Forbes’ annual list of the highest-paid athletes within a respective year, from June 1 to June 1, is always interesting. It’s fun to see who’s overpaid relative to the talent around them, which notable names are left off the list, which perennial appearances fall off, and which newcomers arrive.
This year’s list is particularly interesting though, and it’s not hard to imagine why.
The sports world has been in a state of disarray ever since the coronavirus pandemic took its toll on the industry as a whole, and player contracts and salaries were thrust to the forefront of the conversation. In fact, the very title of the 2020 highest-paid athletes list on Forbes serves as a reminder: “Coronavirus Cuts Paydays For The Sporting Elite” sets a precedent for what numerical figures you’re about to see.
In the methodology section, Kurt Badenhausen and the rest of the excellent Forbes staff note that prize money, salaries and bonuses are all a part of the rankings, as usual, but that other measures are taken into account. For instance, overall NBA salaries were reduced by 25% to account for the delayed season, and European soccer players are few and far between on the list due to the massive salary cuts.
Because the NFL season occurred in full, those salaries are all present, and this serves as part of the reason why there are 31 NFL players on this year’s list as opposed to 19 on last year’s. The other big reason? MLB Players may not get paid at all for April and May 2020 if there is no season, meaning that their full salaries are not represented in the rankings. Only one player made the list this year in comparison to 15 last season.
Some of the rankings may seem odd, but the timing makes it so. Kyler Murray, for example, received a larger signing bonus than Quinnen Williams. Murray does not appear on the list, but Williams does. That's because Murray signed his contract before June 2019, the cutoff for this list, thus nullifying his eligibility.
Where do your favorite superstars rank? Which cities boast the highest-paid athletes of 2020? Which fan bases cringe at the thought of certain athletes making so much cash?
Let’s take a look.
All numbers retrieved from Forbes. Athletes will be ranked according to their current team, even if the money came from another city over the past year. Not all athletes on list shown. Total in parentheses is the sum of top-100 athletes’ earnings.
1. Roger Federer ($106.3 Million)
2. Cristiano Ronaldo ($105 Million)
3. Lionel Messi ($104 Million)
4. Neymar ($95.5 Million)
11. Tyson Fury ($57 Million)
McGregor second fighter at $48 million
13. Lewis Hamilton ($54 Million)
14. Rory McIlroy ($52 million)
29. Naomi Osaka ($37.4 Million)
We first look at the international presence on the list, as there are 14 soccer players and a handful of international golfers, tennis players, combat sports figures and others that make up a good portion of the rankings.
Endorsements play a massive role in calculating these athletes’ wealth. Federer, for instance, took home $6.3 million from his salary and winnings over the past year. That leaves… well, the math isn’t hard to do. All the other money? It's all from endorsements. His sponsors include Mercedes-Benz, Rolex, Barilla, and Wilson Sporting Goods.
Similarly, Ronaldo brings in a huge chunk of change from his endorsements, including global giants Nike and DAZN. That said, his $60 million salary makes up the majority of his 2020 earnings. Soccer superstars are top-heavy on the list, filling out three of the top four spots.
Hamilton is one of three racers on the list, and his $54 million is nearly equal to what the other two make combined. Osaka is the highest-paid female athlete in 2020, beating out Serena Williams by just over $1 million, with the help of $34 million in endorsements.
US (No City Affiliation)
8. Tiger Woods ($62.3 Million)
20. Deontay Wilder ($46.5 Million)
25. Phil Mickelson ($40.8 Million)
33. Serena Williams ($36 Million)
T-52. Jordan Spieth ($27.6 Million)
Tiger reigns supreme among American solo athletes thanks to $60 million in endorsements from a variety of sponsors, including Nike, Monster Energy, and TaylorMade. Deontay Wilder ranks a decent amount behind rival fighter Tyson Fury, but is the highest-paid American combat sports athlete on the list. Serena Williams, a few slots behind Naomi Osaka, is the highest-paid American tennis player and female athlete.
Other Cities (Only One Athlete On List)
21. Tom Brady ($45 million)
25. Chris Paul ($35 Million)
41. Blake Griffin ($31.9 Million)
50. Kyle Lowry ($28.5 Million)
T-52. Jimmy Butler ($27.6 Million)
62. Devin Booker ($26.6 Million)
70. Ryan Tannehill ($25.5 Million)
71. Mike Conley ($25.4 Million)
74. Bobby Wagner ($25 Million)
Where’s Russell Wilson? Forbes has an explanation for that. Badenhausen says that the Seahawks’ quarterback had the biggest fall, as Forbes had attributed his $65 million signing bonus to his 2019 earnings though Seattle eventually deferred $35 million of the payment to 2020.
76. DeMar DeRozan ($24.8 Million)
77. Robert Quinn ($24.7 Million)
88. Philip Rivers ($23.4 Million)
T-89. Paul Millsap ($23.3 Million)
91. Ben Roethlisberger ($23 Million)
98. Calais Campbell ($22.1 Million)
Las Vegas ($45.9 Million)
83. Marcus Mariota ($23.9 Million)
99. Derek Carr ($22 Million)
Normally, a QB competition involving two of the world’s top-100 highest earning athletes would be a good thing. Jon Gruden may consider it a good thing, but for the most part, the jury is out on both of these guys. Derek Carr has shown flashes in the past but has yet to make a great career out of his time in Oakland, while Mariota was benched thanks to the phenomenal performance of Ryan Tannehill. Maybe new surroundings in Las Vegas and a fun new offensive asset in Henry Ruggs will provide a spark for one of these two signal callers.
Cincinnati ($46.7 Million)
80. Trae Waynes ($24.3 Million)
94. D.J. Reader ($22.4 Million)
Surprised? With all the talk revolving around Joe Burrow and the future of the Bengals offense, Mike Clay of ESPN calls the Bengals’ defensive makeover the most underrated move of the offseason (h/t James Rapien of Sports Illustrated). Trae Waynes and D.J. Reader started the movement with lucrative contracts before several other deals were made, and the Bengals are looking to surprise a lot of critics in 2020.
Cleveland ($48.3 Million)
67. Kevin Love ($25.7 Million)
93. Andre Drummond ($22.6 Million)
Drummond could appear on this list in a higher slot next year, seeing as he’s “likely” to exercise his $28.8 million player option, according to Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com, while Love’s contract shows that he’s a perennial contender for a high ranking given his average salary of just over $30 million per year. The Cavs would hope to find success with this duo of big men and their young, raw backcourt, but it remains to be seen if they will be able to bounce back from a horrible 2019-20 year.
Washington, D.C. ($53.5 Million)
42. John Wall ($31.2 Million)
96. Bradley Beal ($22.3 Million)
Similarly to some of the duos we see higher up on this list, Wall and Beal act as the expensive yet effective backcourt of the Wizards. Should Wall ever get back to the player he was before his injury, and with Beal’s improved play and leadership, the duo could still be a force to be reckoned with in the nation’s capital.
Boston ($55.2 Million)
T-52. Gordon Hayward ($27.6 Million)
T-52. Kemba Walker ($27.6 Million)
The Celtics roster is deep and balanced throughout, but the names who represent the team on this list do not represent the core of this talented team. Hayward’s contract is up after this season, and he’s not going to cash in the same paycheck as he’s been doing with this deal, but Walker is raking in cash for years to come as part of his near-$141 million contract.
Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are the rising names to watch out for, and Brown’s $107 million extension could push him onto this list soon enough. Tatum is the real star, though, and when the time comes for Boston to retain him, he should be in for a big pay day.
Portland ($60.8 Million)
30. Damian Lillard ($37 Million)
84. C.J. McCollum ($23.8 Million)
Lillard and McCollum consistently keep the Blazers afloat, and for that they’re rewarded handsomely. Still, fans have to wonder whether this is the core that will be able to get it done in the freakishly strong Western conference, and, as of now, the Blazers are out of the 2020 playoffs. Should Lillard’s rap career really take off, we could be looking at a whole different ranking for the versatile guard in the near future.
Carolina ($72.4 Million)
63. Christian McCaffrey ($26.5 Million)
85. Shaq Thompson ($23.7 Million)
97. Cam Newton ($22.2 Million)
We’re going to keep Cam Newton under the Carolina tab for the time being, because we don’t really have anywhere else to put him for now. He made top-100 money last year, mostly from the sideline, but his next contract could fall anywhere on a large spectrum. So too could the role he fills on whichever team takes the gamble on him -- it remains to be seen if he's capable of posting starter-caliber numbers. Christian McCaffrey, who carried the load for the Panthers and then some in 2019, got the money he deserves considering his role in the offense.
Dallas ($72.7 Million)
75. Amari Cooper ($24.9 Million)
78. Kristaps Porzingis ($24.5 Million)
T-89. Ezekiel Elliott ($23.3 Million)
Tick, tock, tick, tock. Dak Prescott’s just waiting to become the guy that would likely be higher than any other NFL player on the list, and the contract extension talks with the Cowboys’ QB have been going on for what seems to be an eternity. Once (if) completed, Prescott, Cooper and Elliott would form a highly-paid and extremely highly-talented core of the dangerous Dallas offense. Robert Quinn (listed under Chicago) also technically adds to Dallas’ portfolio on this list.
Porzingis’ high contract is something the Mavericks can afford while they attempt to take advantage of Luka Doncic’s inexpensive rookie deal, and when that expires in a couple years, expect him to be up there with the best of them on this list.
Milwaukee/Green Bay ($101.8 Million)
18. Giannis Antetokounmpo ($47.6 Million)
45. Aaron Rodgers ($30.1 Million)
82. Khris Middleton ($24.1 Million)
The Greek Freak’s future is cloudy, as there is speculation he could look to move to another team should he think that the Bucks’ championship window is closing, or at least smaller than some other options. But should he want to continue his high standing on the Forbes list, he’ll want to stay in Milwaukee, seeing as they can offer him the most possible money in a contract extension. He’s joined by teammate Khris Middleton, whose salary sits at over $30 million per season (remember, Forbes opted to reduce NBA salaries by 25% to account for the season delay).
Aaron Rodgers’ $21 million salary joins with his $9 million in endorsements, the most recognizable of which is State Farm.
Houston ($103.8 Million)
12. Russell Westbrook ($56 Million)
17. James Harden ($47.8 Million)
Though there are only two representatives from Houston on the list, they’re both in the top 20, and for good reason. Two of the most dynamic, explosive, and talented players the NBA has ever seen, Westbrook and Harden form the core of the exciting, fast-paced and small-ball Rockets. When Westbrook signed his 10-year extension with Nike back in 2017, as noted by ESPN’s Nick DePaula, it was the most lucrative total deal for an athlete signed under the Jordan label to date.
Minnesota ($110.5 Million)
9. Kirk Cousins ($60.5 Million)
63. D’Angelo Russell ($26.5 Million)
87. Karl-Anthony Towns ($23.5 Million)
Though Kirk Cousins’ statistical performance may not indicate that he was the highest-earning quarterback in 2020, he holds that spot proudly -- at least for this year. In March, he signed a two-year extension worth $66 million, with a healthy $30 million signing bonus as part of the deal. That, added to the end of his fully-guaranteed $84 million contract in 2019, made him the highest-paid NFL player in 2020.
A duo of Timberwolves, one returning and one new, round out Minnesota’s representation on the top 100 list, and the hope is that this pair will help to bring a 19-45 Timberwolves team (so far) out of the dumpster and into prominence.
New York ($122.4 Million)
7. Kevin Durant ($63.9 Million)
24. Kyrie Irving ($41.9 Million)
94. Quinnen Williams ($22.4 Million)
Two Nets stars, and no Knicks stars. That defines the tale of basketball in the Big Apple, as the Brooklyn Nets are seeking a massive year once Durant returns from injury and teams up with Irving and the young corps of talented Nets players. Meanwhile, the Knicks have some sort of idea for the future but so many problems to iron out before success is a realistic goal.
Quinnen Williams is the only football star on the New York list, as his four-year contract came with a $21 million signing bonus.
Gerrit Cole is an obvious omission here, seeing as he earned the most lucrative contract for a pitcher in baseball history last season, but the lack of April and May baseball excludes him and many others from the list.
New Orleans ($127.2 Million)
22. Drew Brees ($44.8 Million)
39. Michael Thomas ($32.4 Million)
57. Zion Williamson ($27.3 Million)
92. Andrus Peat ($22.7 Million)
The most surprising name of this foursome might be Zion Williamson, seeing as he’s only a rookie. But when you’re the biggest rookie sensation to enter the league, quite possibly in the history of the game, that status is bound to come with some endorsement deals. His five-year, $75 million deal with the Jordan Brand was the richest shoe deal for a rookie in NBA history, according to Cody Taylor of USA Today. Additionally, Williamson headlines an outstanding group of talent under the Gatorade brand, alongside Paul George, Karl-Anthony Towns and Jayson Tatum… try beating that roster.
Brees will hang on for a couple more years, extending his time in New Orleans and hoping to tack on another strong season to his Hall of Fame career -- and bolstering the stats of Michael Thomas while he’s at it.
Atlanta ($127.3 Million)
26. Julio Jones ($40.5 Million)
37. Grady Jarrett ($33.1 Million)
47. Matt Ryan ($29.5 Million)
81. Dante Fowler, Jr. ($24.2 Million)
The Falcons are the only NFL team on the list with four of their current players on the rankings. Grady Jarrett’s money comes almost exclusively from his salary and signing bonus, as he made only $50,000 in endorsements.
Names to watch out for in the coming years are Trae Young and John Collins, both of whom seem to be fixtures in the Hawks’ long-term plans. Ronald Acuna will not be a part of this list, most likely, seeing as his eight-year, $100 million contract should be viewed as a relative bargain considering his overall talent.
Philadelphia ($161.7 Million)
10. Carson Wentz ($59.1 Million)
60. Joel Embiid ($26.7 Million)
65. Darius Slay ($26.1 Million)
71. Tobias Harris ($25.4 Million)
79. Al Horford ($24.4 Million)
Wentz’s pay day is reflected well on this list, and he’s actually the highest-ranked new addition on the entire roster of the top 100 athletes. Badenhausen notes that his massive deal provided him with $54 million in bonuses, all of which are accounted for in this ranking. He joins new addition Darius Slay to represent the Eagles, as Slay made $13 million on two separate occasions over the past year -- once with the Lions for his 2019 campaign, and once as a signing bonus with the Eagles after they signed him to a three-year deal.
A trio of 76ers find themselves on the list, but Ben Simmons will be the guy to look out for in future lists, seeing as he signed a five-year deal worth around $33 million per season, with his highest base salary coming in at over $38 million in the 2024-25 season.
Bryce Harper, similarly to other baseball players on the list, is a notable omission.
Bay Area ($163.7 Million)
6. Steph Curry ($74.4 Million)
28. Klay Thompson ($38.8 Million)
59. Arik Armstead ($26.8 Million)
85. Nick Bosa ($23.7 Million)
Steph comes in as the second highest-paid NBA player in 2020, but there’s a pretty stark difference between his earnings and those of the No. 1 NBA player. Still, with $44 million in endorsements, the Baby-Faced Assassin -- has the beard nullified that nickname? -- is one of the most recognizable figures in the world. The Warriors missed his services for the majority of the season, as well as Klay Thompson’s for the entirety of the year, but still had to pay for them the whole way through.
Fortunately, their NFL counterparts not only watched Armstead and Bosa play throughout the 2019-20 season but reaped huge benefits from their phenomenal defensive prowess, and won the NFC as a result. Bosa, the 2019 Defensive Rookie of the Year, signed a four-year contract that came with a $22 million signing bonus.
Los Angeles ($258.2 Million)
5. LeBron James ($88.2 Million)
15. Jared Goff ($49 Million)
38. Paul George ($32.8 Million)
43. Kawhi Leonard ($30.5 Million)
44. Anthony Davis ($30.4 Million)
57. Clayton Kershaw ($27.3 Million)
The City of Angels boasts the most American superstars on this list of any city and, not surprisingly, has spent the most money on their crop of top talent. LeBron and AD beat out the duo of crosstown rivals thanks to the $60 million in endorsements that the extremely marketable James reeled in over the past year. The highest-paid male athlete in the US, LeBron’s salary is actually lower than quite a few names on this list, but being a face of AT&T, Coca-Cola, Nike, Walmart, and more has its financial perks.
Goff is the third highest-paid quarterback on the list, as his 2019 contract extension paid him $26 million throughout the season and added a roster bonus that Goff cashed in for a cool $21 million in 2020 (via Spotrac).
Clayton Kershaw is the only MLB player on the list, though more would appear had the first two months of the season not been erased.