"...Must be the money." - Deion Luwynn Sanders circa 1994.
Prime Time was onto something when he waxed poetically about how his All-Pro play on the gridiron led to the ultimate life of luxury. Nearly 25 years later, NFL contracts are constantly breaking records. In the offseason, it seems like every few months there's a new highest-paid player. Kirk Cousins was the cash king for less than two months before he was dethroned by Matt Ryan and his mega-deal.
These figures are based on each player's average salary.
Accolades: 4x Pro Bowler, 2016 NFL MVP, 1x First-Team All-Pro
Earlier this month, Matt Ryan took Kirk Cousin's place as the highest-paid player in the NFL. The veteran quarterback, who led the Falcons to Super Bowl LI in 2016, signed a five-year, $150 million contract extension with $100 million guaranteed. Ryan had the best season of his career during his 2016 MVP campaign where he threw for 4,944 and 38 touchdowns while only giving up 7 interceptions. Ryan regressed a bit in 2017, throwing 20 TDs and 12 INTs in 2017. He was still able to lead the Falcons to a 10-6 record and Wild Card playoff win before losing to the Eagles in the Divisional Round.
Accolades: 3x Pro Bowler, 2x First-Team All-Pro
Le'Veon Bell's contract issues with the Steelers have been going on for a couple years now. In short, Bell wants to be paid like the dual-threat that he is. Bell is officially listed as a running back and he's one of the best in the league, racking up 1,291 rushing yards and 9 rushing TDs in 2017. However, he's also one of the league's receiving leaders -- the 26-year-old hauled in 85 receptions (10th most in the league) in 2017.
The Steelers franchise-tagged Bell for $12.1 million in February 2017. Bell was reportedly offered a five-year deal, worth $12 million annually, but the RB turned it down. He held out for the 2017 preseason, but played in Week 1 and went onto have an All-Pro year. The Steelers franchised-tagged the three-time Pro Bowler for the second consecutive year this offseason. Bell has continued to be vocal about wanting a long-term deal that offers security and pays him for his unique versatility.
Accolades: 6x Pro Bowler, 4x First-Team All-Pro, 2017 Receiving Yards Leader
Business has been boomin' for Antonio Brown. In February 2017, AB signed a new five-year, $68 million contract with a $19 million signing bonus. Brown has been worth every penny, making four-consecutive first-team All-Pro teams. The 29-year-old was a legit MVP candidate in 2017, some had him as the frontrunner before he went down with a calf injury in Week 15. Brown has established himself as the best WR in the league and the only wideout with a legit shot at catching the G.O.A.T. one day.
Accolades: 5x Pro Bowler, 1x First-Team All-Pro
Jimmy Graham has had the luxury of playing for elite QBs throughout his career. He started out hauling in passes from Drew Brees, then Russell Wilson, and next season he'll catch passes thrown by Aaron Rodgers. Graham signed a three-year, $30 million contract with the Packers in March. Graham has earned his money by making his QB's job easier -- the 31-year-old has made the Pro Bowl in five of his eight seasons in the NFL and led the league in receiving TDs (16) in 2013.
Accolades: 1x Pro Bowler
Ezekiel Ansah is another member of the franchise tag club. The 28-year-old had a monster season in 2015, posting a career-high in sacks (14.5) and making that year's Pro Bowl team. However, the edge rusher struggled with injuries and had a career-low in sacks (2) in 2016. Ansah bounced back with 12 sacks last year including back-to-back three-sack games at the end of the season. The Lions opted to franchise tag him in February. If he develops consistency and remains healthy, he could be in for a big long term contract next year.
Accolades: 6x Pro Bowler, 3x First-Team All-Pro, 2011 Defensive Rookie of the Year, Super Bowl 50 champion and MVP
Accolades: 1x Pro Bowler, 1x First-Team All-Pro
The 2015 season was a breakout one for Josh Norman and the Carolina Panthers. The Panthers won a franchise-record 15 games and their star CB had a career-high four INTs and two TDs. The season reached its apex when the Panthers trounced the the Cardinals 49-15 in the NFC Championship. However, a couple months after a losing to the Broncos in Super Bowl 50, Norman became a free agent and signed a five-year, $75 million contract with Washington.
Fletcher Cox was one of the vets in the Eagles locker room that helped Philly reach the promise land in 2017. Cox has been with the Eagles his whole career and is a constant presence in their defense -- playing in 93 out of 96 games over the course of his six-year career. The three-time Pro Bowler racked up a career-high 50 tackles -- including 9.5 sacks -- in 2015. The following offseason, Philly rewarded him with a six-year, $102.6 million extension.
Who says kickers don't get paid? Veteran K Stephen Gostkowski signed a four-year, $17.2 million contract in July 2015. The deal made him the highest-paid kicker in the NFL. Gostkowski entered the league with big shoes to fill, the Patriots drafted him in 2006 to replace Adam Vinatieri. Gostkowski has held his own, setting an NFL record for consecutive extra points made (523) and helping the Patriots add two more Lombardis (XLIX and LI) to their trophy case.