National Football League player contracts are a bit unfair when compared with the deals athletes receive from National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball franchises. NFL contracts carry with them only so much guaranteed money when those stipulations are included, which is harsh when you consider that pro football players put their bodies on the line each time they enter the field of battle. Those who are the best in the business make millions upon millions of dollars per the terms of their contracts, sure, but their earnings represent only a fraction of the money that the NFL earns in revenue every year.
There are several components that factor into what Spotrac has labeled to be the biggest NFL contracts for 2015. The NFL has a hard salary cap, and thus even the best players in the league can realistically only make so much off of their contracts per year. Talent is, of course, another factor, as is the veteran status for an individual. Backup quarterbacks do not make millions of dollars to stand on the sidelines 16 Sundays out of the year just because of what they may be able to contribute during games, but rather because many of them have been in the NFL long enough to receive such lucrative deals.
It should come as no surprise to anybody who has followed the NFL for any significant amount of time that the two biggest NFL contracts of 2015 are associated with quarterbacks. A successful pro quarterback is the face of his franchise, and one who proves that he is capable of winning on the final Sunday of the season is essentially worth his weight in gold. What you may not have guessed is that only one of the two quarterbacks at the top of the list of the biggest NFL contracts for 2015 has won a Super Bowl during his career. The man who has not done so may be running out of time to get to the mountaintop before his playing days come to an end.
20 CB Patrick Peterson: $14,791,491 for 2015
In an era when NFL rules favor passing attacks and elite quarterbacks, teams have reacted by seeking out shutdown cornerbacks who can make plays without drawing pass interference and illegal contact penalties. Peterson may not yet be the best cornerback in the NFL, but he has been a mainstay of Pro Bowl squads. It also needs to be pointed out that Peterson is only 25 years old. He has not even entered the physical prime of his career. The sky is seemingly the limit for Peterson, who could prove himself to be a cornerstone of a championship defense if the Arizona Cardinals get other things right.
19 DE Jason Pierre-Paul: $14,813,000 for 2015
What has to be remembered is that the information Spotrac had about Jason Pierre-Paul's 2015 contract was accurate as of September 8. We do not know the status of Pierre-Paul following an infamous incident that involved the defensive end severely injuring his hand while he was handling fireworks over the July 4 holiday weekend. Odds are that the Giants are going to look to save some money during what may be Pierre-Paul's final season with the club before the two entities part ways. Pierre-Paul, meanwhile, needs to prove that he will be able to perform on the field.
18 QB Tony Romo: $14,973,000 for 2015
The truth of the matter is that the Dallas Cowboys have overpaid quarterback Tony Romo for years. Romo often receives more criticism than he deserves, but his lackluster postseason record tells the tale of a QB who has routinely fallen short during January games. No one player wins and loses all on his own, but Romo has not come all that close to matching the achievements of New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning. Romo's career will be nothing but a massive disappointment in the eyes of Dallas fans if he fails to win even a conference championship during the final years of his career.
17 QB Colin Kaepernick: $15,265,753 for 2015
The Colin Kaepernick contract is not nearly as impressive as it looks on paper at first glance. While the San Francisco 49ers are paying Kaepernick a small fortune for 2015, the team is able to walk away from the deal every spring without suffering a massive penalty. This means that Kaepernick is essentially playing for future earnings from September through the end of the season every year that he is tied to the 49ers via the terms of his current contract. That is quite the amount of pressure on a man who is having his talents questioned by some football analysts and possibly by some within the 49ers franchise.
16 RB Adrian Peterson: $15,400,000 for 2015
The superstar running back of the Minnesota Vikings likely envisioned the closing years of his playing career ending much differently. Adrian Peterson became a spectator for the 2014 NFL regular season after controversial methods that he allegedly used for disciplining his children saw the light of day, and there are some football fans out there who would prefer to never again see Peterson carry the rock for a team. With a rested Peterson in the backfield and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater looking to take another step toward potential greatness, the Vikings could be in for a special year.
15 QB Alex Smith: $15,600,000 for 2015
Allow the career of Alex Smith to be a lesson for any future NFL quarterbacks: Limit your mistakes, do whatever necessary to keep yourself healthy and in good shape, and be no worse than serviceable during your pro career. You will make millions of dollars even if you are not a superstar. Nobody is going to confuse Smith, deemed to be a “game manager,” with future Hall of Fame members such as Tom Brady, Peyton Manning or Aaron Rodgers. Smith may not be a living legend of the game, but he has managed to earn himself a great living despite the fact that he has never won a single meaningful trophy as a pro.
14 CB Darrelle Revis: $16,000,000 for 2015
The stories about cornerback Darrelle Revis going “home” to the New York Jets have been fascinating and unintentionally hilarious. It is hardly a secret among even casual NFL fans that Revis is perceived to be a mercenary who would probably be wearing Cleveland brown and orange during the fall months of 2015 had the Browns offered him a contract that guaranteed him $17 million. That did not happen, and thus Revis is scheduled to once again serve as the anchor of the Gang Green secondary. Welcome home, Darrelle, and enjoy your new contract. Just don't spend all of that money at one place.
13 QB Jay Cutler: $16,500,000 for 2015
It was not all that long ago when some fans of the Chicago Bears wanted Josh McCown to start over Jay Cutler after McCown was impressive filling in for an injured Cutler. The Bears went a different direction, though, choosing to give Cutler the figurative keys to the kingdom by making him the team's franchise quarterback for the foreseeable future. That decision is going to be criticized forevermore unless Cutler takes the Bears on a special postseason run. For that to happen, Cutler will have to stop being his own worst enemy on and off of the field.
12 DE Robert Quinn: $16,744,111 for 2015
All-Pro defensive end Robert Quinn is one part of what could be a stellar front line, but he is not the reason football fans will be a little more focused on the St. Louis Rams than in previous years. Those rumors claiming that the Rams could be headed out west to Los Angeles continue to hover over the franchise, leading some to believe that there must be fire causing that smoke. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell would be thrilled for Los Angeles to be home to at least one team. Goodell may rent out the moving trucks himself if he can finalize the Rams pulling the trigger on the relocation.
11 QB Ben Roethlisberger: $17,245,000 for 2015
There were whispers back in October 2013 that the Pittsburgh Steelers were considering listening to offers for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger because those running the team were worried that Roethlisberger was no longer the player of old. Big Ben quickly returned to form that fall, those rumors disappeared as if they never existed in the first place, and Roethlisberger has since signed what will probably be his final player contract. Roethlisberger has earned the right to retire wherever and whenever he wants, but the happy ending involves the two-time Super Bowl champion remaining in Pittsburgh up through the end of his career.
10 QB Peyton Manning: $17,500,000 for 2015
Peyton Manning is NFL royalty, the greatest regular season quarterback in history and a man who knows his spot in the Hall of Fame is already reserved. With that said, the stories that Manning experiences numbness in his fingertips because of the punishments he has sustained during his career are alarming. One has to wonder how much the money and the legacy is worth to any person, let alone to somebody who has a family. Manning can have a job as an analyst or even in the front office of a franchise immediately after he retires. Perhaps 2015 should be his final season as a player.
9 QB Matthew Stafford: $17,721,250 for 2015
The time has come for Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford to begin earning his paychecks with great performances on the field. Stafford has all-world wide receiver Calvin Johnson as a weapon, and those two should theoretically make for the best offensive duo in all of the NFL. It has been suggested that Stafford is not appreciated by some, and that point may be valid. Stafford has not yet entered the elite level of quarterback play that some expected he would be at by this point of his career, and there are now concerns that the Detroit quarterback will never reach such expectations.
8 QB Aaron Rodgers: $18,250,000 for 2015
Fans of the Green Bay Packers should feel that their favorite club is getting a steal in Rodgers not being the most expensive talent in the NFL. He would be a bargain at just about any price. Rodgers is often called the best overall quarterback in the NFL today, as he is a brilliant offensive engineer who can make plays with his arm and his legs. It is likely that Rodgers would be the first player off of the board of a real-life fantasy football draft among actual NFL general managers. That alone speaks to both the greatness of Rodgers as a player, and also to the importance of the quarterback position in today's NFL.
7 DE Mario Williams: $19,400,000 for 2015
Head coach Rex Ryan has a new favorite toy in defensive end Mario Williams. Williams has been a consistent force as a pass-rusher during his days with the Buffalo Bills, and he should flourish playing underneath the defensive-minded Ryan. Buffalo's defense as a whole could surprise some football fans who are writing the Bills off at the start of the 2015 regular season, and Williams will be expected to be a big part of the team's pursuit of postseason football. Any and all concerns that Buffalo may have overpaid for Williams' services years ago have been put to bed for good by his play.
6 QB Matt Ryan: $19,500,000 for 2015
Matt Ryan is fourth on the list of cap hits for quarterbacks in the NFL for 2015 because a franchise will hold onto even a good quarterback with an iron grip rather than allow him to enter free agency. Ryan can put up great fantasy football numbers from time to time, but even he probably would admit that he is not a top-five quarterback in the league if he was forced to be honest on the matter. The biggest concern about Ryan is that he may not have that “it factor” or “clutch gene” that is possessed by great quarterbacks such as Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers or even Eli Manning. It is on Ryan to prove his doubters wrong.
5 QB Eli Manning: $19,750,000 for 2015
It is baffling that there are still some out there who believe that Eli Manning has not been worth the amounts of money that he has been paid over the past eight seasons. Manning is a two-time Super Bowl champion who has twice earned Most Valuable Player honors for his play in championship games. He is far and away the greatest quarterback in the long history of the New York Giants and one of the greatest players to ever wear Big Blue. His Hall of Fame resume will continue to be bolstered so long as he keeps playing. Manning has more than earned his big contract that is scheduled to run out after this season.
4 DE Charles Johnson: $20,020,000 for 2015
Are there reasons for fans of the Carolina Panthers to be concerned about defensive end Charles Johnson? Johnson was banged up in the preseason last year, and he finished the year with his lowest sack total since he became a mainstay of the Carolina starting lineup in 2010. All signs are that Johnson will once again be starting a season at less than 100 percent because of calf and back issues. The hope moving forward is that Johnson will be fully recovered at some point in September, as it would be a waste to have over $20 million of team salary tied to a player who is not at a Pro Bowl level.
3 WR Calvin Johnson: $20,558,000 fo 2015
The superstar wide receiver of the Detroit Lions is, when healthy, probably the best offensive player who does not play quarterback in all of the NFL. Calvin Johnson cannot consistently be defended against within the parameters of NFL rules by any one defensive back. The man known as “Megatron” is physically superior to those who play against him. Imagine if Johnson could have Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers or Andrew Luck as his quarterback for just one season. Any of those duos would produce historic numbers.
2 QB Philip Rivers: $21,166,668 for 2015
Do you know what you can buy when you are making over $20 million a year? A lot of Domino's Pizza, apparently. What you cannot buy, however, is a legacy of being the greatest quarterback to never win a Super Bowl of your generation. Philip Rivers is not going to be able to escape that legacy unless he wins the big one either with the San Diego Chargers or with a different team, and his time to do so is running out. Rivers will be 34 years old by the end of the season, and there are rumors out there that he could choose to retire if the Chargers were to move out of San Diego in 2016.
1 QB Drew Brees: $26,400,000 for 2015
Players such as Drew Brees should not be taken for granted by fans. Brees holds multiple NFL records, and he has passed for over 50,000 yards. He is a Super Bowl champion who will be inducted into the Hall of Fame not long after he retires. Brees is seemingly a great person, and he is known for giving back to communities. Brees will be 37 years old once the 2016 NFL Playoffs conclude, and he may decide during the winter that he has given all that he can to the New Orleans Saints and to the NFL. Fans and football insiders everywhere should enjoy watching Brees play while we still have the pleasure.