The NFL's highest-paid players for the 2018 season

Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Because of the way NFL contracts are structured, there is no easy way to define “highest-paid players.”

Is the player with the highest salary? Well, most top players get a huge chunk of their money in signing bonuses. Is it the highest average annual salary? Well, that considers the entire deal, and most players never see the end of their contracts. Is it who will be paid the most money this year? That would be biased towards players who signed new contracts this year because so much money is in the signing bonus.

Because of this, we have broken up the players by the highest-paid in different categories. Depending on which criteria you use, the answer to “highest-paid” can be entirely different.

You can click through to each category here or scroll down to see all. Data via Spotrac and other sources.

The 5 players who will be paid the most in 2018

The 5 largest base salaries

The 5 largest average-annual salaries

The 5 largest salary-cap hits

The 5 largest contracts

The 5 contracts with the most guaranteed money


The 5 players who will be paid the most in 2018


5. Alex Smith, Washington Redskins — $US40.0 million

Position: Quarterback

Contract: 4 years, $US94.0 million

One thing to know: With the Redskins signing of Smith to replace Kirk Cousins, the team’s cap hit for their starting QB dropped from $US24.0 million to a tad over $US18 million. Still, with Smith’s $US27 million signing bonus, it means Washington has invested $US84 million in their quarterback position the last three seasons.


4. Aaron Donald, Los Angeles Rams — $US40.9 million

Position: Defensive end

Contract: 6 years, $US135.0 million

One thing to know: When Donald signed his deal, he was the first non-quarterback in NFL history with an average annual salary of over $US20 million.


3. Khalil Mack, Chicago Bears — $US41.0 million

Chicago BearsKhalil Mack

Position: Linebacker

Contract: 6 years, $US141.0 million

One thing to know: Once Aaron Donald signed his new deal with the Los Angeles Rams, it was clear that Mack’s days in Oakland were numbered. After he was traded to the Bears just before the start of the season, Mack’s new contract makes him the highest-paid defensive players in NFL history.


2. Jimmy Garoppolo, San Francisco 49ers — $US42.6 million

Lachlan Cunningham/Getty ImagesJimmy Garoppolo

Position: Quarterback

Contract: 5 years, $US137.5 million

One thing to know: Garoppolo has two years to prove he is the real deal. If the gamble fails, the 49ers would have paid him more than $US61 million for slightly more than two seasons and also given up a second-round pick.


1. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers — $US66.9 million

Grant Halverson/GettyAaron Rodgers

Position: Quarterback

Contract: 4 years, $US134.0 million

One thing to know: The $US134 million is new money added on to the two years Rodgers had remaining on his previous contract. With bonuses, Rodgers could make as much as $US180 million over the next six seasons.


The 5 largest base salaries

Hannah Foslien/Getty ImagesKirk Cousins

5. Calais Campbell, Jacksonville Jaguars — $US15.0 million

Position: Defensive end

Contract: 4 years, $US60.0 million

One thing to know: The 2018 free agent turned down his hometown Denver Broncos to sign with the Jaguars.According to Will Brinson, the Jags’ offer was significantly higher.


4. Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks — $US15.5 million

Position: Quarterback

Contract: 4 years, $US87.6 million

One thing to know: It is probably not a coincidence that the Seahawks have started to struggle once Wilson’s cap hits started to soar. In 2014, it was $US800,000. In 2015, it was $US7.1 million. This year, it tops $US23.8 million.


t2. DeMarcus Lawrence, Dallas Cowboys — $US17.1 million

Position: Defensive end

Contract: 1 year, $US17.1 million

One thing to know: Lawrence will play the 2018 season under the franchise tag but is hoping “break the bank” next season.


t2.Ezekiel Ansah, Detroit Lions — $US17.1 million

Jamie McDonald/GettyZiggy Ansah

Position: Defensive end

Contract: 1 year, $US17.1 million

One thing to know: The Lions seemed content to let Ansah play the 2018 season under the franchise tag considering his recent injuries and age (29).


1. Kirk Cousins, Washington Redskins — $US22.5 million

Position: Quarterback

Contract: 3 years, $US84.0 million

One thing to know: Cousins rejected a bigger offer from the New York Jets to sign with the Vikings. The Jets offered Cousins $US90 million over three years.


The 5 largest average-annual salaries


5. Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions — $US27.0 million

Leon Halip/Getty ImagesMatthew Stafford

Position: Quarterback

Contract: 5 years, $US135.0 million

One thing to know: Stafford will be the seventh-highest-paid player in NFL history by the end of the season.


4. Jimmy Garoppolo, San Francisco 49ers — $US27.5 million

Position: Quarterback

Contract: 5 years, $US137.5 million

One thing to know: The 49ers went 5-0 after trading for Garoppolo and making him the starter late in the 2017 season. He had flashes of brilliance but also threw 5 interceptions to just 7 touchdowns against what was not the most difficult group of foes in the NFL.


3. Kirk Cousins, Washington Redskins — $US28.0 million

Hannah Foslien/Getty ImagesKirk Cousins

Position: Quarterback

Contract: 3 years, $US84.0 million

One thing to know: When Cousins agreed to his $US84 million, fully guaranteed deal, he couldn’t get anybody from his family on the phone to tell them the good news. So he called his AAA agent instead.


2. Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons — $US30.0 million

Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesMatt Ryan

Position: Quarterback

Contract: 5 years, $US150.0 million

One thing to know: Ryan’s deal includes $US100 million guaranteed through the 2021 season, and he will be paid $US74 million by the end of the 2019 season.


1. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers — $US33.5 million

Joe Robbins/GettyAaron Rodgers

Position: Quarterback

Contract: 4 years, $US134.0 million

One thing to know: Rodgers still has a lot of football left and wants to follow in the footsteps of Tom Brady by playing well into his 40s.


The 5 largest salary-cap hits

Robert Reiners/GettyJimmy Garoppolo

5. Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts — $US24.4 million

Jonathan Ferrey/GettyAndrew Luck

Position: Quarterback

Contract: 5 years, $US123.0 million

One thing to know: Luck may be due for a new contract soon as his salary-cap numbers jump to $US27.5 million in 2019 and $US28.4 million in 2020.


4. Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens — $US24.8 million

Todd Olszewski/Getty ImagesJoe Flacco

Position: Quarterback

Contract: 3 years, $US66.4 million

One thing to know: In 2016, Flacco added three years onto the end of his 2013 contract, basically turning the original deal into a 9-year, $US187 million contract.


3. Derek Carr, Oakland Raiders — $US25.0 million

Mike Ehrmann/GettyDerek Carr

Position: Quarterback

Contract: 5 years, $US125.0 million

One thing to know: Carr’s cap hits actually go down and hover around $US22 million over the next three years. That is less than the cap hits for Khalil Mack with the Bears, which will grow to $US24 million over the next three seasons.


2. Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions — $US26.5 million

Joe Robbins/GettyMatthew Stafford

Position: Quarterback

Contract: 5 years, $US135.0 million

One thing to know: Stafford has proven to be one of the luckiest players in the NFL. He was one of the final No. 1-overall picks to be chosen before the new rookie salary scale, signing a $US72 million contract before he played in a single game. Because of his large salary-cap hits under that deal, the Lions were forced to offer him an extension before the deal was over to ease their salary-cap situation.


1. Jimmy Garoppolo, San Francisco 49ers — $US37.0 million

Position: Quarterback

Contract: 5 years, $US137.5 million

One thing to know: Garoppolo is being paid like one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL despite having started just seven games in his career.


The 5 largest contracts

Kevin C. Cox/GettyMatt Ryan

t4. Aaron Donald, Los Angeles Rams — $US135.0 million

Jeff Haynes/AP Images for PaniniAaron Donald

Position: Defensive end

Contract: 6 years, $US135.0 million

One thing to know: Donald’s contract is one of several big deals the Rams have handed out recently, as they take a similar path as the one that led the Seattle Seahawks to the Super Bowl – go all in on players around a young quarterback on a cheap contract.


t4. Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions — $US135.0 million

Gregory Shamus/GettyMatthew Stafford

Position: Quarterback

Contract: 5 years, $US135.0 million

One thing to know: If Stafford plays out his latest contract, his career earnings will grow to $US262.3 million by 2022 when he will be just 34 years old. Tom Brady has made $US217.2 million in his career.


3. Jimmy Garoppolo, San Francisco 49ers — $US137.5 million

Robert Reiners/GettyJimmy Garoppolo

Position: Quarterback

Contract: 5 years, $US137.5 million

One thing to know: Garoppolo is further evidence that one of the best positions to be in as an NFL player is a young, unproven backup with potential, sitting behind an elite starting QB. When that player’s rookie deal is up, the original team is not going to overpay for a backup, but other teams will overpay for potential and make the player their starter despite a limited resume. Just ask Brock Osweiler.


2. Khalil Mack, Chicago Bears — $US141.0 million

Chicago BearsKhalil Mack

Position: Linebacker

Contract: 6 years, $US141.0 million

One thing to know: Khalil Mack was traded to the Bears, in large part, because the Raiders felt they couldn’t afford his market value at the same time they were paying Derek Carr $US125 million. At the end of the day, the Raiders chose an above-average quarterback over one of the best defenders in the game.


1. Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons — $US150.0 million

Daniel Shirey/GettyMatt Ryan

Position: Quarterback

Contract: 5 years, $US150.0 million

One thing to know: Ryan’s contract is the largest in NFL history. Unlike many large contracts that are not nearly as big as they seem, the Falcons are essentially committed to Ryan for $US118 million over the next four seasons.


The 5 contracts with the most guaranteed money

Patrick Smith/Getty ImagesMatt Ryan

5. Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts — $US87.0 million

Position: Quarterback

Contract: 5 years, $US123.0 million

One thing to know: The Colts paid Luck $US57 million over the past two seasons, the first two of his 5-year contract. He played in 15 games during that time and the team went 12-20 overall.


4. Khalil Mack, Chicago Bears — $US90.0 million

Chicago BearsKhalil Mack

Position: Linebacker

Contract: 6 years, $US141.0 million

One thing to know: Mack’s contract, along with Aaron Donald’s deal, resets the market for defensive players. While salaries for quarterbacks had skyrocketed in recent years, defensive players had fallen behind.


3. Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions — $US92.0 million

Position: Quarterback

Contract: 5 years, $US135.0 million

One thing to know: The Lions have gone 60-65 with Stafford as the starter.


2. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers — $US98.7 million

Position: Quarterback

Contract: 4 years, $US134.0 million

One thing to know: The Packers will pay Rodgers approximately $US80 million over the first eight months of his new contract.


1. Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons — $US100.0 million

Tom Pennington/GettyMatt Ryan

Position: Quarterback

Contract: 5 years, $US150.0 million

One thing to know: The $US100 million is the largest guarantee in NFL history.


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