After an offseason that featured a slew of record contracts, Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson leads a group of ten players making a record $508 million combined this season.
The five-year, $260 million extension that Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson signed in May set an NFL contract record with an average annual value of $52 million, but his reign didn’t last long. First there was Los Angeles Chargers rising star Justin Herbert, whose five-year, $262.5 million extension two months later edged him out with an annual average of $52.5 million. Then came Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow with a five-year, $275 million deal agreed to last week, three days before Cincinnati’s season opener—a new all-time-high average of $55 million a year.
At least for 2023, however, Jackson remains on top. With much of the value of Herbert’s and Burrow’s contracts bound up in option bonuses that kick in over the next year or two, the 26-year-old Jackson is the NFL’s highest-paid player this season, collecting $80 million in salary and bonus plus an estimated $1.5 million from endorsements, licensing, appearances, memorabilia and other business ventures. His $81.5 million total puts him more than $20 million ahead of Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who lands at No. 2 with $60.5 million. (Burrow is seventh this year, with a total of $45 million including endorsements, while Herbert falls outside the top ten, making $17.1 million on the field in 2023.)
The San Francisco 49ers’ Nick Bosa, meanwhile, claims the third spot on the list of the NFL’s highest-paid players with $52 million. Like Burrow, the 25-year-old defensive end was a late addition to the ranking, ending a lengthy contract holdout by agreeing to a new five-year extension on September 6—the richest deal for a defensive player in NFL history both by total value ($170 million) and by average annual value ($34 million).
Combined, football’s ten top earners are set to make $508 million in the 2023 league year (before taxes and agents’ fees). That is a 4% increase from last year’s record $489 million, even with the top ten’s off-field total falling to $69 million, from $120 million in 2022. (Chalk up that decline to the retirement of Tom Brady, who posted $45 million in off-field earnings and $75 million overall on the 2022 list.)
In the absence of Brady, Mahomes assumes the mantle as the NFL’s most marketable player, with an estimated $20 million in off-field earnings, while three other quarterbacks—the Dallas Cowboys’ Dak Prescott, the Denver Broncos’ Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers, now a New York Jet—join him in making eight figures off the field annually. But it is a much more exclusive club in the NFL than in, say, the NBA, where at least seven players outearn Mahomes with their business endeavors, led by LeBron James with an estimated $75 million over the last 12 months. In all, last season’s ten highest-paid NBA players earned an estimated $330 million off the court, nearly five times as much as this year’s NFL top ten.
The common thread in NFL marketing is quarterbacks, who hold down nine of the ten spots in this year’s total earnings ranking, with the 49ers’ Bosa the lone exception. Quarterbacks have consistently occupied at least seven of the ranking’s ten spots since 2018.
Expect that trend to continue. Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts signed a five-year, $255 million extension in April that, like Herbert’s and Burrow’s deals, will have huge bonuses kicking in in the years ahead. And the extension queue is filled with several other talented young signal callers, including the Jacksonville Jaguars’ Trevor Lawrence, the Miami Dolphins’ Tua Tagovailoa and the Chicago Bears’ Justin Fields.
Burrow, Herbert and Jackson have set new benchmarks for pay at the position—but in the NFL, contract records are made to be broken.
THE NFL’S TEN HIGHEST-PAID PLAYERS 2023
#1. $81.5 million
AGE: 26 | POSITION: Quarterback | TEAM: Baltimore Ravens | ON-FIELD: $80 mil • OFF-FIELD: $1.5 mil
After two years of negotiations that included an unfulfilled trade request, Jackson signed an extension with the Ravens in May, setting an NFL record with his $72.5 million signing bonus. And while the 26-year-old quarterback fell short in his quest for a fully guaranteed contract—getting $185 million in guarantees from the contract’s total value of $260 million—he reportedly received a no-trade clause as well as a no-tag clause, prohibiting the Ravens from using a franchise or transition tag to retain him after his contract expires and giving him more leverage for his next round of extension negotiations. Jackson famously didn’t use an agent in his discussions with Baltimore—saving him an agent’s cut of up to 3% of his contract—but the rumor mill started turning in March when the NFL sent out a memo warning teams not to consult with a man named Ken Francis in connection with Jackson’s contract. (Jackson later clarified that Francis was not his agent but rather his business partner in a home-fitness startup called the Entire Gym.) In other off-field endeavors, Jackson has a personal clothing brand called Era 8, runs a production company and a record label as part of Lamar Jackson Entertainment and owns Florida restaurant Play Action Soulfood and More, in addition to a small endorsement portfolio that includes the virtual-reality game NFL Pro Era.
#2. $60.5 million
AGE: 27 | POSITION: Quarterback | TEAM: Kansas City Chiefs | ON-FIELD: $40.5 mil • OFF-FIELD: $20 mil
Mahomes, who turns 28 this month, still owns the NFL record for largest contract with the ten-year, $450 million deal he signed in 2020, but he is down to eighth among active contracts in terms of average annual value. That drop has raised speculation that the Chiefs could give the reigning regular-season and Super Bowl MVP a huge new extension, an idea that Kansas City general manager Brett Veach hasn’t exactly swatted down. Off the field, Mahomes is unquestionably the new face of the NFL, with long-term endorsement deals with nearly 20 brands, including recent additions Hugo Boss, T-Mobile and Walmart. He also was a focus of the Netflix docuseries Quarterback and could see new opportunities with his sponsor State Farm after the insurer ended its long partnership with Aaron Rodgers. Beyond endorsements, Mahomes has started to put together a small sports empire, investing in the National Women’s Soccer League’s Kansas City Current and a Major League Pickleball team over the past year to go with his stakes in the Kansas City Royals and Major League Soccer’s Sporting Kansas City.
#3. $52 million
AGE: 25 | POSITION: Defensive End | TEAM: San Francisco 49ers | ON-FIELD: $51 mil • OFF-FIELD: $1 mil
Bosa, the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year, became the latest 49ers star to sign a lucrative extension with last week’s five-year, $170 million deal, after San Francisco had locked up tight end George Kittle, linebacker Fred Warner and receiver Deebo Samuel over the last three years. Bosa, who turns 26 next month, now leads all non-quarterbacks with an average annual contract value of $34 million, beating the mark set last year by Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald ($31.7 million). Bosa’s $122.5 million in guaranteed money also represents a new high for a non-quarterback, surpassing the $102 million that his brother—28-year-old pass rusher Joey Bosa—received from the Los Angeles Chargers in 2020.
#4. $47.9 million
AGE: 39 | POSITION: Quarterback | TEAM: New York Jets | ON-FIELD: $36.9 mil • OFF-FIELD: $11 mil
Rodgers left the Green Bay Packers—his home for 18 seasons—in an offseason trade to the Jets and agreed to a reworked contract that reportedly cut his pay by $35 million over two years. But the 39-year-old four-time MVP will still break Tom Brady’s NFL record for career on-field earnings ($333 million), getting to $342 million by the end of 2023 and $418 million by the end of 2025, assuming he plays out his Jets contract. Away from the field, Rodgers has a dozen endorsement deals and is a cofounder of venture firm RX3, which announced a $150 million fund in May. And after opening up last year about his use of ayahuasca, he has become an advocate for psychedelics, speaking at a conference for the drugs in June.
#5. $47.5 million
AGE: 26 | POSITION: Quarterback | TEAM: New York Giants | ON-FIELD: $46 mil • OFF-FIELD: $1.5 mil
After Jones played the best football of his four-year career in 2022, the Giants rewarded him with a four-year, $160 million contract in March. The 26-year-old quarterback has mostly had a limited endorsement portfolio since entering the NFL in 2019, corresponding to his limited presence on social media—his Instagram post in April was his first in nearly three years. But Jones has recently begun building out his stable of sponsors and is now up to eight, including Hugo Boss and Poland Spring, and as his Giants teammate Saquon Barkley told the New York Post last month, he is showing more swagger on the field.
#6. $46.5 million
AGE: 27 | POSITION: Quarterback | TEAM: Cleveland Browns | ON-FIELD: $46 mil • OFF-FIELD: $0.5 mil
In 2020, Forbes estimated that Watson was making $8 million off the field, but he lost his endorsements when more than 20 women accused him of sexual harassment or assault the following year. (He has denied the allegations and did not face criminal charges; the NFL fined him $5 million and suspended him for 11 games last season.) Watson, who turns 28 this month, still makes some off-field money from the NFL Players Association’s group licensing agreements, including from sales of his jersey, and his playing contract is set to pay him $46 million in 2023 and in each of the next three years.
#7. $45 million
AGE: 26 | POSITION: Quarterback | TEAM: Cincinnati Bengals | ON-FIELD: $41 mil • OFF-FIELD: $4 mil
In his three years as a pro, Burrow has inspired a multitude of nicknames—Joe Cool, Joe Brrr and Joe Shiesty among them—but the most fitting moniker right now may be Jackpot Joey. The 26-year-old quarterback’s massive contract extension, struck last week after months of speculation, includes $219 million guaranteed, the second-most ever, after the $230 million Deshaun Watson received from the Cleveland Browns last year. Burrow, who led the Bengals to a Super Bowl appearance in his sophomore season and on another deep playoff run last season, may also be the NFL’s most intriguing rising star for marketers, who have been drawn to his grace under pressure and his loud fashion sense. He now counts a half-dozen companies as partners, including BodyArmor, Bose and Guinness. In addition, Burrow has invested in breakfast food brand Kodiak, fantasy sports website Fantasy Life and the Pro Volleyball Federation, a women’s league that is set to begin play in February, and he was part of a group that bought a 104-acre farm in Iowa, with plans to purchase other farms through athlete-focused investment firm Patricof Co.
#8. $44 million
AGE: 30 | POSITION: Quarterback | TEAM: Dallas Cowboys | ON-FIELD: $31 mil • OFF-FIELD: $13 mil
Prescott’s record for an NFL signing bonus—$66 million, from the four-year, $160 million contract he signed with the Cowboys in 2021—was smashed this offseason by Lamar Jackson, and he may be feeling the heat after Dallas traded for 23-year-old quarterback Trey Lance last month. But Prescott, now 30, has consistently produced when healthy, with a 61-36 record as a starter across seven seasons, and he has 15 sponsors, including Nike’s Jordan Brand, Bud Light and AT&T. He was also honored in February with the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, which recognizes a player for his philanthropy and community impact.
#9. $42.5 million
AGE: 26 | POSITION: Quarterback | TEAM: Arizona Cardinals | ON-FIELD: $39 mil • OFF-FIELD: $3.5 mil
Murray will miss at least four games to start 2023 as he recovers from an ACL tear he sustained in December, derailing the first season of the five-year, $230.5 million contract he signed in July 2022. Off the field, the 26-year-old quarterback has seven corporate partners, including Nike, BodyArmor and esports powerhouse FaZe Clan. He was also an investor in a $6 million seed round announced last September by Myna Swap, a marketplace that aims to facilitate the sale of physical collectibles through corresponding NFTs.
#10. $41 million
AGE: 34 | POSITION: Quarterback | TEAM: Denver Broncos | ON-FIELD: $28 mil • OFF-FIELD: $13 mil
Wilson slogged through the worst season of his 11-year pro career in 2022, after a trade from the Seattle Seahawks to the Broncos, but he has a new offensive system and a new coach in Sean Payton as he tries to get back to the form that carried him to nine Pro Bowls and a 2014 Super Bowl title. In addition to his 16 endorsement partners, the 34-year-old quarterback is cofounder of the House of LR&C—a fashion brand he created with his wife, singer Ciara—and has acquired several equity stakes, including a small piece of Major League Soccer’s Seattle Sounders.
The Forbes ranking of the NFL’s highest-paid players reflects on-field earnings—including base salaries and all bonuses (option, roster, signing and workout)—paid in 2023 or in connection with the 2023 season, for contracts signed as of September 9, 2023. Incentives that are based on 2023 individual or team performance are not included.
The off-field earnings estimates are determined through conversations with industry insiders and reflect annual cash from endorsements, licensing, appearances and memorabilia, as well as cash returns from any businesses in which the athlete has a significant interest. Investment income such as interest payments or dividends is not included, but Forbes does account for payouts from equity stakes athletes have sold. Forbes does not deduct for taxes or agents’ fees.
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