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The NFL’s 25 highest-paid players in 2021, from Patrick Mahomes to DeMarcus Lawrence

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Calculating and listing the NFL’s highest-paid players is an inexact science. There are so many metrics by which to measure contracts, and since NFL deals are, largely, not fully guaranteed, many argue that the guarantees are all that matters.

If we’re talking guaranteed money, Josh Allen ($150 million) takes the cake. If we’re talking about year-to-year base salary, then Jimmy Garoppolo ($24.1 million) is the clubhouse leader, believe it or not. And in terms of total contract value, Patrick Mahomes’ $450 million deal dwarfs all others.

That said, for the purpose of this list, Sporting News is using average annual salary to rank the NFL’s highest-paid players. NFL contracts are unique in that guarantees and base salaries vary widely from contract to contract. As such, average annual salary paints the most accurate picture of the league’s earnings landscape.

Here’s a look at the league’s highest-paid players for 2021, with all salary information coming via Spotrac.com.

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NFL’s highest-paid players 2021

1. Patrick Mahomes, QB, Chiefs

  • Annual salary: $45 million

Mahomes, 25, has made it to the last two Super Bowls, winning one, and has averaged 4,931 passing yards, 41 pass TDs and eight interceptions per 16 games played during his career. It doesn’t look like the Chiefs are going to regret giving him the NFL’s richest contract — 10 years, $450 million — any time soon.

2. Josh Allen, QB, Bills

  • Annual salary: $43 million

Allen, 25, signed a contract in August of 2021 that will pay him an NFL-record $150 million in guarantees. He has markedly improved in each of his three seasons and led the Bills to an AFC Championship Game in 2020 while throwing for 4,544 yards, 37 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He added an additional 421 yards and eight TDs on the ground.

3. Dak Prescott, QB, Cowboys

  • Annual salary: $40 million

Prescott, 28, played in just five games during the 2020 NFL season before breaking his ankle, but he was nearly on pace for a 6,000-yard passing season. He hasn’t had much playoff success, posting a 1-2 record in three playoff games, but the Cowboys are banking on him improving in that area as they rebuild their defense.

4. Deshaun Watson, QB, Texans

  • Annual salary: $39 million

Watson, 25, led the NFL in passing yards (4,823) and yards per attempt (8.9) in 2020. He’s one of the game’s better young quarterbacks, but he has been accused in 22 civil lawsuits and 10 criminal complaints of sexual misconduct and sexual assault. It’s unclear when (or if) he’ll play again.

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5. Russell Wilson, QB, Seahawks

  • Annual salary: $35 million

Wilson, 32, has been one of the NFL’s steadiest performers since the Seahawks got him in the third round of the 2012 NFL Draft. The former N.C. State and Wisconsin QB has never missed a start in nine seasons and has averaged 3,772 passing yards, 30 pass TDs and nine interceptions per season during his career. He won a Super Bowl during his second season and was named the Walter Payton Man of the Year for 2020. 

T-6. Aaron Rodgers, QB, Packers

  • Annual salary: $33.5 million

Rodgers is the oldest player in the top 10 at age 37. He is coming off an MVP season in 2020 that saw him complete an NFL-high 70.7 percent of his passes for 4,299 yards, a league-best 48 touchdowns and just five interceptions. He is staying with the Packers for 2021 though he held out from the team during the offseason in the hopes of orchestrating a trade.

T-6. Jared Goff, QB, Lions

  • Annual salary: $33.5 million

Unlike Rodgers, Goff, 26, didn’t ask for a trade. He was, however, dealt to the Lions along with a couple of future first-round draft picks to send Matthew Stafford to the Rams. Goff has averaged 4,215 yards, 25 touchdowns and 13 interceptions per 16 games played during his career, but he’ll need to prove he can find success without Sean McVay in Detroit. Even under McVay, Goff was inconsistent.

8. Kirk Cousins, QB, Vikings

  • Annual salary: $33 million

Cousins, 32, was brought to Minnesota to get them over the hump. He hasn’t done that, but he did throw a career-high 35 TD passes last year. However, that came along with 13 interceptions — also a career-high — and just a 7-9 record. Cousins is .500 in his career as a starter with a record of 51-51-2.

9. Carson Wentz, QB, Colts

  • Annual salary: $32 million

Wentz, 28, was traded this offseason to the Colts after a woeful 2021 campaign in which he led the league in interceptions (15) and get benched in favor of Jalen Hurts. He’s reunited with Frank Reich — who coached Wentz during his MVP-caliber season of 2017 —  but he’s also dealing with a preseason foot injury that could cost him some time during the regular season.

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10. Matt Ryan, QB, Falcons

  • Annual salary: $30 million

In each of the last 10 years, Matt Ryan has thrown for at least 4,000 passing yards. He has only missed one game during that span and led the Falcons to a Super Bowl appearance after winning the MVP in 2016. Now 36, Ryan will try to help the team bounce back after a 4-12 season, which tied the worst single-season record during his career as a starter.

11. Ryan Tannehill, QB, Titans

  • Annual salary: $29.5 million

Since escaping Adam Gase in Miami, Tannehill, 33, has posted an 18-8 regular-season record as a starter and has led the Titans to an AFC Championship Game berth. He also has a 55 to 13 TD-INT ratio. That helped him earn a four-year contract that pays him nearly $30 million annually.

12. Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, 49ers

  • Annual salary: $27.5 million

Garoppolo has been the primary starter in San Francisco for three seasons. In 2018, he got injured after three starts and was out for the year. In 2019, he was solid and led the 49ers to a Super Bowl appearance, though they lost to the Chiefs. In 2020, Garoppolo struggled with injuries against and played in just six games. Now 29, can Garoppolo regain his 2019 form? Or will he be pushed out of a starting role by the third overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, Trey Lance?

13. DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Cardinals

  • Annual salary: $27.3 million

Hopkins is the first non-quarterback on this list. He logged 1,407 receiving yards in his first season in Arizona while tying a career-high with 115 catches. The 29-year-old is still, clearly, one of the best receivers in the NFL. Think the Texans regret only receiving David Johnson and a second-round pick in exchange for Hopkins?

T-14. Matthew Stafford, QB, Rams

  • Annual salary: $27 million

Stafford spent the first…

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