Highest-paid NFL players and biggest contracts heading into the 2022 season (2023)

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As we head into the 2022 NFL season, who are the highest-paid NFL players for the upcoming season? There are a number of ways to look at this in terms of cash earned in the year, salary to be earned, annual average contract value, or salary cap charge. For the teams, the most important element is the amount of cap space an individual player costs.

That number is what limits teams in terms of the talent they can add to their roster in a given season. Therefore, let’s examine the highest-paid NFL players for 2022 in terms of their salary cap charge. At the bottom of the article, we will list the top 10 players in terms of cash earned for the 2022 season.

Top 10 highest-paid NFL players in 2022 | Salary cap charge

With contract restructures, trades, and roster moves taking place all offseason, this list fluctuates and varies throughout the months. Two players originally at the top of this list — Matt Ryan and Deshaun Watson — were then traded and had their 2022 cap charges for their new team reduced.

As you might expect, this list is dominated by quarterbacks, with a few pass rushers getting in there for good measure. Let’s examine the top cap numbers for 2022.

10) Aaron Donald, DT, LAR | $24 million

Considered by many to be the best player in the entire league when it comes to his relative positional value, it is no surprise to see Aaron Donald on this list. If the defensive tackle position was held in higher regard in terms of their contracts, he could easily be the highest-paid player in the entire league.

Donald’s salary for the season is only $1.5 million, but he also earned a $5 million roster bonus earlier in the offseason. There is also $17.5 million in prorated signing and restructure bonuses that take his cap number to $24 million. He is projected to have a cap charge of $38 million next year, so we could easily see him on this list again in 2023.

9) Joey Bosa, EDGE, LAC | $28.25 million

Joey Bosa signed a five-year, $135 million extension with the Chargers in 2020. Since signing that deal, his cap number has steadily increased to its current number at $28.25 million. He will earn a whopping $21.25 million in salary this year at a rate of $1.25 million per game. His salary is set to jump to $24 million next year, and his cap charge will climb over $30 million.

8) Carson Wentz, QB, WAS | $28.3 million

When a player is traded, the cap charge for the acquiring team is typically low since that club isn’t responsible for any signing bonus proration. That’s not the case with Carson Wentz, whose cap figure results from his $22 million base salary and a $6.3 million roster bonus. His salary is fully guaranteed in 2022, but those guarantees will run out in 2023. If Wentz doesn’t perform in Washington, the Commanders can cut him next offseason — before his March 19 roster bonus is due — and clear him entirely from their books.

7) Aaron Rodgers, QB, GB | $28.5 million

The fact Aaron Rodgers’ new contract is deemed a “cap-friendly extension” tells you everything you need to know about what he was set to earn before. His cap number dropped from $46 million with the new deal. Just $1.15 million of his $28.5 million cap number is salary, with the rest coming in signing and restructure bonuses.

6) Chris Jones, DT, KC | $29.4 million

Chris Jones is set to be the second-highest-paid NFL player this year who is not a QB. His cap number will be a mammoth $29.4 million, thanks mainly to an $18.1 million roster bonus that became fully guaranteed last year.

The Chiefs could consider reducing that number by converting it into a signing bonus. However, his cap number for 2023 is already projected to be $27 million, so they might not want to push that higher. We could see Jones have void years added to his deal, or he could sign an extension. Jones is about to enter the third season of his four-year, $80 million contract.

5) T.J. Watt, EDGE, PIT | $31.1 million

With the biggest 2022 cap number among non-QB players in the NFL, T.J. Watt is the first player on our list to jump above $30 million. His $31.1 million cap number is primarily derived from a $24 million base salary that could be restructured if required.

As it stands, Watt’s cap numbers will sit between $27 million and $28.2 million over the next three years. When negotiating with Watt, the Steelers broke their internal rule of not handing out guarantees past the first season of a new contract, so the pass rusher has guaranteed salaries through 2023.

4) Jared Goff, QB, DET | $31.15 million

This is very likely to be the swansong on this list for Jared Goff. The Lions can release the veteran QB for a dead money charge of just $10 million next year. When they made the trade, the Lions moved money around to make Goff more affordable in 2021. Unfortunately, that meant he would count more than $30 million against the cap this year, thanks to a fully guaranteed $25.5 million in roster bonus and salary.

3) Kirk Cousins, QB, MIN | $31.4 million

Kirk Cousins is another player on this list who recently signed an extension to reduce his cap number. He was due to count $45 million against the cap before signing a one-year contract extension worth $35 million. The deal contains two void years in order to spread his cap hits out over the next four years. Cousins’ cap number will rise to $36.25 million in 2023 before the Vikings incur a dead money charge of $12.5 million in 2024.

2) Patrick Mahomes, QB, KC | $35.8 million

Once the highest-paid player in the NFL in terms of average annual value, Patrick Mahomes sits second regarding cap hits for 2022. His $35.8 million number is largely made up of a $27.4 million roster bonus. That roster bonus could easily be converted to a signing bonus to reduce his cap number in 2022. However, that would increase his cap charges moving forward, and he’s already at $46.8 million in 2023.

The Chiefs will have to decide if they want to start kicking the can down the road with Mahomes’ contract. They can push money into the future, but the bill will eventually come due. Unless the Chiefs keep moving Mahomes’ contract around with restructures, he’ll be a perennial name on the list of the NFL’s largest cap hits. Over the next nine seasons, his cap number is never projected to be lower than $41.95 million.

1) Ryan Tannehill, QB, TEN | $38.6 million

No, you’re not reading this wrong — Ryan Tannehill is currently set to have the biggest 2022 cap number in the NFL. Of the $38.6 million, $9.6 million is prorated bonus money, with the remaining $29 million being base salary. The Titans do have the option to restructure his deal.

Yet, any restructure they do will make it more difficult to move on from Tannehill next season. It will also make the dead money less manageable when his contract voids in 2024. Therefore, we may see the Titans ride this out and re-evaluate his deal next offseason.

Top 10 highest-paid NFL players in terms of cash earned

T10) Cooper Kupp, WR, LAR | $30 million
T10) Tom Brady, QB, TB | $30 million
T10) Kyler Murray, QB, ARI | $30 million
9) DK Metcalf, WR, SEA | $31 million
8) Jaire Alexander, CB, GB | $31.076 million
7) Aaron Donald, DT, LAR | $31.5 million
6) Kirk Cousins, QB, MIN | $40 million
5) Aaron Rodgers, QB, GB | $42 million
4) Deshaun Watson, QB, CLE | $45.368 million
3) Josh Allen, QB, BUF | $46.961 million
2) Russell Wilson, QB, DEN | $57 million
1) Matthew Stafford, QB, LAR | $61.5 million

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