Last year only three NFL players were on Forbes’ annual list of the top 100 highest-paid athletes. Thanks, lockout.
The work stoppage meant that during the calendar year that Forbes uses to measure earnings (which is June to June, evidently), no major contracts were handed out, so it was only the truly elite money makers who still remained on the list. So smile, Tom Brady, because why the hell wouldn’t you be fixed with a permanent smile by now with your impenetrable money fortress and supermodel wife. Brady clung to his Forbes spot during the lockout, finishing highest among NFL players at 13th overall.
Thankfully, the sports world has now been restored to its rightful order in this year’s edition, with NFL players accounting for 30 percent of the 100 athletes featured, easily more than any other sport. Finishing highest was Peyton Manning at No. 10. His lofty placement is further proof that it isn’t necessary to actually play a meaningful second of your sport of choice to earn an obese salary. Manning didn’t take a snap during the 2011 season for the Colts, but Jim Irsay was still required to hand him $26.4 million.
Then when Manning was released he signed a five-year contract worth $96 million with the Broncos, which sounds far more absurd than it really is since only $18 million is guaranteed, and much of the money is hidden in health-based incentives. Still, Manning’s perch as not only the NFL’s leading earner but also the 10th best money maker in all of professional sports worldwide is impressive considering what he’s been through. His status as a well-established pop culture figure is what kept the Manning money machine flowing, as he earned $42.5 million over the past year, and $10 million of that came through endorsements.
Manning’s just ahead of Argentinean soccer sensation Lionel Messi, but then the next NFL name on the list at No. 12 overall is a little surprising: Haloti Ngata. While there’s certainly no disputing his talent after the Ravens defensive tackle had five sacks and 64 tackles during the 2011 season, he doesn’t play a sexy position that attracts advertisers and marketing opportunities.
That’s why he only made $200,000 in endorsements, but instead it was Ngata’s five-year deal worth $61 million he signed in September that pushed him into the top 15. While Manning reeled in his ad money by making the Manning face (a truly unmatched talent), Ngata was the highest-paid athlete in a team sport.
Ngata’s ranking is especially impressive since endorsements usually drive this list, and they’re in turn driven by whether or not your mother can identify the athlete in question. I doubt my mother knows the Ravens play football, so she’s a poor example.
The NFL landed three more names in the top 15: Larry Fitzgerald (No. 13, $36.8 million), Ndamukong Suh (No. 14, $36 million), and Charles Johnson (No. 15, $34.4 million).