South Carolina Football: Ranking the highest-paid NFL Gamecocks of all-time

Former South Carolina football receiver Deebo Samuel carries the ball in Super Bowl LIV. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Former South Carolina football receiver Deebo Samuel carries the ball in Super Bowl LIV. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports /
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The South Carolina football program has put some of the best football players in America into the NFL in recent years. The Gamecocks have had some of the NFL’s highest-paid players at positions like cornerback, wide receiver, running back, guard, tight end, defensive end, and kicker at different points in league history.

Which South Carolina football alums have been the highest-paid players during their NFL careers?

***Prior to the 2006 NFL/NFL Players Association Collective Bargaining Agreement, contract terms were more difficult to discover as teams were not required to report the figures to anyone other than the NFL.

***Before 1994, the salary cap was not in existence in the NFL, and teams were not required to report financial terms to anyone.

***Because of this, salary numbers before 2006 can be difficult to find, and NFL player finances from before 1994 are even more difficult to find.

***All salary figures are found on unless otherwise noted.

***All salary figures are approximations.

Honorable Mention

George Rogers: South Carolina football’s only Heisman Trophy winner, George Rogers was one of the highest-paid players in the NFL during his professional career. After setting a rookie salary record in 1981 by signing a 4-year contract with the Saints that started at $500,000, Rogers signed an even bigger contract with the Washington Redskins in free agency.

After making over $2 Million with the Saints, he signed a $600k contract for one season with the Redskins. When he had a 1000-yard season with the ‘Skins in 1985, the Washington Post reported Rogers was signed to a 3-year deal valued at over $2 Million. In all, even 40 years ago, George Rogers made about $5 Million in his professional football career.

Damiere Byrd: Damiere Byrd is entering his 9th season in the NFL. The speedy wide receiver has never been a star in the League, but he has continued to hold on as a key special teams contributor and deep threat for multiple teams. He has totaled just under $8 Million in total salary earnings in his career from 2015-2023.

Sterling Sharpe: One of the best NFL players to ever come from the University of South Carolina, Sterling Sharpe was one of the highest-paid wide receivers in football during his 7-year career. Though cut down in his prime by a neck injury, Sharpe still made almost $9 Million in the late 1980s and early 1990s as one of the top-2 receivers in the game.

Mike Davis: Mike Davis is currently a free agent in search of another job but has been in the NFL since 2015. As one of the league’s best backup ball carriers for many years, Davis has secured over $13.5 Million in earnings from multiple teams and could be adding to that total if signed later this offseason.

Anthony Wright: The longest NFL career of any Gamecock quarterback belongs to Anthony Wright. A1 spent 10 years in the NFL and made over $10 Million as a backup and fill-in starter for the Baltimore Ravens, Dallas Cowboys, Cincinnati Bengals, Pittsburgh Steelers, and New York Giants.

DJ Swearinger: DJ Swearinger last played in the NFL in 2021 after some minor collusion between owners left the safety without a contract. He played this year in the XFL and is still seeking another chance in the NFL. His salaries in the League have totaled over $19 Million.

Troy Williamson: Wide receiver Troy Williamson got paid more than most rookies as a top-10 NFL Draft pick, but a battle with his vision hampered his production, cost him a lot of money in his second contract, and prevented him from signing a third. In his five-year stint with the Vikings and Jaguars, Williamson brought home over $15 Million in contract payments.

Hayden Hurst: Hayden Hurst has already made $22 Million as a solid tight end in the NFL over the last five seasons. He is now in the first year of a new three-year contract with the Carolina Panthers that will add about another $15 Million to his bank account if he plays out the rest of the deal. He will be 31 when that deal expires, meaning he could sign an additional contract after that.

Sidney Rice: One of the best receivers in Gamecock history had some really good moments in the NFL when healthy. The problem with Rice’s career is that he was rarely healthy. A Pro Bowl nod with the Minnesota Vikings in 2009 helped him sign a large free agent contract with the Seattle Seahawks, bringing his career earnings up just above the $25 Million mark.

AJ Cann: AJ Cann was a solid guard in the NFL for almost a decade. He is without a contract for the 2023 season but is expected to sign with a team before the season begins. As a long-time starter, he made some good salaries despite playing one of the lower-paid positions in football. Cann has deposited over $24 Million worth of checks since being drafted and will likely get a few more.

Brandon Shell: Brandon Shell is still going strong in the League and will compete for a starting tackle job with Buffalo Bills in 2023. Heading into his 8th season, Shell will have brought in about $15 Million in his career.

Marcus Robinson: A player who never quite lived up to his talent while at South Carolina, Marcus Robinson put it all together early in his NFL career. As a third-year player in 1999, Robinson broke the Bears’ all-time receiving yards record and was paid handsomely for it. Robinson became the highest-paid Bears receiver ever before injuries derailed his career.

Over the life of his NFL career, Robinson made over $25 Million, and his contract with the Bears was good for 4 years and over $14 Million.

Jaycee Horn: Jaycee Horn is one of the top young players in the NFL. As a top-10 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, Horn is set to make over $21 Million in his first contract and has performed well enough to expect a massive payday in 2025. He has already made over $14 Million in two seasons.

Javon Kinlaw: Javon Kinlaw is another active NFL Gamecock who could get a large payday when his rookie deal is complete. He has already made $15.5 Million heading into his 4th season and has a $10.5 Million option remaining on that deal before he hits free agency.