The 2014-2014 NFL season has finally arrived! That means this is a perfect time to talk about which players are making tons of cash. While non-guaranteed contracts exist all throughout football, top-level players can still make some great money playing in the NFL. And, as we'll see below, a few players who are far from elite have snuck into the upper echelon of salaries. Hey, more power to them (and their agents). Also, in case you are wondering why Drew Brees is not included on the list below, the answer is because technically his base salary for the 2014-2015 is just $10.8 million. When you hear that Drew "earns $20 million a year", that statement includes his prorated $37 million signing bonus from when he signed a new contract in 2012. If you want to include prorated signing bonus money, technically Ndamukong Suh of the Detroit Lions is the highest paid person in the NFL this year, at $22.4 million (of which $12.6 million is base salary). Below we are examining base salaries alone. Here are the top 15 highest paid football players in the NFL this season:
15. J.J. Watt, Houston Texans
2014 base salary: $10.9 million, overall contract: 6 years, $100 million ($51.9 million guaranteed)
After being named the Defensive Player of the Year in 2012 with a whopping 20.5 sacks, Watt toned it down a bit last year, picking up just 10.5 sacks. It'll be interesting to see how that number fluctuates now that Watt is joined by #1 pick Jadeveon Clowney, but the Texans can still expect a monster year from Watt. Even better, he's never missed a game. For a team that was torn apart by injuries last year, that's music to any fan's ears.
14. Percy Harvin, Seattle Seahawks
2014 base salary: $11 million, overall contract: 6 years, $64.2 million ($14.5 million guaranteed)
When he's on the field, Harvin is exceptional. Fielding punts and kickoffs, running jet sweeps, catching screen passes and turning them into big gainers–he can do it all. He also has the strange honor of the longest non-scoring play in NFL history, when he returned a kickoff 104 yards to the 3-yard line in a 2011 game against the Falcons. But the biggest knock on Harvin is his durability: he's never started all 16 games in a season, and has been sidelined by a number of ailments, including chronic migraines, concussions and a hip injury. If he stays on the field, his stock will rise.
13. Brian Orakpo, Washington Redskins
2014 base salary: $11.5 million, overall contract: 1 year, $11.5 million (franchise tag, everything guaranteed)
He posted 10 sacks and notched both his first interception and his first TD in 2013, but the 'skins only offered him a non-exclusive franchise tag for the upcoming year. Outside of 2012, when he only started two games, the linebacker has recorded at least 8.5 sacks every year he's been in the NFL. If he does that again, someone will give him a huge pay day.
12. Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings
2014 base salary: $14.4 million, overall contract: $86.3 million ($36 million guaranteed)
In 2012, Adrian Peterson came back from a torn ACL and MCL in about eight months, and posted 2,097 rushing yards, just nine yards shy of the single-season record. He also made fans of any other players in any sport unreasonably assume said player could return just as quickly as Peterson did. Adrian Peterson is not a human. Of course, a regression was due the next year, and Peterson had one of his worst seasons in 2013: 1,266 rushing yards and 11 total touchdowns. And that's a bad year. Of course, the only other worthwhile skill player the Vikings have is Cordarrelle Patterson, which means Peterson will again get a ton of work this year. If he can hold up through all 16 games, it'll be another special season.
11. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers
2014 base salary: $12.1 million, overall contract: 6 years, $88 million ($33.2 million guaranteed)
It's very entertaining to see Russell Wilson of the Seahawks run around for what seems like hours, then flinging the ball 50 yards across the field to an open receiver. Big Ben adopts that same strategy, except he's having to run for his life thanks to an offensive line that would have already allowed a sack by the time you finished reading this sentence. At 32 years old and with just two years remaining on his contract, Roethlisberger will need some help from his O-line and from his backfield and receivers to justify a big pay day down the road. His top two backs getting in trouble for DUI-related issues is not a good start.
10. Ndamukong Suh, Detroit Lions
2014 base salary: $12.6 million, overall contract: 5 years, $64.5 million ($23.3 million guaranteed)
There's no question Suh has a lot of talent. For him it's been about consistency and his behavior. He's probably best known for stomping on the arm of another player, and Roger Goodell most likely has him on speed dial, ready to dish out another fine at a moment's notice.
9. Gerald McCoy, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
2014 base salary: $12.7 million, overall contract: 5 years, $55 million ($20.8 million guaranteed)
Finally healthy the past two years, Gerald McCoy is looking like the quality rusher the Bucs thought they were drafting in 2010. Looking to build upon his career-high 9.5 sacks last year, McCoy needs to be on the field to help anchor an underrated Bucs defense.
8. Greg Hardy, Carolina Panthers
2014 base salary: $13.1 million, overall contract: 1 year, $13.1 million (franchise tag, everything guaranteed)
The sixth-round pick has definitely outperformed his draft selection, and he got started early–in his first game, he blocked a punt for a safety and forced a fumble. And while the defensive end fell a bit short of his sacks goal last year (he claimed he was aiming for 50), he still put up a fantastic season, recording 15 sacks and earning a trip to the Pro Bowl. Maybe he can say people misheard him and he actually meant 15. Either way, a repeat this season isn't out of the question, and with the Panthers struggling on offense, Hardy and the D will really need to earn their paychecks this year.
7. Chris Long, St. Louis Rams
2014 base salary: $13.2 million, overall contract: 4 years, $48.2 million ($23.6 million guaranteed)
Unlike his fellow highly-paid teammate Sam Bradford, Chris Long did a lot of good things last year, and should continue to produce in 2014. And like Orakpo, 8.5 is a special number for Long–he's recorded at least that many sacks in each of the last four seasons. He's the anchor of a very strong defensive line.
6. Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers
2014 base salary: $13.8 million, overall contract: 6 years, $91.8 million ($38.2 million guaranteed)
After it seemed like his career was in the gutter, Rivers had a huge resurgence last year: 32 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, a 69.5% completion rate, and 67 different bolo ties. And that was with a relatively weak supporting cast. With improvement all around him, San Diego is a dark horse pick to reach the Super Bowl. They'll need Rivers to step up his game even more to get there.
5. Sam Bradford, St. Louis Rams
2014 base salary: $14 million, overall contract: 6 years, $78 million ($50 million guaranteed)
Bradford blew out his ACL during the preseason, which makes it the second time in two years his season has been derailed by a knee injury. As the final #1 pick of the old CBA, Bradford has earned an absurd amount of money, despite the fact he'll have only played in 61% of the Rams' games after this season ends.
T-3. Mike Wallace, Miami Dolphins
2014 base salary: $15 million, overall contract: 5 years, $60 million ($30 million guaranteed)
In 2010, an argument could be made for Mike Wallace being one of the five-best receivers in the NFL. That argument is no longer valid. Wallace, who's always been a good deep threat, really doesn't get that opportunity in Miami, thanks to a dreadful offensive line. Of course, part of that problem last year was that the offensive line imploded on itself after the bullying scandal. Either way, Wallace will be the highest-paid receiver in the NFL in 2014. Since that 2010 season, his yards per catch and touchdowns have decreased each year. He'll need to reverse that trend this year to even come close to deserving his big bucks.
T-3. Peyton Manning
2014 base salary: $15 million, overall contract: 5 years, $96 million ($58 million guaranteed)
He's tied with Mike Wallace for amount of money he'll make this year. Who would you rather have on your team? Last year he set the NFL record for most passing yards and touchdowns in a season (among others), and even broke the Super Bowl record for most completions in that embarrassing beatdown by the Seahawks. The Broncos are among the favorites to reach the Super Bowl again, and it'll be Manning leading them there.
2. Eli Manning, New York Giants
2014 base salary: $15.2 million,, overall contract: 6 years, $97.5 million ($35 million guaranteed)
I'm fairly certain I could have lined up under center for the Giants last year and had a better season than Eli Manning. He threw a league-worst 27 interceptions, the third time he's thrown 20+ picks in a season. Curiously, one of those years (2007), the Giants won the Super Bowl. Go figure. Here's another fun stat for the Giants: they're the only team in NFL history to win a Super Bowl in year three of a five-year era while missing the playoffs entirely the other four seasons. There's really a stat for everything, isn't there? On the plus side, Eli hasn't missed a game in nine years–with an oft-injured backfield behind him, that durability is dependable, if nothing else. But if the turnover woes continue, Giants fans will argue that Eli's iron-man streak is, in fact, a terrible thing.
1. Jay Cutler, Chicago Bears
2014 base salary: $17.5 million overall contract: 7 years, $126.7 million ($54 million guaranteed)
Controversy arose last year when Jay Cutler again missed time during the season–he's sat out 11 games in the past three years–and his backup, Josh McCown, suddenly looked like the second coming of Dan Marino (after all, the Bears still lost a number of those games). The reality is, the Bears have arguably the best receiving duo in football, as well as a top-five running back. Anyone should be productive with the number of offensive weapons the Bears have, but now Chicago is paying Cutler to be elite. If he can stay healthy, he'll have a great shot at eclipsing 4,000 yards (something he's done once) and breaking 30 TDs, which is something he's never done.