The Largest Contracts In Professional Sports History

By on December 8, 2023 in ArticlesSports News

In March 2019, Mike Trout inked a 12-year, $430 million deal to stay with the Los Angeles Angels. At the time, most people believed it was the largest guaranteed sum that a professional athlete had ever received. Trout's average salary under the deal is roughly $36 million.

As it turned out, over in Spain Lionel Messi was at that very moment playing for FC Barcelona under a 4-year, $674 million contract. Messi's contract was secretly leaked to a Spanish newspaper in January 2021, and it sent shock-waves around the sports world. Messi's average annual salary at Barcelona was $168.5 million. So THIS was actually the largest sports contract of all time in terms of overall value up to that point. On December 9, 2023, Lionel lost his record when Shohei Ohtani signed a 10-year, $700 million contract with the LA Dodgers.

Interestingly, neither Lionel's, nor Shohei's contracts gave either athlete the record for highest average annual salary. That honor belongs to Cristiano Ronaldo AND Karim Benzema, in a tie. Both Cristiano and Karim earn an average annual salary of $214 million thanks to their respective Saudi contracts. Cristiano's deal is a 2.5-year $536 million contract, and Karim's is a 2-year $436 million contract. The full amounts of Cristiano and Karim's deals are $536,336,818 and $436,336,818, respectively, which when averaged out to account for Cristiano's extra half year term, equates to exactly $214,534,727 for both.

The Largest Sports Contracts Of All Time:

The following amounts are ranked in order of overall contract value.

#1: Shohei Ohtani, LA Dodgers, 10 years, $700 million

Shohei Ohtani made history on December 9, 2023, by signing a 10-year, $700 million contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers, becoming the highest-paid athlete in baseball history.

The deal surpasses Mike Trout's 12-year, $426 million contract with the Angels, which was previously the largest in baseball history. Ohtani's average annual salary of $70 million will nearly double the roughly $42.3 million he earned with the Angels.

Ohtani's unique skillset as a dominant pitcher and hitter made him a highly sought-after free agent. He was heavily pursued by several teams, including the Angels, Mets, and Yankees, but ultimately chose the Dodgers.

#2: Lionel Messi, FC Barcelona – 4 years, $674 million

In 2017, Lionel Messi signed a four-year contract with FC Barcelona worth an astounding $674 million, a figure that made it the most lucrative sports contract in history, a title it still holds. The deal, leaked to the Spanish newspaper El Mundo, sent shockwaves through the sports world, sparking debates about financial disparity and the future of professional football.

The contract included a fixed salary, image rights, and a series of performance-based bonuses. On an annual basis Lionel earned $168.5 million.

#3: Cristiano Ronaldo, Al-Nassr – 2.5 years, $536 million

In December 2022, Cristiano Ronaldo surprised the football world by signing a 2.5-year contract with Saudi Arabian club Al Nassr, worth a staggering $536 million. This deal cemented his position as the world's highest-paid athlete and marked a significant turning point in his illustrious career.

The contract details are fascinating. While the reported base salary is $75 million per year, the total value is inflated by lucrative bonuses and commercial deals, potentially reaching $200 million annually. This astronomical sum reflects Ronaldo's enduring global brand value and the Saudi Arabian league's ambition to attract top talent.

#4: Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs – 10 years, $503 million

Patrick Mahomes won the NFL MVP award in 2018. The following season he won both the Super Bowl AND Super Bowl MVP. Perhaps not surprisingly, those accomplishments made the Kansas City Chiefs EXTREMELY eager lock their 24-year-old star QB up long term. Initial predictions assumed his extension would top $250 million. That predicution ended up being true but it was also off by an incredible amount. On July 6, 2020 it was announced that Patrick signed a 10-year $503 million deal with the Chiefs. It is the first professional sports contract to crack the half-billion mark.

The 10-year extension includes $477 million in guarantee mechanisms, plus the ability for Mahomes to get out of the contract if those mechanisms aren't exercised.

The contract also has a $140 million injury guarantee. So if he had a career-ending injury on day one of his first season, he would still earn $140 million.

Fun Fact: Alex Rodriguez has TWO record contracts on the list below. The first record contract A-Rod set came in 2000 when he signed a 10-year $252 million deal with the Texas Rangers. One of Alex's Ranger teammates at the time was Patrick Mahomes Sr, a pitcher. Patrick Jr would have been around six years old at the time. Imagine telling that six year old (and his father) that in almost exactly 20 years, you'll sign a contract TWICE as valuable as A-Rod's…

(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

#5: Karim Benzema, Al-Ittihad Club – 2-years, $436 million

As we mentioned previously, Karim's contract, which he signed in June 2023 was a 2-year $436 million with Saudi soccer club Al-Ittihad. On a per-year average salary basis, he earns $214,534,727, exactly the same amount earned by Cristiano Ronaldo in terms of average annual salary. And that amount is the highest average annual salary earned by any athlete in history.

#6: Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels – 12 years, $430 million

Since becoming a full-time major leaguer in 2012, Trout has made seven All-Star teams and won two AL MVP awards. However, it hasn't translated to much team success. The Angels have made the playoffs just once in that span, getting swept during the 2014 postseason. Trout will have to lead the Angels on multiple deep playoff runs to truly make this a worthwhile deal. It's probably not fair to put so much weight on one player's shoulders, but then again, no one's ever made this much money before.

Rob Carr/Getty Images

#7 (tie): Canelo Alvarez, DAZN – 5 years, $365 million

Trout may hold the record for most overall money, but Alvarez blows him out of the water when it comes to annual salary. The boxer signed a five-year, 11-fight deal last October with the streaming service DAZN. The contract will pay him a whopping $73 million per year, with each fight being worth about $33.18 million.

#7: Mookie Bets, LA Dodgers – 12 years, $365 million

#8: Aaron Judge, NY Yankees – 9 years, $360 million

#9: Manny Machado, San Diego Padres – 11 years, $350 million

Remember when Machado had the biggest deal of the 2019 MLB offseason? Seems like so long ago. The Padres have struggled mightily in relative anonymity for the past decade, so signing a star like Machado is a huge deal. There's a catch, though: Machado can opt out after five seasons. If he doesn't like the state of the team at that point, the Padres will lose him for nothing.

#10: Francisco Lindor, NY Mets – 10 years, $341 million

#11: Fernando Tatis Jr., San Diego Padres – 14 years, $340 million

#12 (tie): Max Versteppen, Red Bull Racing – 6 years, $330 million

#12: Bryce Harper, Philadelphia Phillies – 13 years, $330 million

After Harper signed his deal, it was only a matter of time before his buddy Trout got a major extension, too. Harper's free agency saga dragged out for nearly the entire offseason; he signed just about a month before Opening Day. Eventually, he left Washington to join an NL East rival. The Phillies made back-to-back World Series appearances in 2008 and 2009, but haven't had a winning record since 2011. Harper is expected to immediately help turn the team's fortunes around.

#13 (tie) Corey Seager, Texas Rangers – 10 years, $325 million

#13: Giancarlo Stanton, Miami Marlins – 13 years, $325 million

This is the largest contract on this list that wasn't signed within the past year. Stanton re-signed with the Marlins on this massive deal but was dealt to the Yankees just two seasons later. That means the Bronx Bombers are picking up the majority of the tab on Stanton. However, if Stanton doesn't opt out of his contract after the 2020 season, the Yankees will receive $30 million in salary cap relief from the Marlins.

Giancarlo Stanton

Giancarlo Stanton /Bob Levey/Getty Images

#14: Gerrit Cole, New York Yankees – 9 years, $324 million

The three-time All-Star pitcher played for four seasons for the Pirates from 2013-2017 then two seasons with the Houston Astros from 2018-2019. Ahead of the 2020 season Gerrit signed a 9-year $324 million monster contract with the Yankees.

#15: Alex Rodriguez, New York Yankees – 10 years, $275 million

A-Rod opted out of his existing deal in 2007 to sign a 10-year, $275 million extension with the New York Yankees. The end of Rodriguez's career was marred by injury and scandal. And throughout his stay, he was a polarizing figure in New York, especially playing next to hometown hero Derek Jeter. But Rodriguez did collect his only World Series ring during this contract, helping the Yankees beat the Phillies in 2009. It's the franchise's last World Series victory.

#16: Nolan Arenado, Colorado Rockies – 8 years, $260 million

Arenado is no stranger to the long ball, having hit at least 37 home runs the past four seasons. While critics may say it's because he plays half of his games at Coors Field, the Rockies were still smart to lock him up. In addition to four All-Star appearances, Arenado is a defensive wizard. He's won a Gold Glove every season he's been in the league.

#17: Alex Rodriguez, Texas Rangers – 10 years, $252 million

Rodriguez is the only player to appear twice on this list. This deal in 2000 set the bar for massive MLB contracts. He ultimately only spent three years with the Rangers, winning the AL MVP award in 2003 but failing to make the playoffs during his tenure with the team. The Rangers traded Rodriguez to the Yankees before the 2004 season. Four years later, he signed a new (at the time) record-setting deal to stay in New York.  

#18: Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers – 8 years, $247 million

Cabrera's contract is a bit different than some of the others on this list in that it kicked in after he was past his prime. In 2014, the Tigers offered their star first baseman an eight-year extension starting in 2016. Cabrera was 33 when the deal began, and he'll be in his forties when it ends. Injury is also a risk – Cabrera spent most of 2017 playing with two herniated discs in his back, and played just 38 games last season due to hamstring and biceps injuries.

#19: Anthony Rendon, Los Angeles Angels – 7 years, $245 million

#20: Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals – 7 years, $245 million

#21: Albert Pujols, Los Angeles Angels – 10 years, $240 million

In 11 seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals, Pujols made nine All-Star teams and won three MVP awards. He also led the league in runs scored five times, slugging and on-base percentage three times each, home runs twice, and batting average once. Since signing this deal with the Angels in 2012, Pujols has made just one All-Star team, in 2015. And the only statistical categories he's led the league in? Grounding into double plays, which he's done twice (in 2014 and 2017). Pujols also hasn't hit higher than .285 since joining the Angels. He's still a future Hall of Famer, but it'll be largely based on what he did before signing this contract.

#22: Robinson Cano, Seattle Mariners – 10 years, $240 million

Before the 2014 season, Cano signed this deal with the Mariners. He turned down a seven-year, $175 million contract to stay with the Yankees. Cano did make three All-Star appearances in five seasons with the Mariners, but he was suspended 80 games last year for the use of performance-enhancing drugs. The Mariners traded him to the Mets this offseason. Cano promptly hit a home run in his first at-bat with his new team.

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