You don't really need to feel too sorry for any NFL player on payday. Even the most lowly of rookies is guaranteed to make $285,000 so they aren't poor by any means. Some players, though, make more money than many small countries.
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There is still time for things to change in 2008 as players sign new contracts and end holdouts. If we look back to 2007, though, then there is a clear leader in the race for the NFL's top salary. Dwight Freeney, the 28-year-old defensive end for the Indianapolis Colts brought in $30.75 million in 2007. That's way too much money for any player, but Freeney deserves to be well paid. He was chosen 11th overall from Syracuse in the 2002 NFL Draft. In two years as a starter at Syracuse he had 30.5 sacks. He had nine forced fumbles as a rookie, and was runner up to Julius Peppers for the defensive rookie of the year. By his third season he was on top of the NFL in sacks with 16.
It's important to note that Freeney is not making more than $30 million per year. He signed a six-year, $72 million contract with the Colts in 2007, and the $30.5 million number reflected the up-front money as well as the first-year income. Though he will make less money going forward, his contract was the biggest ever for a defensive player at the time. Jared Allen has since signed for more after joining the Vikings.
Though Freeney has been a huge contributor to the Colts through his career, he was not good value for the Colts in 2007. In the ninth game of the year, Freeney suffered a Lisfranc fracture while doing a spin move, and he was forced to miss the rest of the season. He had just 3.5 sacks by that time, so each of his sacks cost almost $10 million. Needless to say, they can be had for cheaper.
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The rest of the 2007 top 10 for NFL player salaries has more than a few coins to rub together as well:
1) Dwight Freeney, Colts, $30,750,000
2) Marc Bulger, Rams, $17,502,040
3) Leonard Davis, Cowboys, $17,006,240
4) Gaines Adams, Buccaneers, $15,434,000
5) Robert Geathers, Bengals, $14,000,000
6) Cory Redding, Lions, $13,625,000
7) Derrick Dockery, Bills, $13,504,680
8) Reggie Bush, Saints, $13,375,960
9) Kris Dielman, Chargers, $13,305,280
10) Larry Johnson, Chiefs, $13,300,000