NFL: 10 players with the most career earnings 

Pittsburgh Steelers vs Dallas Cowboys
Pittsburgh Steelers vs Dallas Cowboys
Ross Bennellick

With the 2021 NFL Draft now just nine days away, there will be plenty of soon-to-be-rookie talent dreaming of making the big bucks in the NFL.

But it's worth noting that only a few college stars get to earn the entire sum offered to them when they sign on the dotted line with NFL franchises. That is because some players don't cut it in the long run others get plagued by injuries, which means most players fail to see out their contracts.

Ten highest-earning players in NFL history:

There have been plenty of players who have earned some serious money in the NFL. But only a select few have gone on to make over $100 million. On that note, let's have a look at the ten highest-paid players in NFL history.

Note: Contract data has been taken from

#10 Alex Smith, QB ($189.7 million)

Washington Football Team v Philadelphia Eagles
Washington Football Team v Philadelphia Eagles

Former San Francisco and Washington quarterback Alex Smith announced his retirement from professional football on April 19.

Alex Smith rebounded from a horrific broken leg sustained in Washington's 2018 clash against the Houston Texans to help his team get back to the NFL playoffs in 2020.

During a 16-year career, Smith, a 3x Pro Bowler, earned himself a tidy $189.7 million, including a career-high $40 million in 2018 alone.

#9 Matthew Stafford, QB ($226.5 million)

He might now be the new signal-caller for Sean McVay's excellent Los Angeles Rams outfit. But Matthew Stafford has also earned his reputation and dollars while operating in the famed blue of the Detroit Lions.

During his 12-year career, Stafford has raked in an astonishing $226.5 million, including $51.1 million in 2017.

Now a Ram, Stafford will hope to add some more playoff appearances and perhaps another trip to the Pro Bowl to his illustrious resume.

#8 Aaron Rodgers, QB ($240.9 million)

Divisional Round - Los Angeles Rams vs Green Bay Packers
Divisional Round - Los Angeles Rams vs Green Bay Packers

It's barely a surprise to see the 16-year veteran and 2020 NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers make this list at number eight.

Rodgers, a Super Bowl winner with his current team, the Green Bay Packers, in 2011, has appeared in nine Pro Bowls. He is well worth the $240.9 million he has earned in his impressive career to date.

#7 Philip Rivers, QB ($243.9 million)

Indianapolis Colts vs Las Vegas Raiders
Indianapolis Colts vs Las Vegas Raiders

After a Hall of Fame-caliber career that saw Philip Rivers achieve just about everything in the game besides winning a Super Bowl, the former Charger announced his retirement from the NFL after playing one season with the Colts.

During his 17-year NFL career, where he played as a QB, Rivers earned himself a lucrative $243.9 million.

The Decatur, Alabama, native is not yet done and could earn a few more laurels and bucks in the next few years.

#6 Matt Ryan, QB ($244 million)

New Orleans Saints vs Atlanta Falcons
New Orleans Saints vs Atlanta Falcons

Atlanta Falcons QB Matt Ryan signed a 5-year, $150 million contract extension with a $46.5 million signing bonus in 2018. That was the most lucrative contract ever penned in the NFL at that time (before Patrick Mahomes re-signed with the Chiefs).

It's easy to see why the Falcons rate their signal-caller so highly: Matt Ryan has appeared in four Pro Bowls during his 13-year career to date.

#5 Peyton Manning, QB ($248.7 million)

A first-ballot NFL Hall of Famer, few can hold a torch to Peyton Manning's incredible 18 years spent playing quarterback in the league.

Besides appearing in an incredible \14 Pro Bowls, Manning also won two Super Bowls; one with the Indianapolis Colts (2007) and another in the twilight of his career with the Denver Broncos (2016), cementing himself as one of the legends of the game.

Unsurprisingly, Manning was well remunerated for his services throughout his career, earning $248.7 million, including $35 million in 2004 alone.

#4 Eli Manning, QB ($252.3 million)

New York Giants vs Philadelphia Eagles
New York Giants vs Philadelphia Eagles

Not to be outdone by his brother, Eli Manning managed to rake in $3.6 million more than Peyton Manning during his storied NFL career. Eli Manning has had career earnings of $252.3 million, giving him plenty to brag about over Thanksgiving dinner in the Manning household.

Besides making a proverbial ton of money during his 16-year career, Eli Manning twice helped the New York Giants to Super Bowl glory and was nominated to four Pro Bowls.

Manning is currently taking a year out of football after retiring in 2020. He is expected to return to the NFL in a coaching or scouting role somewhere down the line.

#3 Ben Roethlisberger, QB ($253.3 million)

The two-time Super Bowl-winning Steelers quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger has had a fine career in the NFL.

The no. 11 overall pick in the 2004 NFL Draft has featured in six Pro Bowls during his 17-year stint in the Steel City.

Having already earned an incredible $253.3 million from the Steelers, Ben Roethlisberger agreed to restructure his most recent contract during the 2021 off-season, helping the Steelers get back under the salary cap; 'Big Ben' was due a $12.5 million roster bonus.

#2 Tom Brady, QB ($263 million)

What is left to say about the great Tom Brady?

Widely regarded as the GOAT by many, Brady has been a quarterback in the NFL for 21 years now, and there has been little indication that he plans on retiring his cleats anytime soon. Not least because the former Patriot lifted yet another Lombardi, doing so with the Bucs earlier this year, the seventh time he has done so during his illustrious career.

During his stint with the Patriots, Brady made news for accepting a lower base salary to ensure his team could afford to bring in the type of talents he needed to get him to the Super Bowl. In the process, he earned $50 million less in potential earnings.

Not that it made much difference to the great one's bank account. Tom Brady is the second-highest earning NFL player ever, having earned $263 million thus far.

#1 Drew Brees, QB ($269.7 million)

Wild Card Round - Minnesota Vikings vs New Orleans Saints
Wild Card Round - Minnesota Vikings vs New Orleans Saints

After a legendary 20-year career, the now-former New Orleans Saints QB Drew Brees opted to retire earlier this year.

In his illustrious career, the man they called 'Breesus' earned just shy of $270 million, including $40 million in 2012 alone. Brees helped the Saints to the franchise's only Super Bowl win in 2010 and has appeared in 13 Pro Bowls.

However, Tom Brady is expected to surpass Drew Brees' career earnings sometime during the upcoming 2021 NFL season.

Edited by Bhargav
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