For countless Americans across the United States, working is not only a necessity but a case of survival. With the cost of living continuing to rise, and wages struggling to keep up, money is getting tighter, and people are struggling to live month by month. When you add in sickness and forced absence, the situation can be dire for many.

However, even workers who aren’t contractually protected from absences, forced through injury, sickness or any other reason, do have some options. 

So, we wanted to shine a light on the amount elite athletes earn, regardless of inclusion in match day teams, to remind American workers who are not protected by large financial contracts, that they may be entitled to compensation for missed or lost earnings.

We looked at players across the; NBA, NFL, MLB, and NHL, as well as global soccer, to reveal a list of the 50 male athletes who have earned the most while not playing, through injury or other absences. 

The research focused on the top ten highest earning players from each sport, to reveal who had made the most money watching from the sidelines.

To generate the list, our data analysts had a look at the highest earning players within each sport; American football, basketball, baseball, hockey and soccer America’s five most watched, according to recent viewership numbers*. We then divided the total earnings across the total number of games each player could have played in throughout their career, revealing their overall earnings per game. We then calculated the amount earned for every game missed, to reveal the total amount earned while benched, injured, or otherwise absent.

Houston Astros’ Justin Verlander was named sport’s biggest ‘bench-earner’, after our researchers discovered he’s earned a staggering $248m while benched, injured or unavailable.

In fact, and quite frankly to our surprise, baseball dominated the top ten, with MLB players making up the entirety of the top five highest earners. Verlander topped the list, followed by Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw, who earnt $225 million and $222 million without even ever pitching a ball.

World-renowned Brazilian soccer star Neymar was the highest ranking athlete from any other sport, finishing 6th on the list, with earnings of more than $80m while sidelined.

Bench earners revealed

The fifty highest ranking ‘bench-earners’ and their sport, as well as the amount they’ve earnt from the sidelines, are:

  1. Justin Verlander (MLB) – $248,349,306
  2. Zack Greinke (MLB) – $225,598,279
  3. Clayton Kershaw (MLB) – $222,079,132
  4. David Price (MLB) – $206,264,276
  5. Max Scherzer (MLB) – $161,432,850
  6. Neymar (soccer) – $80,122,732
  7. Blake Griffin (NBA) – $67,196,616
  8. Miguel Cabrera (MLB) – $62,541,318
  9. Gareth Bale (soccer) – $62,023,235
  10. Chris Paul (NBA) – $61,147,394
  11. Steph Curry (NBA) – $57,351,360
  12. Aaron Rodgers (NFL) – $57,179,673
  13. Kevin Durant (NBA) – $55,740,300
  14. Al Horford (NBA) – $54,437,600
  15. Albert Pujols (MLB) – $51,774,120
  16. Carmelo Anthony (NBA) – $50,213,000
  17. Lebron James (NBA) – $47,739,072
  18. Mike Trout (MLB) – $45,817,660
  19. Tom Brady (NFL) – $45,363,304
  20. Kirk Cousins (NFL) -$42,794,840
  21. Lionel Messi (soccer) – $42,607,696
  22. Joey Votto (MLB) – $41,573,333
  23. Robinson Cano (MLB) – $40,702,427
  24. Dwight Howard (NBA)- $38,863,890
  25. Trent Williams (NFL) – $37,911,555
  26. Oscar (soccer) – $37,147,398
  27. Kylian Mbappe (soccer) – $35,496,551
  28. Cristiano Ronaldo (soccer) – $34,706,011
  29. Andres Iniesta (soccer) – $34,627,377
  30. Joe Flacco (NFL) – $33,286,085
  31. Shea Weber (NHL) – $32,389,948
  32. Evgeni Malkin (NHL) – $32,084,161
  33. Russell Westbrook (NBA) – $31,924,879
  34. James Harden (NBA) – $31,251,224
  35. Ryan Tannehill (NFL) – $30,483,856
  36. Sidney Crosby (NHL) – $30,136,679
  37. Von Miller – (NFL) $28,586,052
  38. Cam Newton (NFL) – $27,851,616
  39. Matthew Stafford (NFL) – $25,807,496
  40. Eden Hazard (soccer) – $24,820,958
  41. Sergio Ramos (soccer) – $24,288,311
  42. Toni Kroos (soccer) – $20,372,093
  43. Zach Parise (NHL) – $19,642,896
  44. Marian Gaborik (NHL) – $18,883,759
  45. Joe Thornton (NHL) – $18,281,760
  46. Alex Ovechkin (NHL) – $11,037,600
  47. Patrick Kane (NHL) – $10,873,692
  48. Ndamukong Suh (NFL) – $10,588,955
  49. Anze Kopitar (NHL) – $8,969,884
  50. Ryan Suter (NHL) – $8,804,220

Across the top five athletes, comprised solely of MLB players, the bench-earnings total more than $1.06bn, meaning the earnings taken home by these five baseball players, equals nearly two thirds of the amount earnt by the other 45 athletes included on the list, which totaled $1.66 billion. Baseball’s overall contribution to the list totals $1.36bn, which is nearly a billion dollars higher than the second highest ‘bench-earning sport’, basketball, which boasted a total of $495m.

Looking at Justin Verlander’s career more closely, the Astros pitcher has played just 474 games out of a possible 2,754, all the while earning more than $299m in the process. To put this into context, he has earnt $108,782 for each game he could have participated in, however after missing 2,283 games throughout his career, the pitcher has earned $238m without stepping onto the field.

Four time finals MVP and winner Lebron James was only the seventh highest basketball player in terms of match earnings made from the bench, equalling $47,739,072, despite boasting the highest career earnings of any current NBA player. NFL legend and 7-time superbowl winner Tom Brady was the second highest from the NFL behind Aaron Rodgers, earning $45,363,304.

Global soccer star and seven time Ballon d’Or winner Lionel Messi finished third behind Neymar and Gareth Bale within the soccer category, despite having the record for the highest paying contract in sports history. The Argentinian has earnt $42,607,696 while sidelined.

Andy Gillin, Managing Partner of GJEL, said:

“At GJEL our goal has always been to offer people the advice and guidance they need to deal with their personal injury situation, even if they don’t know they need it! Something we hear a lot from our clients is that they ‘didn’t even know’ they might be owed compensation, especially when it comes to lost earnings.

“This is why we decided to release our research, to help shine a light on how much some of the world’s most elite athletes are making while off injured, sick, or benched. Obviously, they are protected by massive contracts which usually pay out regardless of injury or absence, but for the average American, this isn’t the case. That’s why we urge people to get in touch if they’ve missed out on earnings through injury or forced absence – we’re always here to help, whatever your needs”

GJEL Accident Attorneys is based in San Jose California.



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Andy Gillin received his Bachelor’s Degree from the University of California at Berkeley and his law degree from the University of Chicago. He is the managing partner of GJEL Accident Attorneys and has written and lectured in the field of plaintiffs’ personal injury law for numerous organizations. Since 1972 he has been helping seriously injured victims throughout northern California fight & win their personal injury cases. Andy is one of the top awarded & recognized wrongful death lawyers in northern California.