Rams QB Sam Bradford was the last No. 1 overall pick to cash in before the new CBA.
The top 10 highest paid NFL players in 2012 prove just how valuable the quarterback position is in today’s pass-happy league. The entire top 10 has some direct contection to the quarterback position. Four actually take snaps at quarterback, four are paid to apply pass rush on the quarterback, one protects his quarterback’s blindside and one catches passes from whoever happens to be playing quarterback that day.
The following list uses salary information from Forbes.com and is representative of the 2012 season — not long-term contracts, endorsement deals, career earnings, etc.
(Player, Pos., Team – 2012 Salary)
1. Dwight Freeney, OLB, Colts – $19 million
Indy’s top speed rusher since 2002, Freeney has posted 10 or more sacks in seven of his 10 NFL seasons heading into 2012. In his 11th (and highest paid) year in the league, the undersized 6’1”, 268-pound sack artist ranks No. 24 on the all-time sacks list but No. 1 in 2012 NFL player paychecks.
2. Elvis Dumervil, OLB, Broncos – $18.9 million
Although Elvis broke Dwight Freeney’s Big East sack record, he still fell to the fourth round of the 2006 NFL Draft. Since then, Dumervil has been an example of production over projection, recording 55.5 sacks in his first 80 NFL games — and earning the second-highest payday in the league this season.
3. Peyton Manning, QB, Broncos – $18 million
Despite undergoing as many neck surgeries as he has MVP awards, Manning was able to ink a five-year, $96 million deal with the Broncos this past offseason. The 36-year-old played 14 seasons before missing the entire 2011 campaign due to injury. But he bounced back in a big way in 2012 — at least financially.
4. Sam Bradford, QB, Rams – $15.6 million
The last No. 1 overall pick before the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, Bradford slid in under the wire and signed with the Rams to the tune of six years and $78 million — compared to the four years and $22 million the Panthers gave Cam Newton the following year. It pays to have good timing.
5. Philip Rivers, QB, Chargers – $15.3 million
Say what you will about Rivers’ on-field demeanor, but he is one of the most reliable players in the game today. Since Rivers took over for Drew Brees as the starter in San Diego in 2006, he has never missed a start, is 30 games over .500 and has nearly 90 more TDs than INTs. That type of dependability is expensive.
6. Jared Allen, DE, Vikings – $15.2 million
The tone setter for the Vikes, Allen is a wild man and live wire off the edge. The No. 2 active sack leader (and No. 18 all-time) is nearly unblockable when he’s on top of his game. In 131 career contests, Allen has 109 sacks, 43 passes defended and 27 forced fumbles, making him easily one of the most valuable players in the league.
7. Tamba Hali, OLB, Chiefs – $14.5 million
The pass rushing heir to Jared Allen in Kansas City, Hali signed a five-year, $60 million contract following a 14.5-sack season in 2010. The high motor hybrid end-linebacker has the versatility to thrive in either a 4-3 or 3-4 scheme and has proven to be worth the money invested by the Chiefs.
8. Michael Vick, QB, Eagles – $13.9 million
Capping his redemption story, Vick inked a $100 million deal in 2011. But the roller coaster ride that is the Mike Vick Experience has hit a low point, with 13 turnovers and just nine scores through the first six games of 2012. Due to make $16 million in 2013, Vick may be cut loose if he can’t lead Philly to the playoffs this year.
9. Trent Williams, LT, Redskins – $13.4 million
The young dancing bear has failed multiple drug tests and missed time due to a variety of injuries, so this contract reeks of being a bad deal. But as Robert Griffin III’s blindside bodyguard, Williams is charged with protecting the face of the franchise inside the pocket and whoever is doing that will make plenty of coin.
10. Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Cardinals – $13.25 million
While it has been argued that Fitzgerald’s career is suffering from a lack of quality QB play — from anyone other than Kurt Warner, that is — the numbers don’t back that up. Fitzgerald joined Randy Moss as only the second receiver in history to top 10,000 yards before turning 30. And he’s a top-10 paid player in 2012. Who needs a QB?