Tom Brady, quarterback for the New England Patriots, sets the benchmark for high-paid football players -- for now.
BOSTON ( TheStreet) -- Now that the field of 32 NFL teams has been whittled to two Super Bowl contenders, there will be a lot of very well compensated players left with plenty of time to spend their fortunes in nightclubs, restaurants, car dealerships and on golf courses. Quantifying the best-paid players, however, is not as straightforward as a no-huddle bootleg. There is the total contract package to consider, as well as guaranteed money, player incentives and year-to-year fluctuations. As such, what follows isn't so much a simple "top 10" list of player salaries as an overview of the various ways the league's best-paid players benefit from the largess of owners (even when compelled by the expectations of the fans). On a contractual level, Tom Brady, quarterback for the New England Patriots, sets the benchmark. Heading into the 2010 season, football fans in New England faced the unthinkable: the possibility Brady might swap uniforms. Publicly, he and team owner Bob Kraft assured the faithful that an extension would get done. But, as months dragged on, and talk of a possible lockout loomed, there was plenty of uneasiness. Would Brady sit out preseason workouts and games? Would bad blood start to erode the reputation of a team that owed its success to its "all for one, one for all" unity? In September, right before the official start of the season, the deal was finally announced. The Bieber-haired Mr. Bundchen can take some solace in his team's surprising exit from the playoffs by holding onto, at least for now, the highest average salary in the NFL. His four-year, $72 million extension averages out to $18 million per season beginning this year, a measurable boost from the relatively bargain price of $6.5 million paid out in the final year of his last contract. The salary structure easily tops other recent contracts by gunslingers such as San Diego's Phillip Rivers (who got a six-year, $92 million extension last year), the Dallas Cowboy's Tony Romo (who netted a six-year, $67.5 million contract extension, $30 million of which is guaranteed, and an $11.5 million signing bonus back in 2007) and Carson Palmer of the Cincinnati Bengals (six years, $118.8 million). Super Bowl-bound Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers signed a six-year, $65 million contract extension in 2008; his soon-to-be-opponent, Ben Roethlisberger, is working through an eight-year, $102 million contract, with $33.2 million guaranteed .