Drew Brees made headlines this offseason signing a five-year, $100 million contract with the Saints which, when bonuses are included, reportedly will pay him a whopping $40 million in 2012. But when it comes exclusively to salary earned, Brees does not even crack the top 10 for 2012 according to Forbes.com, which recently released its rankings for the highest-paid players in 2012. In fact, you won't see other big names like Brady or Manning (well, one of them, at least) on the list, either. And some guys, like Calvin Johnson, who just signed big-money extensions this offseason don't make the cut. In fact, you may be quite surprised by who sits atop the list. Here are 10 highest-paid players in the NFL for 2012 (rankings, salaries provided by Forbes.com).
Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Arizona
2012 Salary: $13.25 million
The only WR on the list, Fitzgerald has earned his salary with an eight-year career that has included two 100-catch seasons, double-digit TDs four times and nearly 10,000 receiving yards. But now he will really earn his keep, as the Cardinals are embroiled in a QB battle that has been anything but inspiring this preseason. It seems each time Kevin Kolb and John Skelton take the field, they take turns trying to hand the other the starting job through ineptitude.
Trent Williams, OT, Washington
2012 Salary: $13.4 million
Williams' salary is the product of the rookie contract he signed before the 2012 season began. Turns out nabbing Williams would pay off even larger dividends two years later, as the big left tackle has a new job in 2012: Protecting the blind side of the new face of the Redskins, rookie QB Robert Griffin III.
Michael Vick, QB, Philadelphia
2012 Salary: $13.9 million
OK, OK. The man has his money. Now if he could just stay healthy. After an amazing 2010 campaign got him his payday, Vick has struggled to stay on his feet. He played in only 13 games in 2011, struggling to an 84.9 QB rating. And he was knocked out of each of the Eagles' first two preseason games because of injury.
Tamba Hali, DE, Kansas City
2012 Salary: $14.5 million
Hali has been durable for the Chiefs, missing only one game in his six seasons. He has 26.5 sacks over the last two seasons, is third in team history in forced fumbles and fourth in sacks, and made his first Pro Bowl in 2011. And he was pivotal in his team's crowning moment in 2011, sacking Aaron Rodgers three times as the Chiefs handed the then-unbeaten Packers their first loss in Week 15.
Jared Allen, DE, Minnesota
2012 Salary: $15.2 million
Between his talent and his personality, Allen may be the best-known sack master in the NFL right now. After establishing himself as one of the best pass rushers in the game over four seasons in Kansas City (including a league-high 15.5 sacks in 2007), Allen has elevated himself to the top of the business in Minnesota. 2011 was his fifth consecutive season in double-digit sacks — a career-best 22.
Philip Rivers, QB, San Diego
2012 Salary: $15.3 million
With LaDainian Tomlinson retired, Vincent Jackson a Tampa Bay Buccaneer and Antonio Gates showing signs of wearing down, the face of the Chargers is clearly their signal caller. For Rivers, 2011 was a bit of a down season, with his fewest TD passes since 2007 and a career-worst 20 interceptions. Nonetheless, few would doubt the value of Rivers to Southern California's only NFL team.
Sam Bradford, QB, St. Louis
2012 Salary: $15.6 million
To date, Bradford's most notable impact on the NFL may be tied directly to his salary. Bradford was the No. 1 overall pick in 2010, and thus received a record $78-million contract before ever taking a snap. When the season ended, the NFL lockout began and, once the two sides agreed to a new CBA, rookie contracts were severely limited. 2011 No. 1 overall pick, QB Cam Newton, received a four-year deal worth roughly $22 million.
Peyton Manning, QB, Denver
2012 Salary: $18 million
It was the unasked question relating to the most-asked question of this past offseason: How much would Manning make after missing a season healing an injured neck. The question that got all of the attention, where would he go, was answered in late March when he chose the Broncos. The answer about money soon followed: five years, $96 million. Now the big question being asked: Does one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history still have it?
Elvis Dumervil, DE, Denver
2012 Salary: $18.9 million
That's right. Peyton Manning is not the highest-paid player on his own team. That honor goes to Dumervil, who got paid after leading the NFL in sacks with 17 in 2009. But before he could show his appreciation for his newfound riches, Dumervil missed all of the following season with a pectoral injury. He played 14 games in 2011, registering 9.5 sacks and recovering a fumble.
Dwight Freeney, OLB, Indianapolis
2012 Salary: $19 million
That's right. Peyton Manning wouldn't be the highest-paid player on his old team, either. For a team that won only two games last season and didn't want to pay its franchise QB, the Colts sure are paying a ton to a 32-year-old pass rusher who had just 8.5 sacks last season and will be switching from defensive end. But, as in many cases, the Colts essentially are paying for past performances, which have made Freeney a seven-time Pro Bowler.