The 2011 NFL lockout is finally starting to show results. The new collective-bargaining agreement that resulted from the lockout has allowed players to increase the salary cap by $20 million during he last two years, reaching $143 million this year.
It should be no surprise that most of the highest-paid football players have negotiated their contracts within the last two years. Ben Roethlisberger set a record for guaranteed money at signing earlier this year, with $60.75 million. Just a few months later, Russell Wilson topped that, garnering $61 million in guarantees when he signed his contract extension with the Seahawks.
But the highest-paid football player is still Aaron Rodgers, whose 2013 contract extension averages $22 million per year for five years. The Green Bay quarterback, who served as Brett Favre's backup for the first three years of his career, also racks up a whopping $7.5 million in endorsement deals.
Timing is everything
Rodgers has always had good timing, being able to put the ball where it needs to be when it needs to be there. His ability to negotiate a contract extension in 2013 was pretty good, too.
Rodgers followed up his 2011 MVP season by leading the league in passer rating (108.0) once again. He also led the league in touchdown passing percentage and touchdown-to-interception ratio, while throwing the second-most touchdown passes in the league that year. Rodgers also led his team to a Super Bowl XLV win and brought the Packers back to the playoffs in each of the subsequent two seasons.
The contract also followed Joe Flacco's $120.6 million contract extension the month before. While Flacco had led the Ravens to two straight Super Bowls, winning one, Rodgers is far and away a superior quarterback, providing him leverage in negotiations with Green Bay.
Extending Rodgers' contract two years before his existing contract expired also allowed the Packers to load the back-end of his extension, and pro-rate the $33.25 million signing bonus during his 2013 through 2017 seasons. That allowed the team to keep his salary-cap hit below $21 million per year through the 2019 season.
His endorsement doesn't come at a discount
Forbes estimates Rodgers' endorsement income at $7.5 million during the past 12 months. Only Drew Brees and the Manning brothers make more in sponsorships among NFL athletes, with Brees making $11 million, Peyton making $12 million, and Eli raking in $8 million.
Rodgers has a lucrative deal with State Farm Insurance, which adopted his "Championship Belt" touchdown celebration, calling it the "discount double check." The move has since taken off since the first commercial Rodgers did for the company in 2011; perhaps it's becoming more associated with State Farm than Rodgers himself. State Farm may have actually gotten a pretty good deal from Rodgers' business manager.
Rodgers also has an endorsement deal with Nike. Most recently, he and teammate Jordy Nelson did a spot for its cold-weather gear last season.
Russell Wilson's recent contract extension indicates that Rodgers will soon be eclipsed as the highest-paid football player. While Seahawk Wilson didn't quite match Rodgers' average salary, coming up just shy with $21.9 million per year, his stock is rising with endorsements. USA Today reports the athlete made $5 million to $7 million in endorsements last year, and expects to make more in the future. Another deep playoff run could set Wilson's average annual earnings above Rodgers'.
Eli Manning's contract with the Giants ends at the end of the upcoming season. The team and his agent are currently negotiating, and Wilson's newly minted extension could provide some leverage for Manning. To be fair, Manning is on the opposite end of his career compared to Wilson, who's just 26 years old. Manning will turn 35 before the Giants win their next playoff game.
Andrew Luck is perhaps the most likely to become the highest-paid football player. The Colts QB was the No. 1 overall pick in Wilson's draft class, and is under contract to make more than $16 million in the 2016 season, but will likely negotiate an extension. He's proved his worth so far, throwing for more passing yards than any other quarterback in his first three seasons, including a 40-touchdown campaign last season. His endorsement deals include Nike, and a stake in sports energy drink start-up Bodyarmor.
For now, at least, Rodgers wears the championship belt as the highest-paid football player in the league.