Highest-Paid NFL Players in 2021: Base Salary, Total Cash, Cap Hit, & Dead Money

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Russell Wilson Salary
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Andrew Doughty @DoughtyBetMGM Nov 22, 2021, 3:00 PM

The Seattle Seahawks lost to the Arizona Cardinals in Week 17 of the 2012 season. In the 23-20 overtime loss, Seahawks’ quarterback Tarvaris Jackson went 21-for-35 for 222 yards, one touchdown and one interception in closing the season for one of the NFL’s most pass-challenged offenses.

On the same day, the Green Bay Packers defeated the Detroit Lions behind Matt Flynn’s monster day. The Packers’ backup quarterback, starting in place of Aaron Rodgers in a meaningless game after the Packers owned the NFC’s No. 1 seed, went 31-for-44 for 480 yards, six touchdowns, and one interception.

Two and a half months later, the Seahawks landed Flynn in free agency, signing him to a three-year, $20-million contract with $9 million guaranteed, including $8 million for his first season. He was paid nearly $1 million for each pass attempt that season, attempting only nine passes in three appearances as the backup to rookie third-round pick Russell Wilson, who earned $1,009,400 in the first year of a four-rookie deal while pushing the Seahawks to the top of Super Bowl odds.

Wilson earned a total of $1,188,651 over the next two years, during which Flynn was no longer on the team after an April 2013 trade to the Oakland Raiders. Since then, Wilson has earned more than $181 million over seven seasons, an average of nearly $26 million per year.

Eight years after Wilson was selected with the 75th pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, he has a cap hit of $32 million in 2021,  the most for any player. Wilson, however, per the structure of his four-year, $140-million deal signed in April 2019, has a base salary of just $19 million (fifth-highest in the NFL) and a total cash number of $19 million (35th). He also has a dead cap hit of $58 million (10th).

Here’s a look at the highest-paid NFL players for 2021 by base salary, total cash, cap hit, and dead money:

Base Salary

Four of the top five base salaries belong to quarterback, though none of the remaining top-10 base salaries do so. After Wilson at No. 5, there isn’t another quarterback until Carson Wentz at No. 13.

Top 10:

  1. Jimmy Garoppolo – $24.1 million
  2. Kirk Cousins – $21 million
  3. Amari Cooper – $20 million
  4. Derek Carr – $19.5 million
  5. Russell Wilson – $19 million
  6. Frank Clark – $18.5 million
  7. Brandon Scherff – $18 million
  8. Allen Robinson – $17.9 million
  9. DeMarcus Lawrence – $17 million
  10. Chris Godwin – $16 million

Total Cash

Dak Prescott is making twice as much total cash in 2021 as any other NFL player thanks to the 4-year, $160-million deal he signed in March. He’s the only NFL player above $40 million in total cash and the only quarterback above $30 million.

Top 10:

  1. Dak Prescott – $75 million
  2. T.J. Watt – $36.6 million
  3. Trent Williams – $32.3 million
  4. Jonathan Allen – $31.1 million
  5. Tom Brady – $27.5 million
  6. Leonard Williams – $26 million
  7. Jared Goff. -$25.7 million
  8. Jimmy Garoppolo – $25 million
  9. Trevor Lawrence – $24.8 million
  10. Ryan Tannehill. -$24.5 million

Cap Hit

Wilson leads six quarterbacks with the biggest cap hits this season, a group that includes Matt Ryan, whose base salary is just $2 million, tied for 284th-highest in the NFL.

Top 10:

  1. Russell Wilson – $32 million
  2. Kirk Cousins – $31 million
  3. Aaron Rodgers – $27.1 million
  4. Matt Ryan – $26.9 million
  5. Jimmy Garoppolo – $26.4 million
  6. Ben Roethlisberger – $25.9 million
  7. Frank Clark – $25.8 million
  8. DeMarcus Lawrence – $25 million
  9. Derek Carr – $22.1 million
  10. Amari Cooper – $22 million

Dead Money

Wilson is one of 16 players with at least $50 million in dead money during the 2021 season, a list that doesn’t include two players from the same team, though at $49.1 million David Bakhtiari is close to joining teammate Aaron Rodgers ($54.9 million).

Top 10:

  1. Josh Allen – $103.4 million
  2. Patrick Mahomes – $99.5 million
  3. Dak Prescott – $95 million
  4. T.J. Watt – $80.6 million
  5. Kirk Cousins – $76 million
  6. Ryan Tannehill -$68.5 million
  7. Matt Ryan – $67.4 million
  8. Deshaun Watson – $67.1 million
  9. Joey Bosa – $63 million
  10. Russell Wilson – $58 million

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About the Author

Andrew Doughty

Read More @DoughtyBetMGM

Andrew Doughty is a writer for BetMGM with a focus on college football, NFL, college basketball, and NASCAR. A graduate of the University of Kansas, he previously wrote for Sports Illustrated and HERO Sports.

Andrew Doughty is a writer for BetMGM with a focus on college football, NFL, college basketball, and NASCAR. A graduate of the University of Kansas, he previously wrote for Sports Illustrated and HERO Sports.