The Biggest NFL Salaries of All Time (2023)

It’s no secret the NFL is a big moneymaker. With league revenues rising over the past several years, player and coaching salaries have skyrocketed accordingly. Unfortunately, the recent COVID-19 pandemic put a damper on the continued growth and for the first time in years, the salary cap is decreasing. But don’t feel too badly for the athletes and their fearless leaders because their financial futures are still promising. Let’s take a closer look at NFL salaries — from the lowest, to the highest, to smack dab in the middle.

What is the NFL salary cap for 2021?

A decade of NFL salary caps ?

2011: $120 million
2012: $120.6 million
2013: $121.1 million
2014: $133 million
2015: $143.28 million
2016: $155.27 million
2017: $167 million
2018: $177.2 million
2019: $188.2 million
2020: $198.2 million
2021: $182.5 Million
2022: $208.2 million

— Front Office Sports (@FOS) May 27, 2021

The salary cap is an agreement between the NFL and its players association that places a limit on the amount of money each team can spend on its roster. Introduced back in the ’90s, the cap is determined by league revenues — attendance numbers, broadcasting contracts, and various other factors. According to ESPN, the salary cap for 2021 drops to $182.5 million per team — an 8% decrease from the prior year.

The decline is the first since 2011 and a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. With fans unable or unwilling to go to games in 2020, the attendance for the season dropped, leading to reduced revenues and a decrease in the salary cap for this upcoming year. Because of this, teams need to make difficult decisions about whom to release into NFL free agency and how to create space on their rosters.

What is the average NFL salary?

While the salary cap decreased this year, NFL players still make a good chunk of change. The league minimum salary for 2021 is $660,000, with an average player salary of around $2 million. While that’s a great way to make a living, Uncle Sam still wants his cut. That’s right, NFL players are just like everybody else and need to fork over their taxes. Just how much depends on their income level and the state they live in.

(Video) The NFL's Highest Paid Player At Every Position

Players who live in high tax states like California and New Jersey pay way more in taxes than their counterparts. Those that live in the South often pay the least amount because many of those states don’t even have a state income tax. Things get trickier when the “jock tax” is involved. This piece of legislation requires players to pay taxes on the money they make in each state they play games in — talk about confusing!

According to Spotrac, the players averaging those $2 million salaries come heavily from the defensive side of the field. Cornerbacks like Vernon Hargreaves and Justin Bethel are both expected to rake in the average in 2021.

Who is the highest paid NFL coach?

Being a head coach in the #NFL is not always a good long-term job, but the highest-paid list of coaches in the NFL includes multiple Super Bowl winners and future Hall of Famers.

— Audacy Sports (@AudacySports) March 15, 2021

While NFL players often make tremendous amounts of money, the leaders of the team, the head coaches, are pulling in impressive numbers as well. ESPN 1420 reports that New England Patriots icon Bill Belichick leads all coaches with the highest annual salary of $12 million. He has an overall net worth of $35 million, but even more notable is the legacy he leaves behind. He’s a six-time Super Bowl champ and three-time AP NFL Coach of the Year.

Hot on his tracks and vying for the top spot as highest-paid coach is the Seattle Seahawks commander Pete Carroll. ESPN 1420 estimates his salary at $11 million, just shy of Belichick.

In addition to head coaches, other members of the staff, like offensive and defensive coordinators, bring in a good amount of dough, although they’re often overlooked. It seems that defensive coordinators are only second to head coaches in the salary department, with some of the top making over $2-$3 million.

Conversely, offensive coordinators usually make much less. They average around the $1 million mark in compensation.

Who is the highest paid NFL player?

The Biggest NFL Salaries of All Time (1)

Coaches usually build their teams around quarterbacks since they’re such an instrumental piece to the game. That’s why it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the highest paid player in the league is a quarterback. Patrick Mahomes, leader of the Kansas City Chiefs, signed a massive contract extension back in 2020 that, at the time, was one of the largest professional sports contracts in history. He agreed to a 10-year, $450 million deal with the potential to make up to $503 million with additional bonuses.

While the amount is staggering, Chiefs fans think Mahomes is worth it. In just four seasons in the league, Mahomes led Kansas City to the Super Bowl twice — as champs in 2019 and runners-up in 2020, only behind the re-energized Tom Brady. He already won the league’s MVP back in 2018, and at just 25 years old, Mahomes surely will break records in the upcoming years.

(Video) Highest Paid NFL Player For Every Position (2022-2023)

While Mahomes is the current highest-paid player, according to Spotrac, Tom Brady earned the most of all time. Currently entering his 22nd season, Brady’s NFL earnings top the list at $291,087,392 (contributing majorly to his net worth). With a plethora of records too long to mention, including both regular season and Super Bowl ones, Brady just might break another this upcoming season: the regular-season passing yards leader.

Who is the lowest paid NFL player?

We have signed the following players to the practice squad:
TE Dylan Cantrell
TE Tyrone Swoopes

— Washington Football Team (@WashingtonNFL) December 23, 2020

Because of the current collective bargaining agreement, active players must receive a one-year contract with $660,000, the league’s current minimum salary. However, there are still players that make less than that because they are working off old contracts. They won’t be able to get the pay upgrade until it’s time to renegotiate.

With fullbacks and tight ends at the bottom of the pay barrel, it’s no surprise that the lowest-paid player in the league is, in fact, a tight end. While it’s easy to assume the rookie picked last in the draft makes the least amount, the collective bargaining agreement ensures he receives the league minimum. The title of lowest-paid player belongs to former Seattle Seahawks tight end Tyrone Swoopes. As part of Seattle’s practice squad, Swoopes was signed and waived over nine times. Reportedly, he only made $378,000 during his time with the team — well below the minimum.

Things are looking up for Swoopes. According to Sportskeeda, in 2020, he signed with the Washington Football Team as part of their practice squad, and in early 2021, he signed a future/reserves contract where he could potentially make more than he ever has.

Who is the richest QB of all time?

Hall of Fame QB Roger Staubach congratulated @TomBrady on his 2020 season and with winning Super Bowl LV.#PFHOF21

— Pro Football Hall of Fame (@ProFootballHOF) August 8, 2021

When considering the richest quarterbacks of all time, it’s easy to conclude it must be Peyton Manning or Tom Brady. Maybe if it was based on NFL earnings alone, but the richest QB is actually a former Dallas Cowboys quarterback from the 1970s. Roger Staubach, a Heisman Trophy winner from the U.S. Naval Academy, probably wasn’t at the top of anybody’s list, but his off-field business dealings solidified him the top spot.

CNBC reports that at the end of Staubach’s time with the Cowboys, he was only pulling in $160,000 a year. In the offseason, he took a part-time gig as a real estate broker and eventually opened his own firm in 1977. “I was 27 and we had three children. If I got hurt, I knew I had a family to provide for, and it was not crazy money in the NFL then.”

(Video) How the NFL Salary Cap & Contracts Work | NFL Explained

After decades in the business, Staubach sold the company in 2008 for $613 million, easily upping his net worth and making him one of the richest QBs of all time.

How much is an NFL kicker’s salary?

Here to stay ?

We have signed K Jason Sanders to a contract extension through the 2026 season.

— Miami Dolphins (@MiamiDolphins) February 16, 2021

NFL kickers are often overlooked until the game comes down to them. How they handle the intense pressure and whether they choke or succeed on the field often determines their staying power. Even still, kickers don’t usually land million-dollar contracts. In fact, many kickers often make the league minimum, currently set at $660,000.

Earlier this year, the Miami Dolphins and Jason Sanders agreed to a deal that makes him the highest-paid kicker of all time. According to Full Press Coverage, Sanders signed a $22 million contract extension with $10 million guaranteed. The deal ousts Baltimore Ravens kicker Justin Tucker out of the top spot. Back in 2019, Tucker inked a $20 million extension with a guaranteed $12.5 million. At the time, the deal made Tucker the wealthiest paid kicker, but his reign didn’t last long.

Sanders and Tucker might try to replicate the career of one of the most legendary kickers to play the game — Adam Vinatieri. His career spanned 24 years and includes countless accolades and big games. Vinatieri is the NFL’s all-time leading scorer and holds the record for most field goals made and most postseason field goals made.

CBS Sports recounts one of his most memorable kicks back in 2001 when he played for the New England Patriots. With only 35 seconds left to play, Vinatieri hit a 45-yard field goal in blizzard-like conditions.

NFL referee salary: What do they get paid?

Report: The NFL has fired official Hugo Cruz, the first in-season referee firing of the Super Bowl Era

— The MMQB (@theMMQB) October 25, 2018
(Video) WORST Contracts In The NFL Right Now

Being an NFL referee is an often thankless job. Constantly second-guessed or jeered by fans, being a referee is tough. That’s why it’s a rigorous process to become one of the NFL’s elite. Most candidates often have 10 years of experience officiating, with five of that at a collegiate level. While fans aren’t always happy with their calls, the NFL reports that when they review performances, the refs are pretty accurate — 95% to 97% of the time.

Because of all that pressure, NFL referees average a salary of $201,000 per season. Additional bonuses get paid out for postseason games, especially the Super Bowl. But sometimes NFL refs make such bad calls that their job is in peril. That happened to Hugo Cruz. Back in 2018, Cruz missed an obvious false start call that led to a touchdown. The fallout was immediate — fans booed, coaches balked, and commentators were speechless. The NFL wasted no time firing Cruz for his lackluster performance, sending a message to the other referees that incompetence wasn’t accepted.

How much is an NFL cheerleader’s salary?

SI Daily Cover: NFL Cheerleaders’ Fight to Be Heard

They endured years of low wages, poor working conditions and sexual harassment. Now, as teams try to ‘fix’ cheerleading, women are often cut out of the discussion—and told they need to change:

— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) June 28, 2021


How Does Tony Romo’s New Salary Compare to Other NFL Broadcasters?

(Video) NFL Highest Salaries Players 2023 | American Football

Each NFL team includes a variety of jobs that add to the atmosphere of the games and makes the team successful. Waterboys and cheerleaders, although often overlooked, are an integral part of the team. Cheerleaders have been around since 1954; the Baltimore Colts were the first to have cheerleaders on their sidelines.

NFL cheerleaders perform at home games, make special appearances, and do volunteer work. They also practice several times a week, and many of them have other jobs. For all the hours they put in, their pay is low. Typical squads are grouped into two different sections — supporting and professional. The supporting squad makes far less than the pros, usually around $9/hour plus $250 per game, according to 888 Sport. The pros can get as much as $20/hour plus $500 per game, but that’s on the high end.

In addition to supporting their team, cheerleaders also have to look good — that requires lots of primping, eating well, and exercising. They are under enormous pressure to get all the moves right or face getting benched from the NFL.


Who is the highest paid NFL player ever in history? ›

Tom Brady is No. 1 in the NFL once again. The six-time Super Bowl champion has taken over the top spot on the list of highest-paid NFL players of all time with earnings of $303 million through 22 seasons.

Who is the highest paid QB all time? ›

Tom Brady

Who has the largest NFL contract? ›

The Buffalo Bills handed out a whopping $96 million deal over six years to Mario Williams, and the Detroit Lions gave Calvin Johnson an eight-year, $150.5 million contract—which is the largest contract in league history.

Who is the first billionaire NFL player? ›

Jerome Johnson Richardson Sr.

Who is a billionaire in the NFL? ›

In 2018, David Tepper bought the Carolina Panthers for $2.8 billion. Tepper is a hedge fund manager. His Appaloosa Management hedge fund firm now manages nearly $13 billion in assets.

How much do NFL refs make? ›

The NFL won't disclose how much money their referees make, but based on the expired collective bargaining agreement from 2019, officials made an average of $201,000 per year, according to That accounts for all officials that appear on the field, which means the head referees for games could make even more.

Who is the 1 quarterback of all time? ›

1. Dan Marino: 1984. Marino's 5,084 yards that season was 282 more yards than the second-highest total in league history at that time. His 48 touchdown throws that year was 16 more than the next-highest total in league annals.

Who is the lowest paid backup quarterback? ›

10 Lowest-paid Backup QBs in the NFL (Average Annual Salary)
PlayerTeamAvg. Annual $
Anthony GordonKC$660,000
Jake BrowningMIN660,000
Danny EtlingMIN$660,000
Brian LewerkeNYG$660,000
6 more rows
Aug 21, 2021

Who is the highest paid rookie in NFL history? ›

#1 Sam Bradford, Saint Louis Rams: $76 million

The highest paid NFL rookie ever, quarterback Sam Bradford was drafted by the Saint Louis Rams in 2010 with the hopes of gaining success in the upcoming seasons. However, Bradford never lived up to the hype and failed to carry the Rams to the playoffs.

Which sport pays the most money? ›

Highest Paying Sports in the World

Basketball is the highest paid sport in the world, with the average annual salary in the NBA in 2023 being nearly $10.5 million. This is more than double the average salary in the NFL, which sits in second place at $4.5 million.

What is Tom Brady's salary? ›

Current Contract

Tom Brady signed a 1 year, $15,000,000 contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, including $15,000,000 guaranteed, and an average annual salary of $15,000,000. Contract Notes: 2022 Roster Bonus: $13.88M (fully guaranteed, treated as signing bonus) No-tag clause for 2023.

Who is the richest manning? ›

What is Peyton Manning's net worth? Peyton is the richest Manning, with an estimated net worth of $250 million. His successful NFL career helped him earn endorsements from various huge brands such as Sony, ESPN, Spring, DirecTV, Master Card, Reebok, and Gatorade.

Has a black quarterback ever won the Super Bowl? ›

Douglas Lee Williams (born August 9, 1955) is an American football executive and former quarterback and coach. Williams is best known for his performance with the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl XXII against the Denver Broncos, making him the first black quarterback to both start and win a Super Bowl.

Who is No 1 richest person in football? ›

Messi first became the world's highest-paid athlete on Forbes' list in 2019. He topped the list again in 2022 with total earnings of USD 130 million.

How much does a NFL cheerleader make? ›

A report just last year from NBC News pinpointed the average pay for NFL cheerleaders to be about $150 a game, or roughly $22,500 a year, which is not much different than what it was reported to be in the original Raiders lawsuit.

How much waterboys get paid in the NFL? ›

Thieneman's latest clip, which drew nearly 300,000 viewers in one day, claims that the average NFL water boy salary is actually around $53,000.

How much does a Super Bowl ref make? ›

The NFL has not freely given out the figures, but according to the most recent reports, referees were estimated to bring in between $30,000 and $50,000 for officiating in the big game in 2018, so it is likely that this rate has gone up or at least is in this ballpark for Super Bowl LVI.

Who is the goat of NFL? ›

Seven-time Super Bowl winner Tom Brady, dubbed the 'Greatest of All Time' (GOAT), announces retirement after illustrious 23-year playing career.

What QB holds the most records? ›

In the NFL, the starting quarterback is the only position that is credited with records of wins and losses. Tom Brady holds the record for the most regular season wins with 251. Brady also holds the record for the most postseason wins with 35.

Who is a better QB than Brady? ›

Of all quarterbacks to start at least 100 regular-season games in the Super Bowl Era, the only QB with a higher cover percentage than Brady is Joe Montana, who went 101-63 ATS in regular-season games for his career (61.6%).

Do backup quarterbacks get Super Bowl rings? ›

Considering that each team has roughly 3 QBs on their roster, but even the backup on the team will likely get a Super Bowl ring. But the fact remains that even right now, there are hundreds of QBs with NFL experience who have never even played in the Super Bowl, let alone won it.

Who's the lowest paid NFL player? ›

Practice Squad players who fall within one of three parameters for a fixed amount: Fixed weekly salary of $11,500. Practice Squad players who do not fall within one of the three parameters for a fixed amount: Minimum weekly payment of $15,400; maximum weekly payment of $19,900.

Who is the highest paid non quarterback? ›

After signing his new restructured contract, the Los Angeles Rams star defensive lineman Aaron Donald became the highest-paid-non-quarterback in NFL history. The contract guarantees the three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year $65 million over the next two seasons and $95 million in the 2024 season.

Who had the first 100 million dollar contract in the NFL? ›

The NFL's First 100 Million Dollar Man. On March 1, 2001, Brett Favre signed a "lifetime" contract extension, a 10-year deal worth $100 million with the Green Bay Packers.

Who was the first NFL player to make 1 million a year? ›

However, it was soon superseded by baseball player Dave Parker, who in 1978 signed a 5-year contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates for $5 million, making him the first professional athlete to earn $1 million per year.

What is the biggest rookie contract in NFL history? ›

#1 Sam Bradford, Saint Louis Rams: $76 million

The highest paid NFL rookie ever, quarterback Sam Bradford was drafted by the Saint Louis Rams in 2010 with the hopes of gaining success in the upcoming seasons. However, Bradford never lived up to the hype and failed to carry the Rams to the playoffs.

What athlete has the highest paid contract? ›

Lionel Messi

Do NFL players get all their money at once? ›

Long story short, each NFL player under contract gets paid every week from the start of the season and up to its end. Game checks are usually deposited into the players' bank accounts on Monday mornings, although the exact day of the week when they get paid could vary from week to week.

Who gave the most NFL yards? ›

The Arizona Cardinals have allowed the most passing yards by a team, with 259,834 yards.

Who was the first paid NFL player? ›

On Nov. 12, 1892, Heffelfinger received $500 in cash for playing in a football game. There may have been others before him, but a document unearthed by the Pro Football Hall of Fame nearly 80 years later provided the first irrefutable evidence of a person being paid to play.


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