Brady's lucrative salary may not rule the roost for much longer. Peyton Manning -- the Magic to Brady's Bird, the Frazier to his Ali -- reportedly began contract negotiations in earnest this week. His last contract, a seven-season, $98 million deal, made him the highest-paid quarterback at the time. Given promises by Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay that he would once again make Manning the highest-paid player in the league, a new contract will likely top the Patriots' deal. In the unlikely event the Colts can't reach an agreement and hit the QB with the franchise tag, his salary this year would top $23 million. And, if next year compares to the past season, Peyton can add another $15 million to his coffers via endorsement deals. Watching the proceedings very carefully is Drew Brees, QB for reigning Super Bowl champions the New Orleans Saints. Brees signed a six-year, $60 million deal with a $10 million signing bonus in 2006 and, reportedly, will be seeking an extension once Manning agrees to a deal and, with Brady, sets the new salary landscape for their position.
Remember your first job out of college and how meager those early paychecks were? Well, Sam Bradford doesn't. The QB for the Oklahoma Sooners (and Heisman Trophy winner) was the first pick overall in the offseason draft and, as part of a rebuilding effort by the St. Louis Rams, was tendered a six-year, $78 million contract. With incentives, the deal could reach $86 million. The best part for the young man: The contract includes a record-setting $50 million in guaranteed money. Not bad for someone reaping a payday before playing even a single down of professional football. If he hasn't already, Bradford might want to send along a "thank you" note to Detroit Lions QB Matthew Stafford. Stafford, a standout at the University of Georgia, was the prior draft's top pick, pulling together a six-year, $72 million deal, $41.7 million of which was guaranteed. With incentives, the contract could be worth as much as $78 million.
The other progeny of Hall of Famer Archie Manning, Peyton's little brother Eli, parlayed a Super Bowl MVP performance into a seven-year, $106.9 million contract that keeps him in the employ of the New York Giants through 2015. The 2009 deal included $35 million in guaranteed money and front-loaded $41 million over the first two years of the extension. At the time, Eli's average of $15.3 million per season was the highest in the league, edging out Peyton's average of $14.2 million since 2004 and setting the bar for Brady's new contract -- which, in turn, brings everything full circle when the Colts agree to a new deal for Peyton.
Numbers don't always tell the full story when it comes to player contracts. Earlier this season, QB Donovan McNabb and the Washington Redskins agreed to a five-year contract worth as much as $88.5 million if multiple incentives were met. Barring bonuses for playing every game and leading the team to a Super Bowl, the contract is at least $70 million, $40 million of which is guaranteed. The Redskins do have a convenient, and perhaps face-saving, escape clause. If they cut him this offseason -- something that would hardly be shocking, given his lackluster season -- McNabb walks away with only $3.75 million.
When it comes to professional sports contracts, the fine print can be crucial. Case in point: Nnamdi Asomugha, the now former cornerback for the Oakland Raiders. In 2009, Asomugha signed a three-year, $45.3 million contract with the team, which, at the time, made him the highest-paid defensive back ever. He was poised to earn $16.8 million this year. But the oft-injured player failed to meet various incentives this past season -- his grand total of sacks, interceptions and fumble recoveries was zero. Because the contract specified that the 2011 option was tied to these benchmarks, the deal was automatically voided without any decision needed, or possible, by the player or team. The question now, for all involved, is whether the suddenly free agent can command more or less on the open market with the looming uncertainty of the expiring collective bargaining agreement between owners and players.
Compared with the big bucks NFL quarterbacks pull in, Baltimore Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs' six-year, $63 million deal may not seem exorbitant. But the 2009 deal, with $38 million in guaranteed money, made the three-time pro-bowler the highest-paid in the league for his position. Drafted by the Ravens in the 2003 draft from Arizona State, his initial contract was a five-year deal that totaled roughly $10.1 million.
Nose tackle Albert Haynesworth, infamous for his violent head-stomping of helmetless Dallas center Andre Gurode as a member of the Tennessee Titans back in 2006, has prospered -- professionally and monetarily -- since that outburst. On the first day of free agency in 2009, he was lured to the Washington Redskins by a seven-year, $100 million deal. Included was $41 million in guaranteed money ($32 million due within the first 13 months) and performance incentives that could bring the final payout to $115 million.
Defensive end Julius Peppers, a hot commodity in the past offseason, landed with "Da Bears" after Chicago offered him a six-year $91.5 million deal. The contract includes $42 million guaranteed and $40.5 million to be paid out over the first three years of the contract. With met incentives, he could earn as much as $115 million. Peppers, drafted by the Carolina Panthers in 2002, was paid $18.2 million during his final season with the team and rejected a four-year, $54 million offer to stay. Other well-paid defensive players include tackle Ndamukong Suh of the Detroit Lions (a five-year deal worth more than $60 million, $40 million guaranteed) and Gerald McCoy, defensive tackle for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (five-years, $63 million, $35 million guaranteed).
The Denver Broncos' Pro Bowl linebacker, Elvis Dumervil, one of the league's top pass rushers, missed all of this season after sustaining a chest injury during a practice session. For the mile-high bean counters, the injury was even tougher to bear given that it came during the first year of a lucrative contract extension that will pay Dumervil $61.5 million ($43 million of it guaranteed) through 2015. -- Written by Joe Mont in Boston. >To contact the writer of this article, click here: Joe Mont. >To follow the writer on Twitter, go to http://twitter.com/josephmont. >To submit a news tip, send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.