Matthew Stafford‘s new contract with the Detroit Lions will make the highest annually paid player in NFL history, with an average of $27 million per year. This beats out Derek Carr‘s month old contract with the Oakland Raiders, which was set at an average of $25 million, setting the stage for a potentially bigger market for quarterbacks in the next two years.
But what of the contracts that preceeded these two deals? How much were they worth and how did they work out? Using numbers pulled from Spotrac, we tracked every record breaking contract in terms of averages dating back to the start of the century. Not surprisingly, all of them are quarterbacks. Here are the last ten record breaking annual contracts in the NFL.
Troy Aikman, QB, Dallas Cowboys (9 years, $85.5 million; $9.5 million per year)
Comparing Aikman’s numbers to the ones we see today is pretty mind boggling. He signed this deal in 1999, presumably to finish out his career in Dallas. Unfortunately, numerous concussions and some back problems in 2000 derailed that plan, leading the Cowboys to opt out of the deal and forcing Aikman to retire in 2001. He’s doing alright for himself as the lead analyst for FOX Sports.
Brett Favre, QB, Green Bay Packers (10 years, $101.5 million; $10.15 million per year)
We all know Favre as one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, a 20 year veteran who was consistent throughout his time in football. Humorously, he would only last a week as the highest paid player in history before getting passed by the next entry on this list. Still, Favre actually lasted through the end of the contract, which is just another impressive achievement on his Hall of Fame career.
Drew Bledsoe, QB, New England Patriots (10 years, $103 million; $10.3 million per year)
It’s not common to see pro football contracts longer than six years today, so imagine how this deal was received back in 2001. Even more amazingly, Bledsoe didn’t last longer than two games as the starting QB in New England after suffering a life threatening chest injury, giving way to backup Tom Brady. We all know how his career panned out. Bledsoe did hold down the fort during that season’s AFC title game when Brady got injured, returning to a backup role for the Super Bowl. The Patriots traded him to the Buffalo Bills, where he’d have two solid seasons before restructuring his contract. The following season went downhill for the team, and Bledsoe spent two seasons with the Cowboys before retiring, opening the door for Tony Romo.
Steve McNair, QB, Tennessee Titans (6 years, $112.25 million; $18.708 million per year)
This is a bit of a technicality since most of the promised money never got to its intended recepient, but it’s still worth noting. McNair signed the richest contract in NFL history at the time in 2004 during a restructure of an older deal with the Titans. However, he did not reach the end of this new contract. McNair struggled through the next two seasons due to injury, and Tennessee was afraid of having to pay him more if he were to sustain a career ending one. The issues between the two sides got so bad that the Titans locked McNair out of team headquarters during the 2006 offseason. They eventually came to an agreement that would send the QB to the Baltimore Ravens for a draft pick, where he’d restructure his deal and finish out his career. McNair was tragically killed in a murder-suicide in 2009, a year after he retired.
Peyton Manning, QB, Denver Broncos (5 years, $96 million, $19.2 million per year)
The Colts ended up releasing Manning in 2012 in order to draft Andrew Luck with the #1 overall pick. He immediately received a new contract to trump his previous one, which gave him $18 million a year. Manning turned the Broncos into contenders for four seasons before retiring last offseason.
Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans Saints (5 years, $100 million, $20 million per year)
Brees signed an extension during July 2012 that gave him the distinction of highest paid player for a season. While the Saints as a whole have been up-and-down, Brees has maintained his high production, though many have pointed out that his contract has restricted the team cap wise. Maybe he had this in mind when he restructured his contract in 2015. Brees does have an opt-out clause after 2017, so it’ll be interesting to see if he tries his luck at a new deal to match or beat Stafford’s.
Joe Flacco, QB, Baltimore Ravens (6 years, $120.6 million; $20.1 million per year)
After a Super Bowl victory over the San Francisco 49ers, Flacco received a new contract in March of 2013 that pushed him past Brees’ deal. His first season didn’t go so well; Flacco threw more interceptions than touchdowns that year. To his credit, he bounced back in 2014. More on Flacco in a bit.
Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers (5 years, $110 million; $22 million per year)
A month later in 2013, Rodgers took over as the player with the highest average per year. It’s hard to argue against his worthiness. While he only played 9 games in the first year of this contract, Rodgers caught fire in 2014 and hasn’t looked back, establishing himself as one of the top signal callers in the league. The deal is due to end at the conclusion of this season, so Stafford’s status as the largest earner may soon go back to his divisional rival.
Joe Flacco, QB, Baltimore Ravens (3 years, $66.4 million; $22.133 million per year)
Flacco’s tenure as the highest annual paid player lasted longer this time, with a reworking of his previous deal bumping him just ahead of Rodgers. However, it would only last for just over three months this time. Flacco’s questionable status as an elite QB continues to be an in-joke amongst hardcore football fans, but the Ravens have been plagued with injuries for the last few seasons, so it’s difficult to say if this amount of money has truly been wasted on him.
Andrew Luck, QB, Indianapolis Colts (5 years, $122.97 million; $24.594 million per year)
The predecessor to Carr and Stafford for highest average salary was Luck, who signed his deal during June of last year. Luck’s first season was marred by injury, particularly his right shoulder, which caused his play to slump. He’s still dealing with the after effects of surgery to correct his shoulder problem, which might force him to miss a few games to start the season. When healthy, however, Luck is still one of the most talented passers in the NFL.