Tom Brady earned more than double closest player in 2023 NFL royalties report

Young QBs Lawrence, Pickett cracked top five in earnings from 2022 season

Cover Image for Tom Brady earned more than double closest player in 2023 NFL royalties report
Tom Brady retired in February 2023 after winning seven Super Bowls in 23 NFL seasons. (Credit: Getty Images)

Former Ohio State wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr., who was chosen fourth overall by the Arizona Cardinals in the NFL Draft last Thursday, has yet to sign the NFLPA's group licensing agreement, meaning his name and likeness cannot be used on jerseys, video games and officially licensed cards.

The thought is that Harrison Jr. is potentially holding out for a chance at either getting a better deal, or he won't sign altogether and would force brands to do individual deals with him.

But how much is really at stake, and is the deal the union gives the players for their licensing rights a fair one?

For that, cllct examined the latest annual report filed by the NFL Players Association with the Department of Labor, where the union is required to list who it paid and how much it paid them.

The most current filing covers from March 1, 2022, to Feb. 28, 2023.

In order to figure out the top 15 highest earners in NFLPA licensing royalties over that time, cllct cross-referenced the private companies these athletes had the union cut the check to, helping to determine exactly which players were getting paid.

Here are the Top 20 highest royalty earners in that last reported season, which was the season before last.

  1. Tom Brady, $6,801,701
  2. Trevor Lawrence, $2,897,060
  3. Patrick Mahomes, $2,373,866
  4. Dak Prescott, $2,171,059
  5. Kenny Pickett, $1,644,225
  6. CeeDee Lamb, $1,626,303
  7. Matthew Stafford, $1,621,314
  8. Rob Gronkowski, $1,580,153
  9. Joe Burrow, $1,574,105
  10. Russell Wilson, $1,570,146
  11. Micah Parsons, $1,559,405
  12. Josh Allen, $1,454,674
  13. George Kittle, $1,260,776
  14. Cooper Kupp, $1,242,193
  15. Justin Herbert, $1,239,527
  16. Mac Jones, $1,193,122
  17. Stefon Diggs, $1,082,770
  18. Matt Corral, $1,051,207
  19. Peyton Manning, $1,025,000
  20. Malik Willis, $992,925

Brady's number from his final NFL season is obviously wild, with the seven-time Super Bowl champion earning more than double the second-highest paid player.

What else jumps out? Rookies have tremendous earning power, as do players early in their career. Then-Steelers QB Kenny Pickett came in at No. 5 list, earning $1.6 million, undoubtedly boosted by being a first-year QB of a storied franchise who also played his college ball at Pitt. Fellow rookie QBs Matt Corral (drafted by the Panthers, but now playing in the UFL) and Malik Willis (Titans) came in at Nos. 18 and 20, respectively.

Trevor Lawrence, who was a second-year QB in the 2022 season, ranked No. 2 ahead of much more accomplished players. Mac Jones, also in his second season at the time, ranked 16th.

Those are numbers that Harrison Jr. might want to pay attention to, as it's clear much of players' earning power comes in their first few seasons as fans clamor to buy their new jerseys and rookie cards.

When a player moves to a new team, it also boosts their earnings, especially in sales of new team jerseys. Russell Wilson, who played his first season in Denver in 2022, ranked No. 10, while Matthew Stafford, who was fresh off a Super Bowl win and entering his second season with the Rams, claimed the No. 7 spot.

Only one retired player, Peyton Manning and his company Pey Dirt, made the top 20 ($1,025,00). No other retired player really came close, although Chad Ochocinco took home $575,000 and Deion Sanders' Prime Time Enterprises was paid $331,250 in royalties.

J.J. Watt ($952,891) beat out his brother T.J. Watt ($846,144).

Run-of-the-mill offensive and defensive linemen get paid roughly $25,000 for the use of their name, image and likeness, and an increase in popularity means an increase to the bank account.

Here are other assorted players and former players and how much the union paid them for their rights in 2022:

  • Justin Jefferson, $948,409
  • Deebo Samuel, $896, 498
  • Travis Kelce, $874,949
  • Drew Brees, $799,521
  • Larry Fitzgerald, $709,420
  • Zach Wilson, $641,067
  • Ja'Marr Chase, $611,417
  • Ezekiel Elliott, $517,829
  • Tyreek Hill, $341,153
  • Von Miller, $254,618
  • Derek Carr, $246,282
  • Dalvin Cook, $166,589
  • Adam Thielen, $149,101
  • Jason Kelce, $120,719
  • Randall Cunningham, $49,000
  • Andy Dalton, $30,399

Darren Rovell is the founder of and one of the country's leading reporters on the collectible market. He previously worked for ESPN, CNBC and The Action Network.