Quarterbacks are the highest-paid players on the football field. There’s simply no way around it. It’s the most important position in all of sports, and the players who line up under center are always paid handsomely.
But which quarterbacks have made the most money up to this point? We ranked the 32 quarterbacks with the highest career earnings (contract numbers courtesy of spotrac.com), and though there are obvious candidates at the top of the list, the guy at No. 1 may surprise you.
Jameis Winston: $18,751,652
Winston has all the makings of a franchise quarterback for the Buccaneers, and as long as he continues to progress, he’ll be in line for a big payday in just a few years. Already, he’s made almost $19 million with that number expected to rise to $25 million under his current contract by the year 2018.
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Jared Goff: $18,968,308
Goff will be the richest player from the 2016 NFL Draft for the next four or five years, having made almost $19 million up to this point already. His bank account will continue to grow thanks to his $7-million-per-year salary and his probable fifth-year option in 2020.
Chase Daniel: $19,304,317
Daniel was one of the highest-paid backups in the NFL last season with the Eagles, earning $7 million to throw one measly pass. However, as little as he’s been used – he has just two starts under his belt – he’s made a large sum of money in seven NFL seasons.
Kirk Cousins: $22,689,695
Cousins has been franchise tagged two years in a row, leading to a great deal of guaranteed money in his bank account. He’s set to make more than $23 million in 2017, which will double his career earnings, but a long-term deal is in his future – whether it’s with the Redskins or another team. Cousins is going to cash in fairly soon.
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Drew Stanton: $22,846,469
Stanton has been with four different teams since entering the league in 2008, but he’s started only 13 NFL games. He won eight of those starts, but his 14 touchdown passes and 19 interceptions aren’t exactly great. Fortunately, his paychecks aren’t directly tied to his stats as he’s currently earning about $3 million per year.
Matt Moore: $23,323,000
Moore is one of the best backups in the NFL, proving to be a good insurance policy for whichever team has him on the roster. He was needed last year when Ryan Tannehill went down with a knee injury, and played relatively well in spot duty. He’ll be a free agent after this season, though.
Chad Henne: $23,380,135
Henne began his career with the Dolphins, but his first decent contract didn’t come until he signed with the Jaguars in 2012. He’s made about $4 million per year since then, which has resulted in more than $23 million in career earnings. He’s hardly had to take any hits to earn that money, starting just 22 games with the Jaguars.
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Brock Osweiler: $24,516,679
The Texans essentially admitted signing Osweiler for $72 million over four years was a huge mistake when they traded him to the Browns, but that money will continue to flow as long as he isn’t cut by Cleveland. His career earnings are already higher than far superior quarterbacks such as Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota, but a release from the Browns can change that.
Shaun Hill: $25,779,225
Hill has bounced around a lot since entering the league in 2005, playing for four different teams -- including the Vikings twice. As an undrafted free agent, Hill has certainly extracted as much as he possibly could have from his career. He’s started 35 games – going 17-18 – and has 49 career touchdown passes, which is fewer than Jameis Winston has in just two years (50).
Derek Anderson: $30,759,303
Anderson has been a career backup, starting just 47 games in 11 seasons. Though he hasn’t put up big numbers, he does have one Pro Bowl appearance to his name and $30 million in career earnings. Not bad for a guy who is 20-27 as a starter.
Josh McCown: $32,043,000
McCown is the definition of a journeyman quarterback, playing for seven teams up to this point, and soon to be eight with the Jets. He’s never started more than 13 games in a season and has only two years with at least 10 starts, but he’s made his money as a reliable backup and a good locker room presence.
Ryan Tannehill: $32,050,979
Tannehill has yet to definitively show that he’s a franchise quarterback capable of winning a Super Bowl, yet the Dolphins had no choice but to pay him like one two years ago with a six-year, $96 million extension. Tannehill’s biggest paychecks have yet to come, as he’ll make $18 million in 2017 and a whopping $73 million total from this point forward until 2020.
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Andy Dalton: $40,114,198
Dalton’s rookie contract wasn’t huge after he was taken in the second round, but his financial status changed in 2014 when he signed a six-year, $96 million deal. However, as astronomical as that contract looks, it came with only $17 million guaranteed. If Dalton sticks around for the long haul, which he probably will, his career earnings are going to increase dramatically to the point where he’ll be up to $101 million by the end of 2020.
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Russell Wilson: $46,262,520
Wilson is under contract through 2019 and will almost double his career earnings by the time his deal expires. Wilson’s current contract pays him an average of $21.9 million per year, which could look like chump change when the Seahawks inevitably sign him to an even more lucrative extension in 2020. Seattle has every reason to keep its franchise quarterback around for as long as possible after he led the Seahawks to two Super Bowls.
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Ryan Fitzpatrick: $51,066,098
Fitzpatrick is one player who’s gotten the most out of his career despite not sticking with one team for more than four years at a time. He’s played for six teams – soon to be seven now that he's signed with the Bucs – and earned more than $51 million after being a seventh-round pick in 2005. That’s a significant haul for a player no one expected to have any success as a pro.
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Andrew Luck: $52,107,998
Luck has made $52 million up to this point, but that number will jump to $79 million next year and $161 million by the end of 2021. That’s because he just signed the largest contract in NFL history last offseason, one that will pay Luck an average of $23.3 million per year for six seasons. When it’s all said and done, Luck could wind up being the richest player the league has ever seen, seeing as he’s only 27 years old.
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Matt Cassel: $61,639,057
Cassel has essentially been a career backup in the NFL and held the same title at USC. But despite having started only 15 games, the Chiefs decided to pay him like a franchise quarterback back in 2009 with a six-year, $60 million contract. It predictably backfired, with Cassel posting just one good season in Kansas City. That deal is a big reason he ranks so high on this list.
Cam Newton: $66,025,498
Newton missed out on big money by just one year thanks to the CBA restricting his 2011 rookie contract to just four years and $22 million. For comparison’s sake, Sam Bradford’s 2010 deal came with $50 million guaranteed. Granted, Newton has still made a ton of money in his career, but that number could have been significantly higher had he been drafted first overall one year earlier.
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Mark Sanchez: $72,150,832
Sanchez has been relegated to a backup role in recent years, but don’t forget the Jets pushed all their chips to the middle of the table with him years ago. In 2012, he signed a $40.5 million extension, three years after landing a five-year deal with $28 million guaranteed. He’ll probably never be a starter again, but he’s certainly pulled in the cash the past nine years.
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Matt Schaub: $82,555,000
You probably didn’t expect Schaub to be in the top 15 when it comes to career earnings, but he was a solid quarterback for a few years and earned himself a solid payday with the Texans. There’s also the fact that he’s been in the NFL since 2004, spending his time mostly as a starter until recently.
Alex Smith: $93,175,000
Smith got off to a great start in the NFL earnings-wise by signing a six-year, $49.5 million contract as a rookie. In 2014, he added to his bank account with a $68 million contract, which included $45 million guaranteed. He hasn’t done much in the postseason and doesn’t have huge numbers to brag about, but his career earnings are higher than that of most players.
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Sam Bradford: $96,084,404
Bradford was one of the last players to benefit from the old CBA, which didn’t limit rookie contracts. As a result, his first NFL deal was worth $50 guaranteed over six years. Contracts like that don’t happen anymore, which is why Bradford is so high on this list despite being a mid-tier quarterback throughout his career.
Matthew Stafford: $110,778,969
Stafford, along with Derek Carr, is probably the next quarterback in line for a huge payday. Yes, he’s 29 years old, but with his contract expiring next offseason, the Lions have little choice but to pay him north of $25 million per year – exceeding $100 million overall. We can debate whether he’s worth elite money, but after seeing him carry a mediocre Lions team to the playoffs last year, there’s no doubt he’s their best option.
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Joe Flacco: $114,800,000
Flacco just signed a three-year extension last offseason, a deal that’s worth $66.4 million and $44 million guaranteed. As a result, his career earnings are going to skyrocket in the next few years as he’s now under contract through 2021 with an average base salary of $16.2 million until then. His salary will double in 2018 from his current $6 million, so he’s certainly going to climb this list fairly soon.
Aaron Rodgers: $123,832,029
Rodgers last signed a contract with the Packers in 2013, and he’s patiently waiting for a new deal to keep him in Green Bay for the foreseeable future. When he does finally get an extension from the Packers, likely within the next year, it’ll be a historic amount of money – likely exceeding the contract Andrew Luck got from the Colts.
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Matt Ryan: $133,707,925
The Falcons are already considering a contract extension for Ryan after he signed a $103.75 million deal in 2013. He deserves every penny after nearly leading the Falcons to a Super Bowl win last season, but any extension he receives will likely make him the highest-paid player in the NFL. Does he deserve that? It remains to be seen, but he’s going to be a Falcon for a long, long time regardless.
Carson Palmer: $156,648,722
Palmer, the first overall pick in 2003, has been paid handsomely since the day he came into the NFL. Just last year, at age 36, he signed a one-year extension worth $24.35 million -- $21 million of which was guaranteed. Palmer could hang up his cleats following this season after he contemplated retirement a few months ago, but that won’t happen before he collects his money.
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Ben Roethlisberger: $158,286,864
Roethlisberger has won two Super Bowls, is a five-time Pro Bowl selection and was the Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2004. Yet his career earnings fall short of that of two fellow 2004 draftees, Philip Rivers and Eli Manning. His contracts haven’t been as lucrative, but he’ll be raking in money for the next three years, assuming he doesn’t retire.
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Philip Rivers: $173,917,656
Rivers and Eli Manning came into the league at the same time, but it’s Rivers’ career earnings that lag behind a substantial amount. That’s the Super Bowl effect. Rivers has been a great player for the Chargers throughout his career, but he has yet to win a championship, or even come close. Still, for a guy who’s probably going to retire without a ring, he’s made a substantial amount of money in the NFL.
Drew Brees: $181,710,422
Brees signed a massive five-year, $100 million deal in 2012, likely keeping him in New Orleans for the remainder of his career. That came after his first big contract with the Saints, a six-year, $60 million deal in 2006. He’s completely turned around the franchise in the past decade, so his value can’t be measured by dollar signs, but he’s certainly been paid fairly well throughout his career.
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Tom Brady: $196,166,804
Brady has been a real bargain for the Patriots. He’s constantly restructuring his contracts, pushing back money to free up space for other players, and signing deals that his play far exceeds. Not to mention, his first real payday came in 2006, when his base salary jumped from $1 million to $4 million. That’s because of the fact that he was taken in the sixth round.
Still, his nearly $200 million in career earnings is the second-most among active players and is likely to pass Peyton Manning’s $248 million. Brady is worth every penny the Patriots have paid him, and then some.
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Eli Manning: $205,780,004
It’s a bit surprising to see Manning with the highest career earnings, ahead of Tom Brady and Drew Brees – both of whom have been in the NFL longer. His four-year, $84 million extension in 2015 with $67 million guaranteed certainly helped put him over the top, especially when comparing it to Brady’s two-year extension with just $28 million guaranteed.
Since Manning’s under contract through 2019, he’s unlikely to receive another big extension from the Giants. And who knows, he may call it quits when his contract expires, since he’ll be 39 years old.