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Monday, April 15, 2024

NFL Free Agency 2024: Top-Paid Players at Every Position

The first wave of NFL free agency is over. The money has been spent.

Yet how many positions saw a legitimate market-setting offseason? Fewer than you might think. In fact, none were reset through free agency, and only one offensive position saw a new name emerge.

For clarity, we’re judging the contracts based on annual, and not total value. This is a look at which players are getting the most money on a yearly basis, with most locked into long-term deals.

So who owns their respective markets? Let’s take a look.

Quarterback | Joe Burrow

Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports

  • Team: Cincinnati Bengals
  • Salary: $55 million per year

Having signed his extension last season, Burrow ranks atop the quarterback market, beating out Lamar Jackson, Justin Herbert, Jalen Hurts and others.

In Cincinnati, the main concern is getting Burrow healthy for a full year after he missed large chunks of two seasons in his first four campaigns. However, he’s one of the league’s best and considering his impact on the Bengals, he’s still a good value despite the massive price tag.

Running back | Christian McCaffrey

Stephen R. Sylvanie/USA TODAY Sports

  • Team: San Francisco 49ers
  • Salary: $16 million

McCaffrey watched as Saquon Barkley, Josh Jacobs and Derrick Henry signed new deals this offseason, but none got close to his annual or total value.

Of course, McCaffrey is deserving of the top spot, having helped lead the 49ers to the Super Bowl. The do-it-all back totaled a league-high 2,023 scrimmage yards and 21 touchdowns on the way to Offensive Player of the Year honors.

Wide receiver | Tyreek Hill

Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports

  • Team: Miami Dolphins
  • Salary: $30 million

Hill was dealt by the Kansas City Chiefs after the 2021 season, and he’s only gotten better.

Despite playing without Patrick Mahomes, Hill has been the league’s best receiver over the past two years, totaling 3,509 receiving yards and 20 touchdowns. Entering the third year of his four-year deal, Hill could have another massive payday in the near future.

Tight end | Darren Waller

Vincent Carchietta/USA TODAY Sports

  • Team: New York Giants
  • Salary: $17 million

This is the first regrettable contract on the list. While Waller was once a top-tier tight end, he’s fallen off considerably due to injuries.

The deal was signed with the Las Vegas Raiders but shipped off to the New York Giants after only one year. Now, with Waller consistently struggling to stay on the field—he’s played only 21 games over the past two seasons—his career is in question as free agency looms in 2025.

Tackle | Laremy Tunsil

Troy Taormina / USA TODAY Sports

  • Team: Houston Texans
  • Salary: $25 million

Tunsil has one of the most important jobs in football, protecting the blindside of C.J. Stroud. Luckily for Houston, he’s arguably the best left tackle in football.

The Texans gave Tunsil a three-year, $75 million deal last offseason, and he’s been worth the money. The only question has been durability; he has failed to play more than 15 games in all but one of his eight NFL seasons.

Guard | Landon Dickerson

Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports

  • Team: Philadelphia Eagles
  • Salary: $21 million

Dickerson got a mammoth extension in March, making him the highest-paid guard in NFL history by average annual value standards.

At 25 years old, Dickerson figures to be a long-term piece, working alongside youngster Cam Jurgens and star left tackle Jordan Mailata. With the guard market going crazy this offseason, Dickerson got the best deal of them all.

Center | Frank Ragnow

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  • Team: Detroit Lions
  • Salary: $13.5 million

Ragnow was first-team All-Pro in 2023, living up to the expectations that come with being the highest-paid player at a position.

The Lions have invested heavily in their offensive line, drafting Ragnow, Taylor Decker and Penei Sewell in the first round. They also spent in free agency to bring Kevin Zeitler into the fold on a one-year deal. The result? The best offensive line in football.

Defensive end | Nick Bosa

Kyle Terada/USA TODAY Sports

  • Team: San Francisco 49ers
  • Salary: $34 million

Nobody else is even close to Bosa in terms of annual value. In fact, the gap from Bosa to Myles Garrett is $9 million per year, and represents the biggest in the NFL at any position.

Bosa, who signed his deal days before Week 1 of the 2023 season, is locked up through 2028. For the 49ers, it’s a contract that should carry him through the prime of his potentially Hall-of-Fame career.

Defensive tackle | Chris Jones

Stephen R. Sylvanie/USA TODAY Sports

  • Team: Kansas City Chiefs
  • Salary: $31.7 million

Jones signed days before being slated for free agency, returning to the Chiefs on a five-year, $160 million contract.

With Aaron Donald’s retirement, Jones is clearly the best defensive tackle in football. Through eight seasons with Kansas City, Jones has helped spearhead three title runs while amassing 75.5 career sacks. He’s ticketed for Canton.

Outside linebacker | Brian Burns

Jim Dedmon/USA TODAY Sports

  • Team: New York Giants
  • Salary: $28.2 million

Incredibly, Burns wasn’t able to get his money from the Carolina Panthers, but finally got paid when he was traded to the Giants for second- and fifth-round draft picks.

Burns was dominant at times in Carolina, totaling 46 sacks across his rookie deal. However, the Panthers, who reportedly turned down an offer of two first-round picks for Burns in 2022, dealt him to New York, where he signed a five-year, $141 million pact.

Inside linebacker | Roquan Smith

Tommy Gilligan/USA TODAY Sports

  • Team: Baltimore Ravens
  • Salary: $20 million

Here’s another case of a player getting traded and then getting paid, with Smith signing a five-year, $100 million deal after he was dealt to Baltimore from the Chicago Bears in 2022.

Last season, Smith had his first full campaign in Charm City and played splendidly, totaling 158 tackles and eight passes defensed on the way to first-team All-Pro honors. With Smith playing inside, Baltimore allowed Patrick Queen to walk in free agency.

Cornerback | Jaire Alexander

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

  • Team: Green Bay Packers
  • Salary: $21 million

Despite only a few years passing since Alexander signed his four-year, $84 million market-setting deal with the Packers, nobody has been able to eclipse it.

However, Green Bay might have buyer’s remorse. While Alexander is still an elite talent, he’s struggled to stay healthy. Last season, he played only seven games, while appearing in only 27 across the past three years.

Safety | Derwin James

Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire

  • Team: Los Angeles Chargers
  • Salary: $19.1 million

After injuries essentially robbed James of his 2019 and ’20 seasons, the All-Pro has been able to stay relatively healthy, earning every bit of his record-setting extension.

The Chargers signed James to a four-year, $76.5 million deal in 2022 and he’s lived up to expectations, earning Pro Bowl and second-team All-Pro honors since. Crucially, he’s missed just six games over the past three years.

Kicker | Justin Tucker

Ken Blaze/USA TODAY Sports

  • Team: Baltimore Ravens
  • Salary: $6 million

Tucker has an argument as the greatest kicker in NFL history, and he’s rightfully being paid like it in Baltimore.

Through 12 years with the Ravens, Tucker has been named first-team All-Pro five times and is the only kicker on the 2010s All-Decade Team. He also has a Super Bowl ring and, perhaps most incredibly, has missed only three field goals inside 40 yards.

Punter | Michael Dickson

Darren Yamashita/USA TODAY Sports

  • Team: Seattle Seahawks
  • Salary: $3.6 million

Dickson is one of the premier punters in football, even if he’s missed out on first-team All-Pro honors each of the past five years.

However, he’s still a weapon and showed that in 2023, notching an absurd 50 yards per punt with a net of 44.1 yards. 

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