The NFL salary cap (which limits how much teams can spend on players) has risen from $40 million in 1996 to $155 million in 2016. This means NFL salaries have increased by almost 400% over the past 20 years. To put that in perspective, median incomes in the U.S. rose 12.5% from $24,500 in 2005 to $27,600 in 2015, according to Census Bureau data. While the pay packages are available for public viewing, most people probably don’t know how much NFL players pay in taxes. SmartAsset used our income tax calculator to investigate how much the highest-paid players in the NFL pay in taxes.
Wondering what tax bracket you are in? Read our article on the 2020 Federal Income Tax Brackets.
We calculated the tax data on the two highest-paid players on each team, according to data from Overthecap.com. In order to estimate how much each NFL player pays in taxes, we ran data on players’ annual incomes (including bonuses), away game locations, home game locations and marriage statuses through SmartAsset’s income tax calculator to estimate how much local, state and federal taxes each player paid. To understand where we got our data and how we put it together, read the full data and methodology section below.
- Poor Philip Rivers? – For the second time, San Diego Chargers QB Philip Rivers topped our list as the player handing the highest percent of his income to the tax man. Our previous study found he paid a 50% effective tax rate and this year, it’s 47.2%. But you don’t need to feel too bad for Rivers. His after-tax income was a cool $8.7 million.
- AFC South – If you are an aspiring NFL player about to be drafted, cross your fingers that one of the three teams in the AFC South with no state income tax drafts you. Those teams are the Houston Texans, Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans.
- QB life is pretty good – The top 15 highest-paid players in the league are all quarterbacks. Start working on your throwing arm, kids.
This is SmartAsset’s second look at how much NFL players pay in taxes. Read our previous study here.
New York Giants
Despite their name, the New York Giants actually play (and pay taxes) in New Jersey. Unfortunately for the players, both the Empire State and the Garden State are known for their high taxes. The two highest-earning players on the Giants, Eli Manning and Olivier Vernon, both paid 44% of their income in taxes. Fortunately for Eli, his $24.2 million pre-tax salary is the highest in the study, meaning he’ll still take home $13.4 million after his substantial tax bill.
Related Article: What Is the True Cost of Living in New York City?
The Dallas Cowboys were led by two rookies: Dak Prescott and Ezekiell Elliot. Neither of those two players make all that much money, comparatively speaking. Zeke, as he is known, had a pre-tax salary of $4.5 million this year and Dak’s was a measly $545,800. The highest-paid player on the team, Tony Romo, only played in one game this year. For that one game, he was paid $20.8 million, on which he paid a relatively low 41.5% effective tax rate (or $8.6 million in total taxes). He took home $12 million. Not bad!
Like many teams, the Washington Redskins’ highest-paid player is QB Kirk Cousins. Cousins has had an up-and-down career but this year he almost led his team back to the playoffs. In return for his on-field play, the Redskins pay him $19.9 million per year, of which $8.9 million went to the tax man.
It was a tough year for the Eagles, they finished 7-9 in what was probably the toughest division in football. Fortunately for the Eagles players, they play in the state of Pennsylvania which has one of the lowest tax rates in the country – a flat rate of 3.07%. Unfortunately, they play in Philadelphia which tacks on an additional 3.92%. You can bet some of them wish they played outside the city.
Green Bay Packers
The Green Bay Packers are Super Bowl LI contenders thanks to the stellar play of star quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers is richly rewarded for his on-field success. The Packers pay him $19.2 million per year, making him one of the highest-paid players in the league. Clay Matthews, another fan favorite, is the second-highest paid player on the team. They both pay about 43% of their income in taxes.
It was a tough, tough year for the Vikings team. They started out hot going 5-0 but sputtered to the finish line only winning three out of the final 11 games. For star Adrian Peterson it was even worse. He was injured in week two and missed most of the season. While rehabbing and trying to get back on the field, he was forced to pay 44% of his income to Uncle Sam, the eighth-highest rate in the study.
Chicago is one of the biggest cities which does not have a local income tax. Something the two highest-paid members of the team, Alshon Jeffrey and Pernell McPhee, are probably happy about. McPhee is actually the lowest-paid person on our list making “only” $7.6 million per year before taxes. He pays an effective tax rate of 41%, or $3.1 million.
The Detroit Lions were blown out of the playoffs, losing to the Seahawks by 20 points. Their highest-paid players, Matthew Stafford and Riley Reiff, have after-tax incomes of $12.6 million and $3.4 million, respectively, as consolation. In fact, Stafford was the fifth-highest paid player in the league making $22.5 million in pre-tax income. He paid 43.7% of that in taxes, only the 22nd-highest rate.
The Falcons are one of the few teams on which the QB and wide receiver are the two highest-paid members of the team. Matt Ryan (or if you prefer, Matty Ice) and Julio Jones both have top 20 salaries and pay about 43% of their income in taxes. That number isn’t too high thanks to Georgia’s relatively low income tax. Ryan paid $10.3 million in taxes, while Jones forked over $6.8 million.
Coming off a Super Bowl 50 appearance, Carolina Panthers star quarterback Cam Newton did not have one of his best years. The Panthers paid him $19.5 million this year but they didn’t make the playoffs. He’s looking at an effective tax rate of 43.7%, meaning he took home $10.8 million. Newton and Jonathan Stewart, the highest-paid players on the team, will pay an estimated $12.4 million, combined, in taxes.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Buccaneers play in Florida, a state with no income tax. That means players like Gerald McCoy and Lavonte David get a break on what they owe. We estimated that both will pay just under 41% of their income in taxes. McCoy gets paid an even $13 million and takes home about $7.7 million. David’s salary is $10 million and his take-home pay is close to $6 million.
New Orleans Saints
Drew Brees, the Saints’ lead quarterback, is one of the highest-paid players in the league, commanding $17.2 million. Relative to his income, he pays a modest amount in taxes. Despite having the 15th-highest income, he only pays the 45th-highest effective tax rate (42.3%). After forking over $7.3 million, Brees pockets the remaining $9.9 million.
The Cardinals are another team where the quarterback and wide receiver are the two highest-paid players on the team. Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald didn’t win as many games as last year, probably upsetting their coach but the tax man won’t mind. Palmer paid about $7.8 million in taxes and Fitzgerald handed over $6.7 million. Both paid an effective tax rate of around 42.5%.
Los Angeles Rams
The Rams returned to Los Angeles this season. The players may have been in for a rude awakening if they weren’t familiar with California’s sky-high taxes. Trumaine Johnson, the cornerback and the highest-paid player on the team, is estimated to owe a staggering 47.1% of his income in taxes, or about $6.5 million. That’s the second-highest effective tax rate in our study.
The Seahawks recently re-signed star quarterback Russell Wilson and boosted his pretax income by $11 million. Unfortunately for Wilson, he doesn’t get to keep all of it. While there’s no state income tax rate in Washington, Wilson still pays an effective tax rate of 41%. That means on his $18.5 million salary, he ponies up $7.6 million in federal taxes and state and local taxes for his away games. Teammate Richard Sherman pays a similar rate of 40.9%.
San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers have been a bit of a mess in recent years. Their highest-paid player, quarterback Colin Kaepernick, has attracted a lot of media attention for his weekly protests during the national anthem. We estimate that he paid $8.6 million in taxes on his $20.2 million salary, leaving him with $11.6 million. Kaepernick pays a 42.6% effective tax rate.
New England Patriots
The Patriots have made the playoffs every year since 2008 under Belichick’s stewardship. Star quarterback Tom Brady led his team to Super Bowl victory four times in 14 seasons. Brady pays a 42% effective tax rate. New England’s second-highest player, left offensive tackle Nate Solder, pays a similar tax rate. That means he pocketed $6 million after paying around $4.4 million in taxes.
Related Article: 15 Tips for Anyone Moving to Boston
New York Jets
Like the Giants, the New York Jets actually play in New Jersey, meaning the players face steep tax rates. The Jets’ two highest-paid players, Darrelle Revis and Muhammed Wilkerson, make $17 million and $10 million, respectively, before taxes. After settling up with the tax man, Revis’ take-home earning is $9.45 million and Wilkerson’s is $5.6 million. Both players pay an effective tax rate of about 44%, or $11.8 million combined.
The Bills are the sole NFL team who play in New York state. That means they pay taxes in a state known for its high taxes. Players like defensive tackle Marcell Dareus and cornerback Stephon Gilmore are both paying about 44% their income in taxes. Dareus hands over $5.6 million in taxes and Gilmore pays $4.88 million.
The Miami Dolphins put on a brave face this year. Despite losing Ryan Tannhill, their highest-paid player, to injury in week 14, they valiantly fought their way into the playoffs where they were blown out by the Steelers. Miami is another place without state or local taxes, so players like Tannehill and Ndamukong Suh only pay about 41% of their income in taxes.
Unfortunately for Bengals players, Cincinnati adds a 2.1% local tax on top of what can already be a pretty large tax bill. That means star quarterback Andy Dalton and receiver AJ Green are not only throwing touchdowns to each other but are throwing dollar bills to the U.S. treasury, as well. Combined, these two pay around $11.3 million into the tax coffers.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are one of the better teams to join if you’re looking to cut down on taxes paid off the field. “Big” Ben Roethlisberger is the team’s highest-paid player making $23.9 million in pre-tax income. We estimate that he will be paying about 43% of that income in taxes, which is middle of the pack in terms of rankings. After Roethlisberger pays his $10.3 million tax bill, he’ll be left with $13.6 million. That’s the highest take-home pay in our study.
Browns fans have suffered through another disastrous season. The two highest-paid players on the team, Joe Haden and Joe Thomas, pay a higher-than-average rate of 43.5%. Haden takes home $7.56 million after paying $5.8 million in taxes and Thomas pockets about $5.4 million after ponying up $4.1 million in taxes.
For players whose only concern is their after-tax paycheck, Baltimore is a place to be avoided. Joe Flacco, the team’s quarterback, pays a hefty 44.8% of his income on taxes, the seventh-highest rate in the study. Flacco is one of the highest-paid players in the entire league, so after he coughs up more than $10 million in taxes, he’s still left with almost $12.5 million.
Did you know the Colts used to be in Baltimore? Maybe they left because the taxes were too high. QB Andrew Luck, the Colts highest-paid player, pays a 43% effective income tax rate. While this is just 1.8% better than Flacco’s effective tax rate, when you are dealing with millions of dollars those marginal gains add up. Luck takes home $10.49 million, after paying almost $8 million in taxes.
Players around the league are probably jealous when they hear about how much the Texans players pay in taxes. Despite being benched at the end of the year, quarterback Brock Osweiler only had to pay 40.4% of his $12 million in pre-tax income to the government, meaning he got to take home more than $7 million. Offensive tackle Duane Brown pays a similar effective tax rate. Brown keeps more than $5.6 million of his $9.5 million salary.
The AFC South, while not being the most competitive on the field, is probably the most competitive for tax breaks. Jacksonville players Malik Jackson and Allen Hurns pay no state or local income taxes. These two pay around 40% of their salary to other taxes, including federal. That effective tax rate ranks among the lowest-five in our study.
Relative to other teams, the Titans don’t pay their stars all that much. The two highest-paid players on the Titans, Jason McCourty and Brian Orakpo, make a combined $17 million per year. That’s less than the amount some teams set aside for one player. Luckily for them, Tennessee is one of those states which does not tax income. Both these players pay just under 40% of their income in taxes, the lowest amount in the league.
While Broncos players may breathe a sigh of relief that they do not play in high-tax California, like two of the other teams in their division, they do have to make two away trips to the Golden State. That costs them. Wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, for example, pays around $234,000 extra in taxes because of away days, including California. After paying an effective tax rate of 42.5%, he pockets about $8.7 million.
The good news for Raiders players is that they finally snapped a 13-season playoff drought. The bad news is that they lost in the wild card round to the Texans. The Raiders players, like the other California teams, face staggeringly high effective tax rates. Stars Kelechi Osemele and Bruce Irvin both pay about 47% of their income in taxes. Osemele takes home almost $7 million after paying $6.2 million to the tax man. And $5.8 million of Irvin’s $12.5 million salary gets eaten up by taxes.
Kansas City Chiefs
Like Denver, Kansas City players have to play two away games in California every year which hurts their overall tax rate. This year, however, they also got to play in states like Texas and Pennsylvania which helped. Overall the Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith paid over $7.7 million in total taxes, or 43.7% of his original $17.8 million salary.
San Diego Chargers
We discussed the plight of Philip Rivers above but for his teammate, star defensive end Corey Liuget, the situation is just as bad. He pays the fifth-highest effective tax rate in our study, at 46.8%. Liuget’s pre-tax income is also lower than Rivers’. He makes a $10 million salary and keeps about $5.3 million of that. Note: the Chargers are set to move to L.A. for the 2017 season.
In order to estimate how much each NFL player paid in taxes, SmartAsset plugged in salary data from Overthecap.com into our income tax calculator. The calculator includes all federal, state and local taxes which are paid in the U.S.
We did not attempt to measure income earned outside of football, like sponsorships or investments, which can at times be sizable but also hard to find reliable data for. We used contracts which were in effect during the 2016 season. Bonuses paid were spread out over the full life of the contract. So if a player received a $6 million signing bonus on a six-year contract paying $2 million a year, we said he was earning $3 million per year.
We also made a few assumptions about tax deductions and exemptions. We assumed all players would contribute the maximum 401(k) contribution of $18,000. We also assumed each player deducted 3% for agent fees, $10,000 for their NFL association fees and that they maxed their home mortgage interest deduction of $45,000. We treated married players as joint filers and single players as single filers.
We also included what are called “jock taxes.” A jock tax is a tax which is paid to any state in which a player works or plays. The player is taxed based on the number of days he spends in a state. So if he spends 100 days working in a year and 10 days in a specific state, 10% of his income can be taxed in that state.
We assumed that each away game was equal to seven days of work out of 170 for the total season. To calculate the jock tax, we ran income numbers through our tax calculator for each away game jurisdiction. Most states allow taxes paid to other states to be credited so players do not end up paying double taxes on the same income. The credit is equal to which ever is lower, the amount paid to the away state or the amount the player would have owed at home.
We combined the jock tax and jock tax credit for each player to create the net jock tax. We then combined that figure with the federal, state and local taxes paid on total income to arrive at each player’s total tax bill.
Tips for Filing Your Taxes
- A financial advisor can help optimize your tax strategy for your financial goals. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with financial advisors in your area in 5 minutes. If you’re ready to be matched with local advisors who can help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
- A good tax filing service will help you keep up with tax code changes. We did our annual roundup of the best tax filing software so that you can get through this tax season as painlessly as possible.
- If you want to see whether you’ll get a tax refund or have to pay a tax bill, SmartAsset’s tax return calculator can help you plan ahead.
Questions about our study? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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