In the past 48 hours, the Pittsburgh Steelers have made their running back and wide receiver the highest-paid NFL players at their respective positions. Who else can boast the same? We looked at every position in the league -- from quarterback to punter -- to find out the best-paid at each.
The rankings are based on average salary of players in 2017.(All numbers via Sportrac.) There are a dozen ways to evaluate player contracts and no NFL salary metric is perfect. Base salary is an accounting trick. For instance, Drew Brees was the highest-paid player in football in 2017 yet had a base salary of $1 million, less than Panthers backup Derek Anderson.
If we were going by how much cash a player will be paid in 2017, Tyrod Taylor would be the top-paid player in football because his $15.5 million signing bonus is due this year. Guaranteed and practical guaranteed salaries are teling, too, but don't share the whole story. Average salary has its problems (Eric Berry signed a six-year, $78 million extension on Tuesday, and it'll be surprising if he hits either benchmark without a restructuring), but it's still probably the best indicator of who's getting how much.
Free agents don't yet have 2017 contracts, of course, but of the 14 positions listed, it only seems possible that two could have a new money leader by the time Week 1 rolls around. (Possible, not probable.)
Quarterback: Andrew Luck, Colts ($24,594,000)
The surprise isn't as much at the top -- Luck is a young, No. 1 pick who made good on his hype early and earned an extension that made him the highest-paid player in NFL history. It's the name underneath that prompts surprise. Carson Palmer is No. 2 on the list thanks to the lucrative one-year extension he signed last August. The Palmer deal is an example of the limitations of going by average value. Would you rather have one year of $24 million or five years with $60 guaranteed?
If the Redskins sign Kirk Cousins or if he's traded to the 49ers or elsewhere, his name may end up topping this list soon. As it is, his franchise designation on Tuesday slotted him the fourth-highest paid player in football, making Washington's inability (or desire) to sign him long-term all the more baffling.
Bell will likely lead this list in 2017, but the number adjacent to his name might change. The $12.4 million represents the franchise tag money Bell will earn if he and the Steelers aren't able to iron out a long-term deal. Either way, it's a big change from 2016, when the Steelers patient but explosive running back got $1.04 million, putting him behind such rushing luminaries as Ameer Abdullah, Cedric Peerman, Brandon Bolden, Lance Dunbar, Taiwan Jones ... we could do this all day. Bell has lept from the No. 41 running back to No. 1. Average salary aside, no other back is within $6 million of what Bell will earn this season.
And not that we need any more reminders that running back jobs are the most precarious in sports, but on Tuesday the two-highest paid backs in 2016 (Adrian Peterson and Jamaal Charles) were both released. Get that money when you can, fellas.
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Wide receiver: Antonio Brown, Steelers ($17,000,000)
Another deal where the ink has barely had time to dry. Brown signed what's essentially a four-year extension worth $68 million on Tuesday. That's a nice jump from his status as the 21st-highest paid receiver in 2016. (It's good to be a Steeler at a skill position this week.) The correlation between salary and talent is probably closest with the NFL's receivers. Among the top 10 earners are A.J. Green, Julio Jones, Dez Bryant, Demaryius Thomas, T.Y. Hilton, Doug Baldwin, Keenan Allen, Emmanuel Sanders and Jeremy Maclin. Odell Beckham, still playing on his rookie contract, is the most underpaid at the position. His payday will be coming soon.
Tight end: Jimmy Graham, Seahawks ($10,000,000)
Graham has been a disappointment in Seattle, posting non-rookie-season lows in catches, yards and touchdowns in both seasons with the Seahawks. His eight touchdown catches in two years are half as much as he had in a single season (2013) in New Orleans. Graham is still effective but perhaps less so than Travis Kelce (No. 2) and Jordan Reed (No. 3). Rob Gronkowski (No. 5) would be underpaid if he ever played, but all may have to make room for Martellus Bennett, who is the top tight end free-agent on the market.
Tackle: Trent Williams, Redskins ($13,600,000)
Despite what The Blind Side might lead you to believe, the market for tackles isn't that bullish. Not that $13.6 million is small time for the best-paid offensive lineman in the game, but more and more positions are getting the same kind of money. That might be because the league's best tackles (Williams, Tyron Smith, Joe Thomas, David Bakhtiari) signed long-term deals years ago and a top talent hasn't hit free agency since.
Guard: Kelechi Osemele, Raiders ($11,700,000)
Osemele is the most unheralded of the names on this list, which is what happens when you're stuck in middle of a sea of silver and black. He's the only guard making more than $10 million per year. But that's just semantics: David DeCastro and Kyle Long are making $10 million on the dot.
Center: Travis Frederick, Cowboys ($9,400,010)
Centers are the lowest-paid every-down players, and the ones getting the most money generally earn it. Frederick, the highest-paid center, was a first-team All-Pro. The second-highest-paid center, Alex Mack of the Falcons, received the second-most All-Pro votes. Not much frivolous spending on centers.
Since signing the richest defensive contract in NFL history two years ago, Suh has made exactly zero All-Pro teams and Pro Bowls, the latter of which is insane given that all the players missing the game -- dropouts, injuries and Super Bowl -- makes me pretty sure I was next up on the DE list this year. How much of a bust has the Suh signing been? The Dolphins have ranked No. 25 and No. 29 in his first two years in Miami. The latter is the worst rank in franchise history, and in tandem they're the worst back-to-back years since the team's founding in 1966. But this doesn't mean Suh himself is a bust. He's still playing well -- it's the talent around him that's lacking.
Getty ImagesRob Foldy
Defensive end: Muhammad Wilkerson, Jets ($17,200,000)
With Khalil Mack and Vic Beasley Jr. hitting free agency in the next two years, expect a big jump in defensive end salaries. (Depending on how Joey Bosa improves, he could set a new high when his rookie contract is done or gets extended.) J.J. Watt, everybody's All-American, is only the fourth-highest-paid edge rusher, and with his six-year deal kicking in last season, he might be playing under his market value for years. Don't cry for J.J. though: That six-year contract is worth $100 million with $52 million guaranteed.
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Linebacker: Von Miller, Broncos ($19,083,333)
Miller supplanted Suh as the highest-paid defender last year -- besting him by $500,000 in funny money and a whopping $10 million in guaranteed cash (the Broncos linebacker is assured of $70 million over the life of the contract). And, no, it's not coincidental that Miller's average salary is a paltry $20,000 per year larger than Suh's. Players and agents know the power of the "highest paid" distinction. With most of the league's top linebackers locked in for a few years (Bobby Wagner, Luke Kuechly, Sean Lee, Navorro Bowman), expect Miller to be the salary standard-bearer for a while. Dont'a Hightower will get paid in the next month but not that much.
Cornerback: Josh Norman, Redskins ($15,000,000)
The story of Josh Norman's 2016 release from the Panthers still hasn't adequately been told, but I doubt Norman cares: Two days after his bizarre release by Carolina the Redskins went full Redskins and made him the highest-paid cornerback ever. Looking at the landscape of the position, there doesn't seem to be any potential usurper to Norman's salary crown, at least in the near term. Malcolm Butler could command something approaching that down the road, but he's under Patriots control this year and will likely get between $2.9 and $3.9 million barring a new contract.
Safety: Eric Berry, Chiefs ($13,000,000)
Oops. Last year, Berry was seeking between $11 million and $12 million per year, though the Kansas City media assumes he could have been had for less. Now, after playing one year on the franchise tag, Berry is the highest-paid safety in the NFL thanks to a six-year, $78 million deal signed this week.
The Chiefs are one of three teams with multiple players on the list, which strikes me as odd. Maybe it isn't. The breakdown (including the two players below):
This is a top-heavy position. Eight kickers make $3 million or more. Only five make between $1 and $3 million. The rest are treated like the transients they are. All kickers under contract for 2017 will get paid more than $500,000, though so, you know, good work if you can get it. (Rookies will likely be paid less unless they go in the second round -- BUCS.) By the way, Vinatieri has made $40 million in his NFL career and will clear $43 million if he's retained this year. That's more than Joe Montana made.
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Punter: Dustin Colquitt, Chiefs ($3,750,000)
Despite four kickers getting paid more than Colquitt, the punting position is more lucrative in general. This seems counterintuitive (kickers have a more tangible effect on the outcome of games), but when you consider the importance of field position and the fact that teams will cycle through kickers but rarely do with punters, I suppose it makes sense. The top half of punters will average $2.86 million in 2017 compared to $2.55 million for kickers.