The NFL is a quarterbacks' league. Elite QBs control the action more than ever before thanks to added rules meant to favor the offense, particularly the quarterback. The game's best signal callers make the playoffs year after year, while teams without a franchise QB perpetually pick near the top of the draft after yet another losing season. A special spot is reserved for those quarterbacks that lead their teams to the Super Bowl. They get to cash in a little extra both on and off the field.
As part of Forbes' annual look at the business of football, we examined the NFL's highest-paid players in terms of salaries and endorsements. Super Bowl winning quarterbacks dominate the list nabbing the top five spots.
Drew Brees leads the way as the NFL's top earner between June 2012 and June 2013 with $51 million. Brees signed a five-year, $100 million contract extension last summer with the New Orleans Saints that included a $37 million signing bonus and a $3 million salary for the 2012 season. Brees was rewarded for his six Pro Bowl selections and Super Bowl win since he joined the Saints in 2006. He holds numerous NFL records including most consecutive games with a TD pass (54), single season passing yards (5,476) and highest single season completion percentage (71.2%).
Brees has become one of the NFL's most successful pitchman with a dozen endorsement deals, including Nike, Procter & Gamble, Verizon Wireless, PepsiCo and Wrangler. He earns $11 million annually off the field, including his cut of licensing money from the NFL Players Association. Brees is one of the NFL's most philanthropically oriented stars as well. His foundation, Brees Dream Foundation, has contributed $17 million to charitable causes and academic institutions in the New Orleans, San Diego and West Lafayette/Purdue communities.
Green Bay Packers'QB Aaron Rodgers ranks a close second with earnings of $49 million. He was arguably the NFL's best player over the past two seasons, leading the NFL in passer rating, throwing 84 touchdowns against only 14 interceptions and winning the 2011 MVP award. This year he finally got the contract to match his place in the game. Rodgers signed a five-year, $110 million deal in April that made him the highest-paid player in the NFL on an annual basis. It included a $35 million signing bonus and $62.5 million in the first three years of the deal.
Rodgers' success and Super Bowl win after the 2010 season has companies flocking to partner with him. His national endorsements include Nike, where he is one of the top-paid football guys, and State Farm. His "Discount Double Check" commercials for the insurance giant were a huge hit. Rodgers is beloved in his home market, which has helped him sign regional deals with Associated Bank, Ford Motor, Prevea Health and Gruber Law Offices. Rodgers total off-field annual income is $6 million.
Our list of top earners is based on cash paid out in salary and bonuses between June 2012 and June 2013. We also factor in endorsements and appearance fees, as well as earnings from licensing and memorabilia. NFL contracts are different than in the other three major sports because they are not guaranteed in most cases. NBA and MLB players will almost always see every penny of their nine-figure contracts (excepting PED suspensions). Not so in football. Agents and general managers concoct deals that will fit into the team's salary cap situation and include a guarantee along with non-guaranteed money.
Take Baltimore Ravens' QB Joe Flacco, who ranks No. 4 with earnings of $36.8 million. The Super Bowl MVP signed a six-year, $120.6 million extension with the Ravens in March after leading his team to a 34-31 victory over the San Francisco 49ers for the franchise's second Super Bowl win. The new deal included a $29 million signing bonus and $52 million in guaranteed money (he also received nearly $7 million in salary and playoff bonuses during the 2012 season). In reality, it's a three-year contract because Flacco's salary cap number jumps to an unmanageable $28.6 million in 2016. The Ravens will need to rework the deal barring an explosion in the league's cap.
Longtime rivals Tom Brady and Peyton Manning round out the top five. The pair have combined for six MVP awards and seven Super Bowl appearances over the past dozen seasons. Brady ranks third with earnings of $38.3 million after signing a below market deal in February that included a $30 million signing bonus. Manning is No. 5 at $30 million. Manning is still the NFL's top pitchman, earning $12 million a year from sponsors like Reebok, Buick, Wheaties, Gatorade and Papa John's. His latest DirecTV ad, featuring Manning rapping with his brother Eli, has been an Internet hit.
What about the defensive guys? Not one made the top 10 after four made the cut last year. The highest-paid player on the defensive side of the ball was Green Bay linebacker Clay Matthews who banked $21.8 million, 12th best among NFLers. Remember, the NFL is a quarterbacks' league.
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