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The Patriots passed their biggest test of the season, and now the NFL should be scared

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Deflategate is over, and Tom Brady is back with the New England Patriots.

And for the rest of the NFL, that means trouble.

Much was made about how the Patriots would fare while Brady served his four-game suspension. The idea of staying afloat was frequently mentioned — perhaps the Patriots could go 2-2 and have Brady return to a .500 team still very much in the mix.

Instead, Brady is returning to a 3-1 team that won its first three games before, surprisingly, being shut out and looking utterly flat against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday.

SEE MORE: National Fail League: A look at the worst of Week 4 in the NFL

Though the Bills won Week 4 decisively, they were also playing a Patriots team being helmed by a third-string, rookie quarterback (Jacoby Brissett) playing through a thumb injury that some thought would need surgery.

A Week-4 flop aside, the Patriots look like the best team in football. Even in a week where they couldn't get any offense going against the Bills, their defense gave up just 16 points, allowing only three in the second half. This comes one week after they shut out the Texans. Through four weeks, the Patriots have allowed the fourth-fewest points in the NFL, and they just got defensive end Robert Ninkovich back from suspension this week.

However, it's the offense that stands to see the most improvement, and with Brady at the helm, it should be among the NFL's best. Through four weeks, the Patriots have scored 81 points (including their shutout via Buffalo) and are still ahead of 13 other teams. Through three weeks, they ranked 11th in offensive DVOA (a metric that measures the overall efficiency of a team or player), despite Brissett playing 10 quarters to Jimmy Garroppolo's six, and without a fully healthy Rob Gronkowski, who has just one catch on the year.

68 PHOTOS
Tom Brady through the years
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Tom Brady through the years
FOXBORO, UNITED STATES: The New England Patriots' quarterback Tom Brady passes against the Indianapolis Colts in the first quarter of their game at Foxboro Stadium 30 September 2001 in Foxboro, MA. AFP PHOTO/John MOTTERN (Photo credit should read JOHN MOTTERN/AFP/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, UNITED STATES: New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady reacts in pain on the bench after being knocked out of the game with a leg injury in the second quarter of the AFC Championship game 27 January, 2002 at Heinz Stadium in Pittsburgh, PA. The winner will face either the St. Louis Rams or the Philadelphia Eagles in the Super Bowl. AFP PHOTO/Timothy A. CLARY (Photo credit should read TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)
FOXBORO, UNITED STATES: New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (C) takes a hit from Charles Woodson (R) of the Oakland Raiders on a pass attempt in the last two minutes of the game in their AFC playoff 19 January 2002 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. The Patriots won 16-13 in overtime. AFP PHOTO/Matt CAMPBELL (Photo credit should read MATT CAMPBELL/AFP/Getty Images)
FOXBORO, UNITED STATES: New England Patriots Quarterback Tom Brady shows frustration after failing to make a two point conversion in the 4th quarter against the Denver Broncos at Gillette Stadium 27 October,2002 in Foxboro, MA. AFP PHOTO/JOHN MOTTERN (Photo credit should read JOHN MOTTERN/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS, UNITED STATES: New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady pitches the ball to a back during first half action of Super Bowl XXXVI 03 February, 2002 in New Orleans, Louisiana. The St. Louis Rams and the New England Patriots are playing for the NFL championship. AFP PHOTO/Tom SLOAN (Photo credit should read TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS, UNITED STATES: AFC Champions New England Patriots players (L to R) Ty Law, Troy Brown, Lawyer Milloy, and Tom Brady strike a pose for photographers during the team's photo and interview day 29 January 2002 at the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans. The Patriots will take on the NFC Champions St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI on 03 February. AFP PHOTO/Roberto SCHMIDT (Photo credit should read ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP/Getty Images)
Tom Brady received Best Breakthrough Athlete at ESPN's 10th Annual Espy Awards at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood, Ca. Wednesday, July 10, 2002. Photo by Kevin Winter/ImageDirect
HOUSTON, TX - FEBRUARY 1: Quarterback Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots celebrates after defeating the Carolina Panthers 32-29 during Super Bowl XXXVIII at Reliant Stadium on February 1, 2004 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TX - FEBRUARY 1: Quarterback Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots looks on before Super Bowl XXXVIII against the Carolina Panthers at Reliant Stadium on February 1, 2004 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
HOUSTON - FEBRUARY 1: Quarterback Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots looks to toss the ball to a running back against the Carolina Panthers during Super Bowl XXXVIII at Reliant Stadium on February 1, 2004 in Houston, Texas. The Patriots defeated the Panthers 32-29. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
FOXBORO, MA - SEPTEMBER 9: Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots throws a pass against the Indianapolis Colts during the NFL game at Gillette Stadium on September 9, 2004 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 16: Quarterback Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots spikes the ball after scoring a touchdown against the Indianapolis Colts during the AFC divisional playoff game at Gillette Stadium on January 16, 2005 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Tom Brady of The New England Patriots speaks with the media during media day at Alltel Stadium in Jacksonville, Florida on February 1, 2005. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
JACKSONVILLE, FLORIDA - FEBRUARY 06: Quarterback Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots celebrates with the Lombardi trophy after defeating the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX at Alltel Stadium on February 6, 2005 in Jacksonville, Florida. The Patriots defeated the Eagles 24-21. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH - JANUARY 23: Quarterback Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots celebrates victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers with the Lamar Hunt Trohpy in the AFC championship game at Heinz Field on January 23, 2005 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Patriots defeated the Steelers 41-27 to advance to the Super Bowl. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
DENVER - OCTOBER 16: Quarterback Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots heads for the bench after a failed offensive drive against the Denver Broncos as the Broncos defeated the Patriots 28-20 at Invesco Field at Mile High on October 16, 2005 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
FOXBORO, MA - SEPTEMBER 8: Quarterback Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots runs off the field after winning the 2005 NFL opening game against the Oakland Raiders at Gillette Stadium on September 8, 2005 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. The Patriots defeated the Raiders 30-20. (Photo by Travis Lindquist/Getty Images)
FOXBOROUGH, MA - OCTOBER 30: Quarterbacks Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots and Kelly Holcomb #10 of the Buffalo Bills shake hands after their game on October 30, 2005 at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - DECEMBER 29: Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots points out the defense against the New York Giants on December 29, 2007 at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - DECEMBER 29: Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots celebrates with Richard Seymour #93 after defeating the New York Giants to go undefeated for the season on December 29, 2007 at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
GLENDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 03: Quarterback Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots stretches before taking on the New York Giants during Super Bowl XLII on February 3, 2008 at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
GLENDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 03: Quarterback Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots is hit as he throws by defensive tackle Barry Cofield #96 and Osi Umenyiora #72 of the New York Giants in the first half during Super Bowl XLII on February 3, 2008 at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
GLENDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 03: Quarterback Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots is hit hard by Michael Strahan #92 of the New York Giants in the second quarter during Super Bowl XLII on February 3, 2008 at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)
GLENDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 03: Quarterback Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots takes the field for the second half of Super Bowl XLII against the New York Giants on February 3, 2008 at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
GLENDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 03: Quarterback Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots walks on the field in the second quarter of Super Bowl XLII against the New York Giants on February 3, 2008 at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
FOXBORO, MA - SEPTEMBER 7: Quarterback Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots is helped off the field by trainers after he sustained an injury to his left knee in the first quarter against the Kansas City Chiefs at Gillette Stadium September 7, 2008 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
FOXBORO, MA - OCTOBER 18: Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots congratulates Wes Welker #83 after Welker ran the ball in for a touchdown in the second quarter against the Tennessee Titans on October 18, 2009 at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts. BenJarvis Green-Ellis #42 of the Patriots celebrates the play. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 25: Tom Brady (#12) of the New England Patriots directs the play during the NFL International Series match between New England Patriots and Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Wembley Stadium on October 25, 2009 in London, England. This is the third occasion where a regular season NFL match has been played in London. (Photo by Tom Shaw/Getty Images)
DENVER - OCTOBER 11: Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots passes against the Denver Broncos during an NFL game at Invesco Field at Mile High on October 11, 2009 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 20: Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots sits on the ground after getting knocked down in the fourth quarter against the Baltimore Ravens during the 2013 AFC Championship game at Gillette Stadium on January 20, 2013 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
FOXBORO, MA - SEPTEMBER 12: Quarterback Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots reacts after an incomplete pass in the second quarter while taking on the New York Jets at Gillette Stadium on September 12, 2013 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
FOXBORO, MA - SEPTEMBER 12: Quarterback Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots screams during pregame before taking on the New York Jets at Gillette Stadium on September 12, 2013 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
FOXBORO, MA - SEPTEMBER 12: Quarterback Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots calls out from under center in the first half while taking on the New York Jets at Gillette Stadium on September 12, 2013 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
FOXBORO, MA - AUGUST 29: Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots talks to Eli Manning #10 of the New York Giants following their preseason game at Gillette Stadium on August 29, 2013 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
FOXBORO, MA - OCTOBER 13: Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots talks with Darren Sproles #43 of the New Orleans Saints after the game at Gillette Stadium on October 13, 2013 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.The New England Patriots defeated the New Orleans Saints 30-27. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
FOXBORO, MA - OCTOBER 13: Head coach Sean Payton of the New Orleans Saints shakes hands with quarterback Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots following the Patriots 30-27 win at Gillette Stadium on October 13, 2013 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
CHARLOTTE, NC - NOVEMBER 18: Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots during their game at Bank of America Stadium on November 18, 2013 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
MIAMI GARDENS, FL - DECEMBER 15: Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots looks on during a game against the Miami Dolphins at Sun Life Stadium on December 15, 2013 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
MIAMI GARDENS, FL - DECEMBER 15: Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots warms up during a game against the Miami Dolphins at Sun Life Stadium on December 15, 2013 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
FOXBORO, MA - DECEMBER 8: Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots celebrates the game-winning touchdown with Julian Edelman #11 in the 4th quarter at Gillette Stadium on December 8, 2013 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
BALTIMORE, MD - DECEMBER 22: Quarterback Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots celebrates a second half touchdown against the Baltimore Ravens during the Patriots 41-7 win at M&T Bank Stadium on December 22, 2013 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
DENVER, CO - JANUARY 19: Tom Brady #12 talks to Shane Vereen #34 of the New England Patriots on a foutrh down in the fourth quarter during the AFC Championship game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on January 19, 2014 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 11: Tom Brady (R) #12 of the New England Patriots shakes hands with Andrew Luck (L) #12 of the Indianapolis Colts after their AFC Divisional Playoff game at Gillette Stadium on January 11, 2014 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. The New England Patriots defeated the Indianapolis Colts 43 to 22. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 11: Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots runs off the field after defeating the Indianapolis Colts in their AFC Divisional Playoff game at Gillette Stadium on January 11, 2014 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. The New England Patriots defeated the Indianapolis Colts 43 to 22. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
DENVER, CO - JANUARY 19: Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots congratulates Peyton Manning #18 of the Denver Broncos after the Broncos defeated the Patriots 26 to 16 during the AFC Championship game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on January 19, 2014 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
MIAMI GARDENS, FL - SEPTEMBER 07: Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots walks offsides the field in the first quarter of play against the Miami Dolphins in a game at Sun Life Stadium on September 7, 2014 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
MIAMI GARDENS, FL - SEPTEMBER 07: Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots stands on the sideline during pregame workouts before his team met the Miami Dolphins at Sun Life Stadium on September 7, 2014 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
FOXBORO, MA - OCTOBER 26: Jimmy Garoppolo #10 and Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots warm up before a game against the Chicago Bears at Gillette Stadium on October 26, 2014 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
FOXBORO, MA - OCTOBER 16: Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots reacts after throwing a touchdown pass during the fourth quarter against the New York Jets at Gillette Stadium on October 16, 2014 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - NOVEMBER 16: Quarterback Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots signals a first down against the Indianapolis Colts during the third quarter of the game at Lucas Oil Stadium on November 16, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
SAN DIEGO, CA - DECEMBER 07: Quarterback Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots warms up before a game against the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium on December 7, 2014 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images)
FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 10: Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots warms up before the 2014 AFC Divisional Playoffs game against the Baltimore Ravens at Gillette Stadium on January 10, 2015 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 10: Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots is sacked during the second quarter of the 2014 AFC Divisional Playoffs game against the Baltimore Ravens at Gillette Stadium on January 10, 2015 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 22: New England Patriots Quarterback Tom Brady talks to the media during a press conference to address the under inflation of footballs used in the AFC championship game at Gillette Stadium on January 22, 2015 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
GLENDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 01: Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots walks off the field after throwing an interception against the Seattle Seahawks in the first quarter during Super Bowl XLIX at University of Phoenix Stadium on February 1, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
GLENDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 01: Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots celebrates after a touchdown against the Seattle Seahawks in the second quarter during Super Bowl XLIX at University of Phoenix Stadium on February 1, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
GLENDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 01: Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots celebrates after a touchdown against the Seattle Seahawks in the second quarter during Super Bowl XLIX at University of Phoenix Stadium on February 1, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
GLENDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 01: Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots walks off the field while playing the Seattle Seahawks in the third quarter during Super Bowl XLIX at University of Phoenix Stadium on February 1, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
GLENDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 01: Tom Brady #12 and Julian Edelman #11 of the New England Patriots celebrate after a three yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter against the Seattle Seahawks during Super Bowl XLIX at University of Phoenix Stadium on February 1, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
GLENDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 01: Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots celebrates after defeating the Seattle Seahawks during Super Bowl XLIX at University of Phoenix Stadium on February 1, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona. The Patriots defeated the Seahawks 28-24. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
GLENDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 01: Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots celebrates after defeating the Seattle Seahawks during Super Bowl XLIX at University of Phoenix Stadium on February 1, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona. The Patriots defeated the Seahawks 28-24. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
GLENDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 01: Rob Gronkowski #87 (L) and Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots celebrate while holding up the Vince Lombardi Trophy after defeating the Seattle Seahawks during Super Bowl XLIX at University of Phoenix Stadium on February 1, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona. The Patriots defeated the Seahawks 28-24. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
GLENDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 01: Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots celebrates with Mark Wahlberg after defeating the Seattle Seahawks 28-24 to win Super Bowl XLIX at University of Phoenix Stadium on February 1, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
GLENDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 01: Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots celebrates after defeating the Seattle Seahawks 28-24 to win Super Bowl XLIX at University of Phoenix Stadium on February 1, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
GLENDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 01: Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots celebrates with team owner Robert Kraft after defeating the Seattle Seahawks 28-24 during Super Bowl XLIX at University of Phoenix Stadium on February 1, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
GLENDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 01: Russell Wilson #3 of the Seattle Seahawks congratulates Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots after the Patriots 28-24 win during Super Bowl XLIX at University of Phoenix Stadium on February 1, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - FEBRUARY 4: Benjamin Brady (L) holds the Lombardi trophy next to his dad, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, on a duck boat during the New England Patriots victory parade on February 4, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Scott Eisen/Getty Images)
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Brady's presence should not only help the Patriots' deep receiving corps including Gronkowski, Julian Edelman, Martellus Bennett, Danny Amendola, and Chris Hogan, but it should help the run game, too. Without Brady, running back LeGarrette Blount has still managed 352 yards, third most in the NFL, and four touchdowns. With an activated pass game, Blount should see his four-yards-per-attempt rise.

The Patriots may also welcome back running back Dion Lewis in two weeks when he can come off the PUP (physically unable to perform) list. Last season, Lewis was a revelation, totaling 622 yards and four touchdowns in seven games last year before tearing his ACL.

Last year's Patriots began the season 10-0 before injuries began taking their toll, most notably to offensive lineman Nate Solder, Lewis, Edelman, and Gronkowski. They finished the season 12-4, eventually losing to the Broncos in the AFC Championship.

This year's Patriots team already looks just as good and is slowly coming together, which is a scary sign for the rest of the NFL.

HIGHEST-PAID NFL PLAYERS:

33 PHOTOS
The highest-paid player on all 32 NFL teams 2016
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The highest-paid player on all 32 NFL teams 2016

32. Joe Haden, Cleveland Browns — $10,200,000

Position: Cornerback

2016 earnings breakdown: $10.1 million salary and $100,000 workout bonus.

One thing to know: The Browns have not had a player making more than $11 million in a season since 2013.

(Photo by Nick Cammett/Diamond Images/Getty Images)

31. Jack Conklin, Tennessee Titans — $10,211,933

Position: Right tackle

2016 earnings breakdown: $450,000 salary and a $9.8 million signing bonus.

One thing to know: Conklin, a rookie, is the only player on the roster making more than $7.5 million this season. 

(Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

30. Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals — $10,700,000

Position: Quarterback

2016 earnings breakdown: $10.5 million salary and a $200,000 workout bonus.

One thing to know: Dalton will not make more than $13.7 million in a season until 2019 when his earnings will jump to $16.0 million.

(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

29. Gerald McCoy, Tampa Bay Buccaneers — $12,500,000

Position: Defensive tackle

2016 earnings breakdown: $6.0 million salary and $6.5 million roster bonus.

One thing to know: The last time McCoy was not the highest-paid player on the Bucs was 2013 when the honor went to Darelle Revis.

(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

28. Richard Sherman, Seattle Seahawks — $12,569,000

Position: Cornerback

2016 earnings breakdown: $12.6 million salary

One thing to know: Russell Wilson is a close second at $12.3 million.

(Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

27. Kelechi Osemele, Oakland Raiders — $13,200,000

Position: Guard

2016 earnings breakdown: $6.7 million salary and $6.5 million in bonuses.

One thing to know: Osemele signed a 5-year, $58.5 million contract with the Raiders as a free agent this past offseason. His earnings will drop next season to $6.7 million.

(Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

26. Ndamukong Suh, Miami Dolphins — $13,500,000

Position: Defensive tackle

2016 earnings breakdown: $3.5 million salary, $10.0 million signing.

One thing to know: Suh takes up just $12.6 million of the team's salary cap space this season. However, that number jumps to $19.1 million next season and $26.1 million the year after. It is more likely that he will restructure his contract before then.

(Photo by Ron Elkman/Sports Imagery/ Getty Images)

25. Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers — $14,300,000

Position: Quarterback

2016 earnings breakdown: $11.9 million salary and $2.4 million in bonuses.

One thing to know: Kaepernick has not started a game since Week 8 of the 2015 season.

(Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

24. Harrison Smith, Minnesota Vikings — $15,278,000

Position: Free safety

2016 earnings breakdown: $5.3 million salary and $10.0 million signing bonus.

One thing to know: Adrian Peterson, who will miss most of the season with a knee injury is second on the list at $12.0 million.

(Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

23. Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons — $15,750,000

Position: Quarterback

2016 earnings breakdown: $15.75 million salary

One thing to know: Ryan is in the third year of his five-year, $104 million extension. His $23.8 million salary cap figure will remain the same next year, before falling to $21.7 million in the final year of the deal.

(Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)

22. Jay Cutler, Chicago Bears — $16,000,000

Position: Quarterback

2016 earnings breakdown: $16.0 million salary

One thing to know: At one point, Cutler's 7-year, $126.7 million contract was named the worst quarterback contract in the NFL.

(Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

21. David Bakhtiari, Green Bay Packers — $16,757,117

Position: Left tackle

2016 earnings breakdown: $757,117 salary, $15.0 million signing bonus, and $1.0 million roster bonus.

One thing to know: Aaron Rodgers, at $12.6 million, is the only other player on the roster making at least $10 million this season.

(Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images)

20. Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys — $16,800,066

Position: Running Back

2016 earnings breakdown: $450,000 salary, $16.4 million signing bonus 

One thing to know: Only seven running backs have larger contracts than the 4-year, $25.0 million rookie contract Elliot signed after being drafted fourth overall in this year's draft.

(Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

19. Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions — $17,000,000

Position: Quarterback

2016 earnings breakdown: $17.0 million salary

One thing to know: Stafford has thrown 22 touchdowns and just 2 interceptions under new offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter.

(Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

18. Malik Jackson, Jacksonville Jaguars — $18,000,000

Position: Defensive Tackle

2016 earnings breakdown: $8.0 million salary, $10.0 million signing bonus

One thing to know: Jackson just sneaks into the list this year with a $10.0 million signing bonus. His total earnings in Year 2 of his 6-year, $85.5 million contract will fall to $13.5 million.

(Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

17. David DeCastro, Pittsburgh Steelers — $18,100,000

Position: Guard

2016 earnings breakdown: $2.1 million salary, $16.0 million bonus

One thing to know: DeCastro was originally scheduled to make $8.1 million this season, the final year of his rookie contract. Instead he signed a 5-year, $50 million contract extension, just three months after responding to a question about his future by saying, "I’m making a lot of money this year. What am I worried about?"

(Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images)

16. Jared Goff, Los Angeles Rams — $18,968,308

Position: Quarterback

2016 earnings breakdown: $450,000 salary, $18.5 million signing bonus

One thing to know: The gave up six draft picks for the right to draft Goff, including their first-round pick next season. Based on how the Rams played in Week 1, that could be a top-3 pick

(Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images)

15. Cordy Glenn, Buffalo Bills — $19,000,000

Position: Left Tackle

2016 earnings breakdown: $3.0 million salary, $16.0 million bonus

One thing to know: Glenn makes the list this year thanks to his new $60.0 million contract and $16.0 million signing bonus. His total earnings next year will fall to $11.0 million.

(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

14. Kirk Cousins, Washington Redskins — $19,953,000

Position: Quarterback

2016 earnings breakdown: $19.95 million salary

One thing to know: Cousins received the franchise tag from the Redskins, giving him a 1-year, $19.95 million contract with no bonuses. That base salary is the largest in the NFL this season.  If he receives the franchise tag again next year, his salary is expected to jump to something in the neighborhood of $24.0 million.

(Photo by Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

13. Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers — $20,000,000

Position: Quarterback

2016 earnings breakdown: $13.0 million salary, $7.0 million signing bonus

One thing to know: Newton's $103.8 million contract and $60 million guaranteed both rank sixth among quarterbacks. 

(Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

12. Carson Palmer, Arizona Cardinals — $20,250,000

Position: Quarterback

2016 earnings breakdown: $7.2 million salary, $6.8 million signing bonus, $6.4 million roster bonus

One thing to know: Palmer's $158.4 million in career earnings ranks fifth among active players.

(Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

11. Brock Osweiler, Houston Texans — $21,000,000

Position: Quarterback

2016 earnings breakdown: $4.0 million salary, $12.0 million signing bonus, $5.0 million roster bonus

One thing to know: Osweiler had started just seven games in his four-year career before signing a 4-year, $72.0 million contract as a free agent with the Houston Texans.

(Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)

9t. Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers — $22,000,000

Position: Quarterback

2016 earnings breakdown: $10.5 million salary, $5.5 million signing bonus, and $6.0 million in other bonuses.

One thing to know: Rivers has already made $173.9 million in his career and still has $45.0 million left on his 4-year, $83.3 million contract.

(Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

9t. Muhammad Wilkerson, New York Jets — $22,000,000

Position: Defensive End

2016 earnings breakdown: $7.0 million salary, $15.0 million bonus

One thing to know: Wilkerson's $86.0 million contract is second only to J.J. Watt among defensive ends. 

(Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

8. Justin Houston, Kansas City Chiefs — $23,500,000

Position: Outside Linebacker

2016 earnings breakdown: $7.4 million salary, $8.5 million signing bonus. and $7.6 million in other bonuses.

One thing to know: In a perfect example of how quickly large contracts change, Houston signed a 6-year, $101.0 million contract prior to the 2015 season and then had that deal restructured prior to the 2016 season. 

(Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)

7. Von Miller, Denver Broncos — $25,100,000

Position: Outside Linebacker

2016 earnings breakdown: $2.0 million salary, $17.0 million signing bonus, and $6.1 million other bonuses.

One thing to know: Miller signed a 6-year, $114.5 million contract just months after being named the Super Bowl MVP. The total value surpasses Ndamukong Suh's deal as the largest among defensive players.

(Photo by Joe Amon/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

6. Fletcher Cox, Philadelphia Eagles — $27,299,000

Position: Defensive Tackle

2016 earnings breakdown: $1.3 million salary, $26.0 million signing bonus

One thing to know: Cox makes this list thanks to his huge $26.0 million signing bonus. Next year, his earnings drop to $4.2 million, before going back up to $12.7 million in 2018. With his contract counting $22.0 million against the cap in 2019, look for Cox to rework his contract in the next two years.

(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

5. Tom Brady, New England Patriots — $28,764,705

Position: Quarterback

2016 earnings breakdown: $764,705 salary, $28.0 million signing bonus

One thing to know: Brady has said that he wants to play until he is 45 (through the 2022 season) and that he wants to play 10 more seasons (through the 2025 season).

(Photo by Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

3t. Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens — $29,000,000

Position: Quarterback

2016 earnings breakdown: $4.0 million salary, $25.0 million signing bonus

One thing to know: Flacco restructured his last contract, basically turning his 2013 contract into a nine-year, $187 million deal with six years remaining.

(Photo by Nick Cammett/Diamond Images/Getty Images)

3t. Olivier Vernon, New York Giants — $29,000,000

Position: Defensive End

2016 earnings breakdown: $1.8 million salary, $20.0 million signing bonus, and 7.3 million in other bonuses.

One thing to know: Vernon's $20 million signing bonus was the second-largest among defensive players, behind only Fletcher Cox's $26.0 million signing bonus.

(Photo by Rich Barnes/Getty Images)

2. Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts — $30,000,000

Position: Quarterback

2016 earnings breakdown: $12.0 million salary, $18.0 million signing bonus

One thing to know: Andrew Luck's new 5-year contract is thelargest in NFL historyin terms of total value ($140.0 million) and guaranteed value ($89.0 million).

(Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

1. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints — $31,250,000

Position: Quarterback

2016 earnings breakdown: $1.0 million salary, $30.0 million signing bonus, and $250,000 workout bonus.

One thing to know: Brees was in the last year of his contract and was set to take up an enormous $30 million in salary cap space. He recently extended his contract, lowering his salary-cap hit to $17.3 million, thanks to a $30 million signing bonus.

(Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
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