If I were to ask you to name the top overall money earner from the NFL in 2011, who would you immediately think of? You’re wrong, it isn’t him. It is actually Carolina Panthers defensive end, Charles Johnson. He brought home $34 million last season, easily making him tops in the NFL.
Johnson is a fine defensive end, but it is pretty easy to argue that may not be the best at his position, so it is tough to defend him as earning all of that money. It was just pretty much due to the fact the Panthers gave him a ridiculous contract after a couple of productive seasons where he established himself as one of the better players at his position.
Going through the list of top earners that was compiled at ESPN, which excludes endorsement monies, sponsorships and appearance fees, Johnson was actually the top paid professional teams sports athlete. He outpaced MLB leader Alex Rodriguez ($30 million), NBA leader Kobe Bryant ($25.24 million), and the NHL’s Brad Richards ($12 million). Interestingly enough, the other 3 play in the largest media markets in the country.
Now you may know why players such as Osi Umenyiora continue to bark about their contract. Osi, who has been one of the most pass-rushers in the NFL over the last decade, has been seeking a new contract for the last year. DE’s have been given a premium lately, and when Osi signed his last deal, it wasn’t anything close to the amount guys like Johnson have cashed in on. Mario Williams just landed a deal this past offseason to make him the highest paid defensive end of all-time. Cliff Avril of the Lions is still working on a deal with the team, and he is expected to land a huge contract, because he is refusing to sign the Franchise tender.
Johnson won’t obviously making the most this season, as his amount due will drop significantly, as most deals are front-loaded. That $34 million was nearly half of the $72 million he agreed over 6 years prior to the start of the 2011 season. However, it sets a benchmark for players who have or will outperform him and lead to headaches for GM’s and owners.