We are now less than a month away from inducting the next NFL Hall of Fame class in Canton, Ohio. The Hall of Fame represents both the pinnacle of an individual‘s career and an endless point of speculation from the media. Continuing the latter of those two trends, Sports Illustrated’s Andrew Brandt has decided to have some fun with the concept and put together his inaugural class of the Business of Football Hall of Fame. This fictional Hall of Fame was manufactured by Brandt in his most recent column where the former agent and Green Bay Packers VP said that it “officially recognizes the players whose success off the field (i.e., getting paid) outpaced their success on it.”
Brandt set out an important guideline.
This column addresses earnings only from NFL teams. Marketing and endorsement income are not part of the equation for this induction. Also, there are obviously players who have made significantly more money than some of the players below — both Manning brothers come to mind — but their earnings are not out of the ordinary for their level of talent and achievement. For the players below, their off-field success has largely outpaced their on-field success, or they have done something else notable to maximize their earnings or distinguish themselves.
Kirk Cousins was No. 4 on this list, hardly a surprise for Minnesota Vikings fans, given their frustrations over his guaranteed contract.
Cousins reaped fabulous financial rewards because the Washington Football Team only wanted to “date” and not “marry” him. The team did not offer him a serious contract extension before applying consecutive franchise tags in 2016 and ’17. Cousins was one of the few productive quarterbacks in history to reach the hallowed ground of free agency and leveraged that status with the first fully guaranteed veteran contract in NFL history, an $84 million deal with the Vikings. And in 2020, using the leverage of the last year of that deal coupled with the Vikings’ cap issues, Cousins cashed in again. Cousins will likely retire as one of the top earners ever, with many more successful quarterbacks ranking below him in career earnings.
Although it’s not a surprise to see Cousins on a list like this, it’s just another log on the burning “he’s overrated” fire. While Vikings fans continue to be divided on Kirk and his contract, it seems like most people in the national media feel he’s overpaid. If Kirk doesn’t have a breakthrough season soon, there’s reason to believe that he could become the poster child for this class.
Speaking of the poster child, another former Viking topped the fictional class. Sam Bradford’s spot on top isn’t much of a surprise to anyone who knows anything about his career earnings.
Bradford may be the easiest choice of all. Indeed, there may be a Sam Bradford wing in the Business of Football Hall of Fame.
Bradford came into the NFL at the perfect time, the top overall pick in the last season (2010) before the NFL and NFLPA agreed to drastically reduce earnings of players selected at the top of the draft. Bradford’s rookie contract earnings with the Rams were $78 million, almost $50 million more than the contract given to this year’s top pick, Trevor Lawrence. Not only was Bradford the highest-paid rookie ever, but he also became one of the highest-paid players in the history of the NFL before ever taking a snap.
Despite injury-filled seasons with the Rams, Bradford was able to leverage a player-friendly contract with the Eagles after being traded there, one that included an $11 million signing bonus that the Eagles would eventually eat before trading him to the Vikings. Bradford even secured $15 million at the end of his career with the Cardinals for starting just three games, while serving as a placeholder for Josh Rosen.
Bradford’s remarkable ability to cash in at every opportunity makes him the face of this Business of Football Hall of Fame.