As the Pro Football Hall of Fame prepares for induction of the class of 2023 this week, it is also time for induction into another Hall of Fame. Two years ago, I welcomed the inaugural class of the Business of Football Hall of Fame, officially naming a group I had informally recognized on social media through the years. It is now time for the second class to step forward.
The criteria for induction into the BOF HOF is admittedly subjective (just as with the Pro Football Hall of Fame). Some of these players are having or have had successful careers; some have not. Some have played at the top of their position for years; some have for a year, some have for a few games, some have for a single game, some have never done so. The underlying thread of all these players, however, is that their earnings jump off the page, for whatever reason, often exceeding or, in some cases, far exceeding their on-field performance (or lack thereof).
This list does not factor in endorsement and marketing income, and except for a few elite quarterbacks, that is not a big factor in NFL compensation. Nor does the list factor in entrepreneurial earnings and postcareer success; that is a column and list for another day.
Some of these players just missed the cut for the first class; some have burst onto the business scene over the past two years without outsized earnings. But all are, in my opinion, worthy of entry.
As a reminder, here are the 12 players who were already inducted last time around.
• Sam Bradford
• Chase Daniel
• Ryan Fitzpatrick
• Kirk Cousins
• Alex Smith
• Nick Foles
• JaMarcus Russell
• Brock Osweiler
• Larry Fitzgerald
• Ndamukong Suh
• Darrelle Revis
• Trumaine Johnson
Now here is the second class for induction into the Business of Football Hall of Fame. All contract amounts via Spotrac.com.
Matt Ryan (Career earnings: $291 million in 15 seasons and counting)
Ryan was a very close call two years ago. Now, however, the choice is clear. Ryan was the No. 3 pick in the 2008 draft, one of the final top picks with a bloated contract before the new rookie wage scale was implemented, and he leveraged that status into two top-of-market extensions with the cap-desperate Falcons since ’17. Now working for CBS, he can still collect more than $12 million this year from the Colts as part of the agreed terms of the trade there last year, by opting not to officially announce his retirement.
Ryan made $267 million in 14 seasons with the Falcons, and $24 million for one lackluster season with the Colts (plus the $12 million more coming!), which will take him up to a staggering sum of more than $303 million for his career. That makes him the fourth-highest-paid player in NFL history. Ryan is an easy choice for this class.
Joe Flacco (Career earnings: $174 million in 15 seasons and counting)
Like Ryan, Flacco was a first-round pick in 2008, albeit later in the first round (18th). He has never made the Pro Bowl, ranks 32nd among active quarterbacks in career passer rating, and has had only one season with a top 10 quarterback ranking (seventh in ’10).
Despite this mediocrity, Flacco has made $174 million and counting, fifth among all active players (though he is not yet on a roster for 2023) and 14th all time.
Flacco leveraged a scintillating 2012 postseason into a massive contract extension from the Ravens, playing the best football of his career at the most opportune time.
Ryan Tannehill (Career earnings: $169 million in 11 seasons and counting)
It sounds hard to believe, but Tannehill has played 11 seasons in the NFL. And he had a three-year stretch (2019 to ’21) as a top-10 quarterback, at least according to QBR.
Outside of those three seasons, however, Tannehill has been below average at best. His QBR ranking was 15th or lower every other season, and he hasn’t had a 4,000-yard passing season since 2015. And there is this uncomfortable statistic: He has led the league in sacks once and led the league in sack yardage twice.
Despite this mediocrity, Tannehill has excelled financially. By the end of this season, he will have made more than $195 million: $73 million from the Dolphins and $120 million from the Titans. That will rank fifth among active players and 12th all time. These numbers make him an obvious choice for induction.
Carson Wentz (Career earnings: $128 million in seven seasons and counting)
Count me among those who believed Wentz would be a perennial star at the game’s most important position. In 2017, Wentz’s second season as a pro, he led the league in QBR, was 11–2 in games he played for the Eagles (they won the Super Bowl that year, behind Foles) and finished third in MVP voting. That was then, this is now.
In 2020, Wentz had the unfortunate trifecta of leading the league in interceptions, sacks and sack yardage. Since then, the Eagles traded him to the Colts, the Colts traded him to the Commanders a year later, he has had three seasons end in injury and he has not had a QBR in the top 20. He is currently unsigned and out of the league.
In only seven seasons, Wentz has amassed almost $130 million, nearly $80 million from Philadelphia and $50 million split between Indianapolis and Washington. He ranks 10th among all active quarterbacks and 22nd all time. Even if he never earns another dime in the NFL—which seems a definite possibility—he merits entry with this class.
Matt Flynn (Career earnings: $19 million in eight seasons)
I am not sure there has ever been an NFL player who made so much money based on one game, and a meaningless game at that.
At the end of the 2011 season, the Packers had secured their playoff spot and gave Flynn a start. He then threw for 480 yards and six touchdowns in a comeback win over the Lions. Three months later, Flynn signed a $19.5 million contract with the Seahawks with $8 million guaranteed (the amount he earned from the team).
Flynn never started a game for the Seahawks, as he was beaten out by a third-round rookie named Russell Wilson, yet somehow he transitioned to the Raiders with a new contract containing $6.5 million guaranteed (the total amount he earned from that team).
Flynn, who also had stints with the Bills, Patriots, Jets and Saints, started seven games in eight seasons, with one of those being the primary driver for career earnings of almost $20 million.
Flynn was a candidate for the inaugural class and just missed out; it is time for entry now.
Von Miller (Career earnings: $164 million in 12 seasons and counting)
Miller signed a massive six-year, $120 million contract as a 33-year-old in 2022, a contract that he will most likely never see the end of. But even assuming he plays only half of that deal (about what I would expect), Miller is an easy choice for both the Pro Football Hall of Fame and this one.
Miller has been to eight Pro Bowls, made three first-team All-Pro teams and been Super Bowl MVP. However, he has not had a double-digit sack season since 2018 and has had three season-ending injuries (two ACLs and an ankle injury), two in the past three seasons.
Miller has made $164 million and counting, with almost $100 million remaining on his present contract (including $15 million coming this year). He is atop all active defensive ends/edge rushers and second all time to Julius Peppers at the position, but will pass him by in 2023. For a more direct comparison, he has already banked $35 million more than J.J. Watt, a fellow first-round pick in ’11 who is now retired. And what pushes Miller into this class is his uncanny ability to garner top-of-market earnings playing a brutally physical position at an advanced age.
Trent Williams (Career earnings: $148 million in 13 seasons and counting)
Williams, like Miller, will make the “other” HOF for his elite play over an extended period of time. His only potential lowlight is that he hasn’t played a full season since 2013.
The 10-time Pro Bowler and two-time first-team All-Pro has made $148 million and counting—nearly $96 million over 10 seasons in Washington and almost $53 million in three seasons with the 49ers. And like Miller, there is almost $100 million in remaining balance on his current contract.
Williams’s exit from Washington was messy, involving a dispute over a cancerous growth that he says was misdiagnosed by the team’s medical staff. His time there ended after a holdout and a trade request, which applied maximum pressure before he was eventually granted his trade and a massive new contract from San Francisco.
Williams is the top-earning offensive lineman, not just active but all time, some $26 million clear of Joe Thomas in second place. Even considering his on-field prowess, his earnings are striking.
Laremy Tunsil (Career earnings: $70 million in seven seasons and counting)
After Tunsil’s notorious draft-day slide—where he was projected to be one of the top picks and landed 13th with the Dolphins—he has accomplished the rarest of Business of Football feats: two top-of-market contract extensions while setting himself up for a third. Tunsil’s latest extension, a three-year, $75 million deal, will have the Texans renegotiating again in two years, if not sooner.
Tunsil has earned $70 million in seven seasons, with another $93 million due on his current contract. After this upcoming season, he will zoom up toward the top 10 in career earnings among offensive linemen (pending some other possible restructures or extensions), having played only eight seasons in the NFL.
Quite an accomplishment for someone whose early notoriety in the NFL involved a gas mask and marijuana.
Albert Haynesworth (Career earnings: $57 million in 10 seasons)
Haynesworth will forever be known not as a two-time All-Pro, but rather as the poster child for signing a massive free-agent deal and then coasting once paid.
Haynesworth took advantage of (now former) Washington owner Daniel Snyder’s affinity for big-name free agents in 2009 when he signed a seven-year, $100 million contract with $41 million in guarantees. That amount, at the time, was not only a record for defensive linemen but also a record for all positions!
After taking Snyder’s money, Haynesworth played in just 20 games with 12 starts for Washington. And just three years after signing that deal, Haynesworth was out of the league.
Haynesworth made $57.5 million in 10 seasons in the NFL, a sum made more impressive by the fact his last season was 2011 (when he played for the Patriots and Buccaneers). His armed robbery of $40 million from Washington is Business of Football lore.
Rhule is our first induction from the coaching category, in part due to the fact he barely coached two seasons in the NFL.
Rhule, with collegiate coaching success at Temple and Baylor, leveraged interest from several teams in 2020 to be paid as a top NFL coach despite never having coached in the league. The Panthers, and new owner David Tepper, lavished a seven-year, $62 million contract upon him. And unlike player contracts, a coaching contract such as this was guaranteed.
Rhule was fired five games into his third season, with $40 million remaining on his contract. Now hired as head coach at Nebraska—for a whopping eight years and $72 million—the Panthers will get some relief from their financial obligation, although not as much as they would like. Rhule and his agent shrewdly structured the Nebraska deal with backloaded higher salaries, essentially splitting the compensation between the Panthers and Nebraska over the next three seasons.
Rhule will have made roughly $45 million from the NFL for coaching 38 games. That merits his being the first coach to be inducted into the BOF HOF.
Reviled by his team’s fans, by local politicians, by employees, by media and even by fellow NFL owners, Snyder, who demanded the appellation of “Mr. Snyder” was finally extricated from the league (paying a $60 million fine on his way out for improper personal and financial behavior). The once-crown jewel Washington franchise has suffered during his reign on and off the field, with an outdated and inaccessible stadium and an underperforming on-field product.
Despite the above, Snyder just sold the team for more than $6 billion. Four years ago, the league’s highest purchase price was $2.2 billion (for the Panthers). Last year it was $4.6 billion (for the Broncos). Now Snyder walked away with this gargantuan number.
Snyder bought the team in 1999 for a valuation of $800 million. He now leaves with—even including the $60 million fine—a profit of more than $5 billion. It is, quite simply, the best deal in business of football history.
I hope you enjoyed reading about this class for the Hall of Fame. We won’t be in Canton, but one day we’ll find a home for these impressive inductees.