On Sunday, February 2nd, the NFC champions and defensive-minded Seattle Seahawks will come face-to-face with AFC champions, the Denver Broncos. The story of Super Bowl XLVIII will be if Peyton Manning can deliver another legendary performance and cement his legacy as one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, or if the Seahawks can marshal a defensive force to shut him out and take home their first Super Bowl in franchise history. The Metlife stadium in New Jersey will be the battleground, but virtually anyone living in North America with a passing interest in sports will be watching. Interest in the Super Bowl eclipses all other mainstream sports, and as the big day approaches you can be sure the media frenzy will be slowly rising to a fever pitch. Understandably, there’s a major incentive to turn in memorable performances under the big lights. If a player can demonstrate some heroics in front of every NFL general manager in the league, he gives himself some serious leverage the next time his contract comes up for renewal.
As for this season, if you break down the way the Seahawks and the Broncos have structured their players' contracts, you can get a glimpse into what the strategy was during pre-season. The Broncos have built their team around a few key players, and if you place the annual salaries of the team in descending order you can clearly see the huge chasm in between the 3 highest-paid players and the rest. The Seahawks have taken a more egalitarian approach, believing that teams win championships, not star players alone. The clash between the two sides will also be a battle of management ideologies, and it’ll be interesting to see which philosophy comes out on top. For now, let’s identify the 10 players on the field at the Metlife stadium who will be walking away from this post-season with the most money in the bank.
10 Max Unger - $6,000,000 in 2013-14
Max Unger is a 27-year-old from Hawaii who plays center for the Seahawks. Seattle drafted him in the 2nd round during the 2009 draft after he was initially labelled a strong, but not particularly special prospect. He would go on to make his naysayers eat their words after turning in consistently excellent performances. He signed a 4-year contract extension in 2012 that made him one of the highest-paid centers in the NFL. He’ll be eager to try and earn his first Super Bowl championship in New Jersey with the team that gave him his first chance in the big leagues.
9 Red Bryant - $7,600,000 in 2013-14
A member of Seattle’s defense, defensive end Red Bryant joined the Seahawks when he was drafted in the 4th round of the 2008 entry draft. His first few seasons were characterized by impressive performances interrupted by intermittent injuries. Bryant’s breakout occurred in 2011 when he became a key member of the team and won the Steve Largent Award, an honor that goes to the member of the Seahawks who demonstrated the most team spirit, integrity and drive during the season. Since then, he has re-signed to a 5-year, $35 million deal that allowed him to pocket $7.6 million this season.
8 Chris Clemons - $8,166,667 in 2013-14
Chris Clemons is a 32-year-old defensive end playing for the Seattle Seahawks, a veritable veteran with a decade of NFL experience. He played for the Washington Redskins, Cleveland Browns, Oakland Raiders and the Philadelphia Eagles before his current stint in Seattle. Clemons tore his ACL during last year’s post-season and only resumed playing during week 3 of the 2013 season.
7 Marshawn Lynch - $8,500,000 in 2013-14
Marshawn ‘Beast Mode’ Lynch is the man who is arguably the key to the offense of the Seahawks. A running back who was originally drafted by the Buffalo Bills in the first round of the 2007 NFL draft, Lynch joined Seattle in 2010. This season, Lynch rushed for 1257 yards and managed to score 12 touchdowns. If the Seahawks want to win, they’ll have to do more than just block out the Broncos offensive, they’ll have to rack up some points themselves, and you can expect Lynch to be the focal point of their attack.
6 Russell Okung - $9,540,000 in 2013-14
The Seattle Seahawks drafted offensive tackle Russel Okung during the 2010 NFL draft and immediately signed him to a 6-year contract worth $48 million. While he has experience in high-profile games like the Pro Bowl, like many of his teammates, the Texan will be getting ready for his first Super Bowl when he travels to New Jersey. Okung will be vying to make an impression and prove he’s one of Seattle’s stars after sitting out portions of the season with a toe injury that he has since made a full recovery from.
5 Sidney Rice - $9,700,000 in 2013-14
Unlike the other members of this list, Sidney Rice will not actually be playing in the Super Bowl because of an ACL injury sustained earlier in the season, but his contract makes up a significant portion of the Seattle Seahawks' team salary, so he deserves a mention. Originally drafted by the Minnesota Vikings in the 2007 NFL draft, he made the move to Seattle in 2011. In a sense, his absence has made as much of an impact on the field as his presence does. The wide receiver was one of the team's star offensive players prior to his injury this season, and Seattle was forced to play a slightly more defensive/rushing-based style that’s taken them all the way to the Super Bowl.
4 Champ Bailey - $10,750,000 in 2013-14
Champ Bailey has been with the Broncos for close to a decade, and is one of the aforementioned trident of highly-paid players on their roster. The cornerback was drafted to the Washington Redskins in the 1999 NFL draft before moving to Denver to join the Broncos in 2004. Considered one of the best cornerbacks in the league, Bailey’s season was almost cut short by a foot injury, as he only played 5 games during the 2013 season. He returned in time to help the Broncos during the post-season, and the veteran will be ready to make an impression. After almost 15 years in the NFL, he will be playing in his first Super Bowl at the Metlife stadium.
3 Zach Miller - $11,000,000 in 2013-14
Seattle’s highest-paid player is Zach Miller, a tight end that’s been with the Seahawks since 2011. He was originally drafted to the Oakland Raiders in the 2007 NFL draft but made the move to Seattle where he signed a 5-year, $34 million deal. Impressive performances throughout his tenure in Seattle allowed him to take home $3.2 million in bonuses this season alone, driving his total pay to $11 million. Miller and Lynch will be the two players to watch whenever Seattle is on the offense on February 2nd.
2 Ryan Clady - $12,600,000 in 2013-14
During the 2008 NFL draft, the Denver Broncos signed offensive tackle Ryan Clady in the 1st round. Originally not ranked as a top prospect in high school, Clady’s stock rose significantly during his time at Boise State University. He put in strong performances for the Broncos over the next years, and was considered to be one of the best offensive tackles in the league. He signed a new 5-year, $50 million deal with Denver before the beginning of the season. Clady was struck down with injury before ever getting a chance to prove that his contract was a good bit of business for the Broncos. With 2 out of their 3 star players missing out on the Super Bowl, the hopes of the Denver Broncos rest on the shoulders of the next man on our list.
1 Peyton Manning - $15,000,000 in 2013-14
Peyton Manning is one of the most recognizable players in the NFL. Even casual fans know the name, and with good reason. His 4 NFL MVP awards are a league record, and he is widely regarded as one of, if not the best player in the history of the game. He was drafted to the Indianapolis Colts in 1998, where he spent the majority of his career. He missed the entire 2011 season because of a neck injury and subsequent surgery. The Colts released him in March 2012, but Manning didn’t believe his career was finished. Denver competed with many teams who were trying to get his signature, and succeeded by offering him a 5-year, $96 million contract, making Manning the highest-paid player both on the Broncos and in the entire NFL. He returned to the game with no rust, demonstrating his usual ability to orchestrate wondrous offensive displays. Manning will be searching for his second Super Bowl ring, and he’ll be the undisputed pillar of the Denver Broncos when they face the Seahawks in New Jersey.
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