10 million signing bonus.
10. Alex Smith
Career Earnings: $189.7 million
There are a whopping nine winners of the Associated Press NFL Comeback Player of the Year Award on this list, showing that returning to form after a slump can be great for an athlete’s finances. Recent retiree Alex Smith is the most recent player to have won that honor, taking it home in 2021 following his well-documented comeback from a devastating leg injury suffered in 2018. Despite only starting in 16 games in his final three seasons, the former No. 1 overall draft pick was paid $71 million by the Washington Football Team during that stretch, making it the most lucrative period of his long career.
9. Matthew Stafford
Career Earnings: $226.5 million
Matthew Stafford has the fewest NFL seasons under his belt of any player currently in the top 10 career earners. He’s also easily the least accomplished, having been named to just a single Pro Bowl. In his 12 seasons with the Lions, the former No. 1 overall pick was paid more than $226 million despite never leading them to a playoff victory. In the upcoming season, which will be his first with the Rams, Stafford is slated to earn at least $20 million, per Spotrac’s data, which will rank him even higher.
8. Aaron Rodgers
Career Earnings: $240.9 million
Three-time NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers is one of four quarterbacks in the top-10 earners to spend his entire career with a single franchise — although it remains to be seen how long that will be the case. The Packers icon and future Hall of Famer has commanded more than $240 million from the franchise over the past 16 seasons, including an eye-popping $66.9 million in 2018 alone. The contract that earned him that payday was the biggest in NFL history at that point.
7. Philip Rivers
Career Earnings: $243.9 million
Another 2021 retiree who formerly was named the comeback player of the year, Philip Rivers finished his tenure as one of the biggest earners in NFL history. His excellent play was consistently overshadowed by his Super Bowl-winning contemporaries, but the paychecks Rivers was cashing rivaled anyone’s. The eight-time Pro Bowler never made less than $4.7 million in a season and he spent 17 years in the league. He was paid nearly $219 million by the Chargers alone, where he spent 16 seasons slinging the ball and never missing a start.
6. Matt Ryan
Career Earnings: $244 million
Former MVP Matt Ryan is the highest quarterback on this list to have not won a Super Bowl. He was formerly the league’s highest-paid player and has already had four different seasons that saw him earn more than $20 million. The Falcons have paid Ryan more than $244 million over the course of 13 seasons that have seen him lead them to the playoffs six times, including a soul-crushing trip to the Super Bowl in 2017.
5. Peyton Manning
Career Earnings: $248.7 million
Hall of Famer Peyton Manning had the most lucrative season of his long NFL tenure in 2004-05, which was the second of his five MVP campaigns. The Colts paid him more than $35 million that year, according to Spotrac, which was an astronomical amount at that point in league history. The final massive contract he signed with the Colts included enough guaranteed money that he still made $26.4 million during the 2011-12 season, despite not taking a single snap due to a severe neck injury. After making his comeback, he was paid $77 million over four seasons with the Broncos that saw him win another MVP honor and lead them to a Super Bowl victory.
4. Eli Manning
Career Earnings: $252.2 million
Eli Manning obviously had a tremendous agent during his NFL career because he played the fewest seasons of anyone ranked in the top five of all-time earners. Before retiring in 2020, the younger Manning brother cashed in more than $252 million in earnings from the New York Giants, where he played for 16 seasons. While his results were sometimes mixed, it’s tough to argue with the fact that Manning led the Giants to two Super Bowl victories and six playoff berths during his tenure.
3. Ben Roethlisberger
Career Earnings: $253.2 million
While he’s the youngest of the top three quarterback earners, Ben Roethlisberger has collected his mountain of money over a long tenure. In 17 seasons and counting, all with the Steelers, he’s crossed the $250 million mark with the help of a pair of Super Bowl rings and six Pro Bowl seasons. While he’s never been named league MVP, Roethlisberger has posted four different seasons where the Steelers paid him more than $20 million in total.
2. Tom Brady
Career Earnings: $263.5 million
After the 2021-22 season is factored in, Tom Brady will be the top-earning quarterback in NFL history, but he’s stuck in second place for now. The seven-time Super Bowl champion represents arguably the best value for any star player ever because of the reported $60 million in pay cuts he took to keep the Patriots atop the league. The three-time MVP never made more than $20 million in a season until 2019-20, his final of 20 seasons with New England.
1. Drew Brees
Career Earnings: $269.7 million
Recent retiree Drew Brees is the only player in the top five of this list without multiple Super Bowl wins. Even with just a single ring, the future Hall of Famer did plenty on the field to justify his record-setting career earnings. The 13-time Pro Bowler and former comeback player of the year led the Saints to nine playoff appearances in 15 seasons and smashed several all-time passing records while there. Brees had his first $20 million season in 2006-07 and would have five more before hanging it up in 2021.
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