Manning, QBs top list of highest paid

Indianapolis Colts president Bill Polian says the formula for building a winner in the NFL calls for putting premium values on quarterbacks, pass rushers, offensive tackles (the QB’s prime protectors) and cover corners. The others? Important, but much more interchangeable.

Sure enough, a look at 2011 payrolls shows teams pouring money into these spots, particularly quarterback and defensive line – the 10 highest NFL salaries in 2011 all play one or the other. Offensive linemen like Miami’s Jake Long(notes) ($11 million a year) and St. Louis’ Chris Long(notes) ($6 million) along with premium defensive backs like Denver’s Champ Bailey(notes) ($11.5 million), Philadelphia’s Nnamdi Asomugha(notes) ($12 million) and the Jets’ Darrelle Revis(notes) ($7 million following a holdout last season) certainly rake in their share of the riches.

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In Pictures: The NFL’s highest-paid players

But the top 10, at least this year, is the exclusive property of the league’s premier QBs and defensive linemen. Topping the list: Colts veteran All Pro Peyton Manning(notes), who Polian turned into the NFL’s highest paid player with a three-year, $69 million extension that begins this year. With the deal, Manning leapfrogged his biggest rival over the past decade, New England’s Tom Brady(notes), who cashed in with an $18 million a year extension last September.

Unlike other major sports leagues, the NFL loads its contracts with several variations of bonus money, much of it not guaranteed. Our list is based on total compensation players are currently due for the 2011 season – not just the guaranteed portion, since most have made their respective rosters at this point and figure to collect all or most of their 2011 contracts. Figures are derived from rotoworld.com, Bleacherreport.com and other published reports.

Also on the list are young QBs from recent drafts, those lucky enough to be among the last to capitalize on the lucrative rookie contracts before the recent lockout resulted in a rookie wage scale as part of a new collective bargaining agreement. The Rams’ Sam Bradford(notes), last year’s No. 1 overall draft pick out of Oklahoma, will rake in $18.4 million this year as the bulk of the bonus money kicks in on his six-year, $78 million deal. Similarly, the Jets’ Mark Sanchez(notes) makes over $13 million this season, the peak year of the five-year rookie contract he signed in 2009 (another pair of recent first-round QBs, Detroit’s Matthew Stafford(notes) and Atlanta’s Matt Ryan(notes), are also making over $9 million a year, though they fall just short of the top 10). By contrast, this year’s No. 1 pick, former Auburn University quarterback Cam Newton, settled for a four-year, $22 million deal from the Carolina Panthers (though all of it is guaranteed).

On the defensive front, six-time Pro Bowler Richard Seymour(notes) just cashed in with a two-year, $30 million extension with the Oakland Raiders, the team that acquired him two years ago from the New England Patriots in exchange for a 2011 first-round pick (the Pats got offensive lineman Nate Solder(notes) out of Colorado at No. 17 overall). Right behind Seymour is Denver’s Elvis Dumervil(notes), a fourth-round draft choice in 2006 who was ultimately rewarded with $61 million extension after a monster 2009 season (17 sacks). Dumervil promptly tore a pectoral muscle and missed the 2010 season, but he’s back on the field this year, where he’ll collect $14 million in salary and bonus.

The top five:

1. Peyton Manning, Indianapolis Colts, $23 million
2. Sam Bradford, St. Louis Rams, $18.4 million
3. Tom Brady, New England Patriots, $18 million
4. Michael Vick, Philadelphia Eagles, $15.9 million
5. Richard Seymour, Oakland Raiders, $15 million
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In Pictures: The NFL’s highest-paid players


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Updated Thursday, Aug 18, 2011