The NFL's highest-paid players for the 2018 season

Because of the way NFL contracts are structured, there is no easy way to define "highest-paid players."

Is the player with the highest salary? Well, most top players get a huge chunk of their money in signing bonuses. Is it the highest average annual salary? Well, that considers the entire deal, and most players never see the end of their contracts. Is it who will be paid the most money this year? That would be biased towards players who signed new contracts this year because so much money is in the signing bonus.

Because of this, we have broken up the players by the highest-paid in different categories. Depending on which criteria you use, the answer to "highest-paid" can be entirely different.

Categories include: 

  • The 5 players who will be paid the most in 2018
  • The 5 largest base salaries
  • The 5 largest average-annual salaries
  • The 5 largest salary-cap hits
  • The 5 largest contracts
  • The 5 contracts with the most guaranteed money

Data via Spotrac and other sources.

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NFL's highest-paid players for the 2018 season
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NFL's highest-paid players for the 2018 season

The 5 players who will be paid the most in 2018

5. Alex Smith, Washington Redskins — $40.0 million

Position: Quarterback

Contract: 4 years, $94.0 million

One thing to know: With the Redskins signing of Smith to replace Kirk Cousins, the team's cap hit for their starting QB dropped from $24.0 million to a tad over $18 million. Still, with Smith's $27 million signing bonus, it means Washington has invested $84 million in their quarterback position the last three seasons.

(Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

4. Aaron Donald, Los Angeles Rams — $40.9 million

Position: Defensive end

Contract: 6 years, $135.0 million

One thing to knowWhen Donald signed his deal, he was the first non-quarterback in NFL history with an average annual salary of over $20 million.

(Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

3. Khalil Mack, Chicago Bears — $41.0 million

Position: Linebacker

Contract: 6 years, $141.0 million

One thing to know: Once Aaron Donald signed his new deal with the Los Angeles Rams, it was clear that Mack's days in Oakland were numbered. After he was traded to the Bears just before the start of the season, Mack's new contract makes him the highest-paid defensive players in NFL history.

(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

2. Jimmy Garoppolo, San Francisco 49ers — $42.6 million

Position: Quarterback

Contract: 5 years, $137.5 million

One thing to know: Garoppolo has two years to prove he is the real deal. If the gamble fails, the 49ers would have paid him more than $61 million for slightly more than two seasons and also given up a second-round pick.

(Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports)

1. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers — $66.9 million

Position: Quarterback

Contract: 4 years, $134.0 million

One thing to know: The $134 million is new money added on to the two years Rodgers had remaining on his previous contract. With bonuses, Rodgers could make as much as $180 million over the next six seasons.

(Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports)

The 5 largest base salaries

5. Calais Campbell, Jacksonville Jaguars — $15.0 million

Position: Defensive end

Contract: 4 years, $60.0 million

One thing to know: The 2018 free agent turned down his hometown Denver Broncos to sign with the Jaguars. According to Will Brinson, the Jags' offer was significantly higher.

(Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

4. Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks — $15.5 million

Position: Quarterback

Contract: 4 years, $87.6 million

One thing to know: It is probably not a coincidence that the Seahawks have started to struggle once Wilson's cap hits started to soar. In 2014, it was $800,000. In 2015, it was $7.1 million. This year, it tops $23.8 million.

(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

t2. DeMarcus Lawrence, Dallas Cowboys — $17.1 million

Position: Defensive end

Contract: 1 year, $17.1 million

One thing to know: Lawrence will play the 2018 season under the franchise tag but is hoping "break the bank" next season.

(Photo by Andrew Dieb/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

t2.Ezekiel Ansah, Detroit Lions — $17.1 million

Position: Defensive end

Contract: 1 year, $17.1 million

One thing to know: The Lions seemed content to let Ansah play the 2018 season under the franchise tag considering his recent injuries and age (29).

(Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

1. Kirk Cousins, Minnesota Vikings — $22.5 million

Position: Quarterback

Contract: 3 years, $84.0 million

One thing to knowCousins rejected a bigger offer from the New York Jets to sign with the Vikings. The Jets offered Cousins $90 million over three years.

(Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports)

The 5 largest average-annual salaries

5. Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions — $27.0 million

Position: Quarterback

Contract: 5 years, $135.0 million

One thing to knowStafford will be the seventh-highest-paid player in NFL history by the end of the season.

(Photo by Steven King/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

4. Jimmy Garoppolo, San Francisco 49ers — $27.5 million

Position: Quarterback

Contract: 5 years, $137.5 million

One thing to know: The 49ers went 5-0 after trading for Garoppolo and making him the starter late in the 2017 season. He had flashes of brilliance but also threw 5 interceptions to just 7 touchdowns against what was not the most difficult group of foes in the NFL.

(Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

3. Kirk Cousins, Washington Redskins — $28.0 million

Position: Quarterback

Contract: 3 years, $84.0 million

One thing to know: When Cousins agreed to his $84 million, fully guaranteed deal, he couldn't get anybody from his family on the phone to tell them the good news. So he called his AAA agent instead.

(Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports)

2. Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons — $30.0 million

Position: Quarterback

Contract: 5 years, $150.0 million

One thing to know: Ryan's deal includes $100 million guaranteed through the 2021 season, and he will be paid $74 million by the end of the 2019 season.

(REUTERS/Mike Segar)

1. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers — $33.5 million

Position: Quarterback

Contract: 4 years, $134.0 million

One thing to know: Rodgers still has a lot of football left and wants to follow in the footsteps of Tom Brady by playing well into his 40s.

(Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

The 5 largest salary-cap hits

5. Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts — $24.4 million

Position: Quarterback

Contract: 5 years, $123.0 million

One thing to know: Luck may be due for a new contract soon as his salary-cap numbers jump to $27.5 million in 2019 and $28.4 million in 2020.

(Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports)

4. Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens — $24.8 million

Position: Quarterback

Contract: 3 years, $66.4 million

One thing to know: In 2016, Flacco added three years onto the end of his 2013 contract, basically turning the original deal into a 9-year, $187 million contract.

(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

3. Derek Carr, Oakland Raiders — $25.0 million

Position: Quarterback

Contract: 5 years, $125.0 million

One thing to know: Carr's cap hits actually go down and hover around $22 million over the next three years. That is less than the cap hits for Khalil Mack with the Bears, which will grow to $24 million over the next three seasons.

(Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)

2. Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions — $26.5 million

Position: Quarterback

Contract: 5 years, $135.0 million

One thing to knowStafford has proven to be one of the luckiest players in the NFL. He was one of the final No. 1-overall picks to be chosen before the new rookie salary scale, signing a $72 million contract before he played in a single game. Because of his large salary-cap hits under that deal, the Lions were forced to offer him an extension before the deal was over to ease their salary-cap situation.

(Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports)

1. Jimmy Garoppolo, San Francisco 49ers — $37.0 million

Position: Quarterback

Contract: 5 years, $137.5 million

One thing to know: Garoppolo is being paid like one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL despite having started just seven games in his career.

(Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports)

The 5 largest contracts

t4. Aaron Donald, Los Angeles Rams — $135.0 million

Position: Defensive end

Contract: 6 years, $135.0 million

One thing to know: Donald's contract is one of several big deals the Rams have handed out recently, as they take a similar path as the one that led the Seattle Seahawks to the Super Bowl— go all in on players around a young quarterback on a cheap contract.

(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

t4. Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions — $135.0 million

Position: Quarterback

Contract: 5 years, $135.0 million

One thing to know: If Stafford plays out his latest contract, his career earnings will grow to $262.3 million by 2022 when he will be just 34 years old. Tom Brady has made $217.2 million in his career.

(Photo by Jorge Lemus/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

3. Jimmy Garoppolo, San Francisco 49ers — $137.5 million

Position: Quarterback

Contract: 5 years, $137.5 million

One thing to know: Garoppolo is further evidence that one of the best positions to be in as an NFL player is a young, unproven backup with potential, sitting behind an elite starting QB. When that player's rookie deal is up, the original team is not going to overpay for a backup, but other teams will overpay for potential and make the player their starter despite a limited resume. Just ask Brock Osweiler.

(Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

2. Khalil Mack, Chicago Bears — $141.0 million

Position: Linebacker

Contract: 6 years, $141.0 million

One thing to know: Khalil Mack was traded to the Bears, in large part, because the Raiders felt they couldn't afford his market value at the same time they were paying Derek Carr $125 million. At the end of the day, the Raiders chose an above-average quarterback over one of the best defenders in the game.

(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

1. Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons — $150.0 million

Position: Quarterback

Contract: 5 years, $150.0 million

One thing to know: Ryan's contract is the largest in NFL history. Unlike many large contracts that are not nearly as big as they seem, the Falcons are essentially committed to Ryan for $118 million over the next four seasons.

(Photo by Todd Kirkland/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The 5 contracts with the most guaranteed money

5. Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts — $87.0 million

Position: Quarterback

Contract: 5 years, $123.0 million

One thing to know: The Colts paid Luck $57 million over the past two seasons, the first two of his 5-year contract. He played in 15 games during that time and the team went 12-20 overall.

(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

4. Khalil Mack, Chicago Bears — $90.0 million

Position: Linebacker

Contract: 6 years, $141.0 million

One thing to know: Mack's contract, along with Aaron Donald's deal, resets the market for defensive players. While salaries for quarterbacks had skyrocketed in recent years, defensive players had fallen behind.

(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

3. Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions — $92.0 million

Position: Quarterback

Contract: 5 years, $135.0 million

One thing to know: The Lions have gone 60-65 with Stafford as the starter.

(Photo by Jorge Lemus/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

2. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers — $98.7 million

Position: Quarterback

Contract: 4 years, $134.0 million

One thing to know: The Packers will pay Rodgers approximately $80 million over the first eight months of his new contract.

(Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

1. Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons — $100.0 million

Position: Quarterback

Contract: 5 years, $150.0 million

One thing to know: The $100 million is the largest guarantee in NFL history.

(Photo by Todd Kirkland/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

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