It has become a fairly common occurrence nowadays to see freshly minted NFL rookies sign incredibly lucrative deals. Since roughly 2006, teams have deemed certain rookies as immediate franchise players, and have paid them accordingly. However, with the new collective bargaining agreement adopted in 2011, rookie contracts have been capped. High profile rookies in the draft following the new agreement were deprived of the earnings their contemporaries had previously raked in. Ask Cam Newton how he feels about his rookie deal… So all we can do now is look back enviously at these young men’s earnings. Here are the 10 biggest rookie contracts in NFL history.
10 Aaron Curry – LB – Seattle Seahawks: 6 Years/$60 million
Although Curry has retired since, the fact remains that the fourth selection in the 2009 draft cost the Seahawks quite a chunk of change. After signing his monster 6-year, $60 million dollar contract ($34 million of which was guaranteed), the former Wake Forest linebacker couldn’t quite live up to the expectations. He played 14 games in his rookie season, and the full 16 his second year, accumulating 134 combined tackles in those two years. However, his limited play in his third year cost him his job. He then joined the Oakland Raiders, where he earned 47 tackles during his stay. Curry is seen by many experts as being the biggest disappointment in a top 5 pick in the last ten drafts. At the time, Houston Texans GM Charlie Casserly had said that Curry was the ‘’best linebacker prospect’’ he’d seen in ten years. Doesn’t look that way now…
9 JaMarcus Russell – QB – Oakland Raiders: 6 Years/$61 million
Known as one of Al Davis’ greatest draft failures, JaMarcus Russell also figures as one of the highest-paid rookies ever. The former LSU Tiger was supposed to be the one who would bring the Black and Silver back to it’s previous glory. What he ended up doing was cost the Raiders $32 million in guaranteed money, roughly half of his potential $61 million contract. In his three years with the Raiders, JaMarcus threw more interceptions (23) than touchdowns (18), and fumbled the ball at an incredible rate (22). He also finished with a poor career rating of 65.2. To give you a sense of things, Peyton Manning currently has a career rating of 97.2. Russell also had his fair shake of off the field issues. He struggled to keep his weight down and also had a few run-ins with the law. Before the 2013 season, JaMarcus had tried his hand at a comeback, which ultimately fell short.
8 Jason Smith – OT – St. Louis Rams: 5 Years/ $61 million
The former Baylor Bear also cashed in after being drafted second overall in the 2009 NFL draft. The 6’5’’ 305 lb offensive tackle earned himself a 5-year deal with $33 million in guaranteed money, and a maximum worth of $61 million. Never mind being one of the highest-paid rookies ever, Smith had also become one of the highest-paid offensive linemen in the NFL. After a serious concussion that brought his rookie season to a grinding halt, Smith lost his job as the starting left tackle in 2010. Smith was then traded to the Jets in 2012, and released after the season in 2013. He signed with the Saints for about 5 months, before being released and re-signing with the Jets, who ultimately cut him during training camp.
7 Reggie Bush – RB – New Orleans Saints: 5 Years/$62 million
The former Heisman Trophy winner was one of the first players to ring in the era of gaudy rookie contracts. The running back from USC was the second overall pick by the New Orleans Saints in 2006, and wore the price tag that came with it. Bush signed for 5 years, and was guaranteed $26.5 million of his $62 million contract. Bush currently enjoys a relatively successful career. He was an All-Pro in 2008 and made the Pro Bowl as an alternate in 2013. He also won the Super Bowl with the Saints, but never quite panned out to be the franchise player the Saints had hoped he would become. He left New Orleans and played with the Miami Dolphins before moving on to sign with the Detroit Lions, with whom he currently plays. Known as a very explosive player, Bush may unfortunately be remembered best as being on the receiving end of a crushing hit by Sheldon Brown during the 2006 Divisional Playoff game against Philadelphia.
6 Gerald McCoy – DT – Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 5 Years/$63 million
McCoy may very well be the first one on this list to have truly earned his deal. Since being drafted 3rd overall by the Bucs in 2010, McCoy had 119 combined tackles and 18 sacks, 9 of which came in 2013 alone. He was also named an All-Pro after his incredible 2013 season, and made the Pro Bowl two consecutive years in 2012 and 2013. Although the Buccaneers had a dismal season, McCoy is one of the bright spots on a defense that fell short of high expectations. What makes McCoy’s statistics more impressive is that he plays in the NFC South, where twice a year he has to play the Texans, the Saints and the Panthers. When playing Cam Newton and Drew Brees twice a season, you wouldn’t necessarily expect a huge defensive year.
5 Calvin Johnson – WR – Detroit Lions: 6 Years/$64 million
McCoy may have earned his paycheque, but Calvin Johnson is definitely worth more than what he was paid coming out of college. Megatron was signed to a $64 million deal, with $27.2 million in guaranteed money after being drafted second overall in 2007. Johnson broke Jerry Rice’s single season receiving yards record in 2012 by raking in 1,964 yards receiving on 122 catches. Rice’s previous record was of 1,848 yards and had stood since 1995. To give you an idea how just how good he is, Calvin Johnson has already surpassed the likes of Terrell Owens and Michael Irvin on the all-time greatest lists. He sits behind notables Cris Carter and Randy Moss. To date, Johnson has accumulated 9,328 yards on 532 receptions and has 66 touchdown catches.
4 Ndamukng Suh – DT – Detroit Lions: 5 Years/$68 million
There is no doubt about it, the former Nebraska Cornhusker is a force to be reckoned with in the football world. The 6’7’’ 307 lb defensive tackle is one of the most dominant players at his position, hands down. Maybe that’s why the Detroit Lions thought he was worth $68 million over 5 years, with $40 million in guaranteed money right out of college. He rewarded those same lions by becoming the AP Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2010, and by giving them three Pro Bowl seasons in 2010, 2012 and 2013. Not only that, he was also a first team All-Pro in 2010 and 2013. However, Suh has earned himself a reputation as somewhat of a dirty player. Always playing on the edge, he really earned himself that tag when he stomped on Evan Dietrich-Smith during a Thanksgiving showdown against the Packers in 2011.
3 Matt Ryan – QB – Atlanta Falcons: 6 Years/$70 million
This is where things get serious. Matt Ryan is one of three rookie quarterbacks to earn over $70 million on his rookie contract. After being drafted 3rd overall in 2008, Matty Ice was signed to a 6-year, $72 million deal, with $34.75 million in guaranteed money. This is the first deal of it’s kind, and was a huge risk on the Falcons’ part. However, it has panned out quite nicely. Although he hasn’t been able to lead them to any Super Bowl victories, Ryan has brought the Faclons to the NFC Championship game and given them two Pro Bowl seasons in 2010 and 2012. Not only that, he was named as the 2008 AP Offensive Rookie of the Year. To date, he has completed 2,093 passes for 23, 472 yards, and 153 touchdowns. His reputation as a calm and cool player under pressure has earned him the nickname ‘’Matty Ice’’.
2 Matthew Stafford – QB – Detroit Lions: 6 Years/$72 million
The former Georgia Bulldog is the second-highest-paid rookie on this list. The first overall pick in 2009 inked a $72 million deal with $41.7 million in guaranteed money. What the Lions got in return is a gunslinger with lots of guts. In 2009, trailing the Cleveland Browns, Stafford dislocated his non-throwing shoulder on the second-to-last play of the game. Instead of coming out of the game, Stafford stayed in for the final play, and threw the game-winning touchdown pass. Although he has never made it to the Pro Bowl, he won the 2011 AP Comeback Player of the Year. He has drawn comparisons to other risk takers like Brett Favre since he totalled the most pass attempts in both 2011 and 2012, and has been in the top 10 for interceptions thrown each year he has been in the league.
1 Sam Bradford – QB – St. Louis Rams: 6 Years/$76 million
With $76 million over 6 years and $50 million in guaranteed money, Sam Bradford is undoubtedly the highest-paid rookie of all time. His deal was the last big-time rookie contract before the new CBA came into effect. However, the former Oklahoma Sooner is approaching ‘bust’ status. Since being drafted by the Rams in 2010, Stafford has been unable to lead his team to a division title, much less a winning season. Although he won the 2010 AP Offensive Rookie of the Year, Bradford has never been able to take his game, or his team, to the next level. Unfortunately, Bradford also tore his ACL in 2013, which subsequently ended his season. A lot is riding on the former Heisman Trophy winner this season, and nobody knows that more than him.