Every year at the close of football’s regular season, 50 sportswriters from the Associated Press cast their votes for the NFL’s Most Valuable Player award. The journalists all cover the NFL as their primary beat, but they come from all over the sportswriting spectrum, including print, television, digital and radio.
The title of MVP is the greatest honor an individual football player can receive. Once named MVP, a player is immediately enshrined in history alongside the sport’s all-time greats. That level of performance and respect, of course, tends to draw a big paycheck. Some of the greatest MVPs of all time are also some of the richest football players of all time.
Using information from Celebrity Net Worth, GOBankingRates identified the richest living NFL MVPs. Quarterbacks dominate the list, but several running backs muscled their way to the top, too — the very first AP MVP award in 1957, after all, went to Jim Brown.
Emmitt Smith’s 164 rushing touchdowns are the most in history by a wide gap of 19. At No. 2, LaDainian Tomlinson is way back at 145 — only nine players in history have ever even broken triple digits. The Cowboys legend was drafted in 1990 and played for 15 years, going to the Pro Bowl in eight of them. Emmitt Smith turned in 11 consecutive seasons with at least 1,000 rushing yards.
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Although Steve McNair shared the honor with Peyton Manning in 2003, Cam Newton became the first African-American quarterback to be named MVP outright in 2015. It was the greatest year in Carolina football history. Newton led the Panthers to one game shy of a magical undefeated season that didn’t crack until Week 16 — not to mention their first appearance in the Super Bowl since 2003. Recently released by the Patriots, Newton has earned more than $125 million over the course of his career.
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Although he was drafted by the Chiefs in 2017, Patrick Mahomes sat, watched and played for the scout team during his rookie year. It worked. In his first year off the bench in 2018, he was named league MVP. The very next year, Mahomes led the Chiefs to their first Super Bowl appearance in a half-century, which they won at the expense of the 49ers. He was rewarded the following season with the biggest contract in the history of sports, according to CBS: a 10-year mega-deal worth up to $503 million — more than a half-billion dollars.
Terry Bradshaw has been a household name and a familiar face without interruption for a half-century. Pittsburgh drafted him in 1970 and he led the Steelers to four Super Bowls. Bradshaw threw nine career Super Bowl touchdowns and threw for 932 Super Bowl yards. He threw 30 postseason touchdowns. Upon retiring, he became one of the most visible and prominent broadcasters in the sport, most notably as a co-host for “Fox NFL Sunday” since 1994.
In March 2020, Forbes reported that Tom Brady was done with the New England Patriots after earning $350 million over the course of his career. He then stunned the football world when he later announced he was moving to Tampa Bay, only to win his seventh Super Bowl during his first year as a Buccaneer.
And then this March, he signed an extension with Tampa Bay, according to Forbes.
It is still possible to find otherwise rational people who argue that Tom Brady is not the greatest quarterback of all time. But Tom Brady has only three remaining fingers that aren’t adorned with Super Bowl rings, he was named league MVP three times and he’s a 14-time Pro-Bowler who was named All-Pro on three separate occasions.
Cleveland great Jim Brown chainsawed through the NFL record books during his time on the gridiron and remains the man against whom all running backs have been measured since. He was unanimously selected as Rookie of the Year in 1957 and was named league MVP that same year — his first of three MVP titles.
He’s one of only six players ever to win more than twice.
He went to nine straight Pro Bowls for all nine of his NFL seasons, and only five players have scored more than his 126 rushing touchdowns. He was at the top of his game when he retired to pursue a career in Hollywood, which he did successfully. Jim Brown has more than 50 acting credits and nearly 150 TV appearances dating back nearly 60 years — but his first time on TV was while playing for Syracuse in the 1957 Cotton Bowl.
Before Tom Brady, the undisputed GOAT behind center was Joe Montana, the Hall of Fame legend whose one-two punch with Jerry Rice defined San Francisco football for a generation. He was MVP twice, back-to-back in ’89 and ’90, just before the Montana era ended and the Steve Young era began. Montana went to the Pro Bowl eight times and won four Super Bowls. In 15 seasons, he maintained a 93.3% passer rating after 40,551 passing yards.
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Colts and Rams great Marshall Faulk was part of a crew of running backs that ushered in a new era of athleticism and durability at the turn of the 21st century. Faulk was named MVP in 2000, and for context as to just how dominant the Rams were during his tenure, his quarterback Kurt Warner was MVP both the year before and the year after Faulk. A seven-time Pro Bowler and a Super Bowl champion, Faulk tallied 12,279 rushing yards and 6,874 receiving yards. His 100 rushing touchdowns are tied for the No. 8 most ever.
The greatest quarterback to never have won a Super Bowl, Dan Marino remains ringless — but he was named MVP in 1984. He also broke dozens of NFL records, some of which still stand to this day. He went 13 seasons with at least 3,000 yards, became the first player ever to throw for 5,000 yards in a single season and in 1984, he threw a then-record 48 touchdowns. A veteran of nine Pro Bowls, Marino tallied 61,361 passing yards and 420 touchdowns over 17 seasons.
Shaun Alexander — another rare non-quarterback MVP — was honored with the title in 2005. After eight years with Seattle and one with Washington, Alexander remains one of the top 10 of all time in terms of rushing touchdowns. With 100 even, he’s tied with Marshall Faulk for the No. 8 spot. He earned nearly $35 million over the course of his career, according to Spotrac.
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Brett Favre was so dominant in his prime that he was named league MVP three years straight from 1995-97. He’s one of only six players to win more than twice. Favre played in 302 games in his 20 NFL seasons, won a Super Bowl and went to 11 Pro Bowls. He retired as the league’s all-time leading passer, with six 4,000-plus yard seasons, 71,838 passing yards and 508 touchdowns on his resume.
In 2008, Green Bay’s late general manager Ted Thompson traded Brett Favre to the New York Jets for a third-round draft pick. The move drew heated controversy but wound up paving the way for the Aaron Rodgers era in Green Bay.
Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner is known mostly for his time with the Rams and the Cardinals, but he also spent a year on the Giants. He was named NFL MVP twice — one of only nine players ever to win more than once — first in 1999 and again in 2001.
In between, his teammate Marshall Faulk kept his seat warm.
Warner went to four Pro Bowls in his 12 seasons, throwing for 32,344 yards and 208 touchdowns. He was the first quarterback ever to throw for more than 300 yards in three different Super Bowls. That includes the one he won in 2000 when he set a Super Bowl record with 414 yards.
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In 2015, Matt Ryan led the Falcons in spoiling Cam Newton’s would-be undefeated MVP season with the Panthers in Week 16. One year later, Matt Ryan was named MVP himself. A four-time Pro Bowler, Ryan was named All-Pro once. He is currently locked in a five-year, $150 million contract with Atlanta that will pay him an average of $30 million a year through 2023.
Bengals legend Boomer Esiason was league MVP in 1988, and although he shuffled to the Jets and then Arizona late in his career, he finished out with one last season back home in Cincinnati where it all began. Astonishingly, Esiason — drafted in 1984 — was behind center when the Bengals won their last playoff game in 1991 — 30 years ago. Esiason, who went to the Pro Bowl four times, immediately transitioned to a successful career in the broadcast booth as an analyst, commentator and television personality. He’s also a prolific celebrity spokesperson, having appeared in dozens of TV commercials.
Enshrined into the Hall of Fame in 2021, Peyton Manning was named MVP an incredible five times during his 18 seasons — the most MVP wins ever. No one else has even won four. He won a Super Bowl with his longtime Colts franchise and closed out his career with another as a Bronco.
In 2016, Forbes reported that Manning retired with $249 million in career earnings from salary and bonuses — $400 million combined including endorsements and corporate sponsorships. He remains a familiar face and a big earner thanks to partnerships with Papa John’s and Nationwide, to name a few.
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Green Bay great Aaron Rodgers is a Super Bowl champion and the current reigning MVP. It’s his third time at the top, which puts him among Favre and the rest of the elite six players who won more than twice. Rodgers has gone to nine Pro Bowls, has been named All-Pro three times and reached 300 passing touchdowns in just 144 games — the fastest ever.
He’s currently riding out a four-year contract extension that will pay him $134 million through 2023, according to Forbes. In 2019, he founded a $50 million venture fund with Roth Capital.
The MVP of the 1987 NFL season, John Elway engineered 47 fourth-quarter comebacks during his 16-season Hall of Fame career. He threw for 51,475 yards and 300 touchdowns even. Elway is a veteran of nine Pro Bowls and he won two Super Bowls.
He famously squandered an opportunity to make upwards of a half-billion dollars by buying into the Broncos, but he did just fine. Elway made an eight-figure fortune in car dealerships and remains an executive at the highest levels of the Broncos organization. The Athletic recently named Elway No. 15 on its list of the 100 Best Players in Football History.
One of only five non-quarterbacks on the list, LaDainian Tomlinson earned his 2006 MVP selection the same way he earned his place in the Hall of Fame — by grinding it out at running back. Named All-Pro three times, Tomlinson went to five Pro Bowls. Not only was he one of the most bruising but slippery rushers in history, but he was an airborne threat as well, having caught at least 50 passes in nine of his 11 seasons.
Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young extended San Francisco’s magical run with Joe Montana into another era of glory for the 49ers. He won three Super Bowls and went to the Pro Bowl seven times — he was league MVP twice. After his playing days, he founded a successful private equity fund called HGGC — a move that helped him join the NFL’s elite $200 million and over club. In an odd bit of trivia, Steve Young became the first left-handed quarterback ever inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2005.
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Splitting his time between the Giants and the Vikings, 1975 MVP Fran Tarkenton was one of history’s great scrambling quarterbacks. A nine-time Pro Bowler and Hall of Famer, he played for 18 seasons, spanning nearly all of the 1960s and ’70s. He threw for more than 47,000 yards and threw for 342 touchdowns.
Upon retiring, Tarkenton became a serial entrepreneur. In 2014, when Tarkenton was 74 years old, Forbes reported that he had started more than 20 successful companies. Many other experiments didn’t pan out, but just as it was on the field, Fran Tarkenton did not let failure slow him down in the business world.