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The 50 highest-earning American athletes

By Jonah Freedman, Special to SI.com

Uncertainty. That's the key theme in SI.com's eighth-annual compilation of the 50 top-earning American athletes by salary, winnings, endorsements and appearance fees.

Being on top of the Fortunate 50 has never been so tenuous. Perennial No. 1 Tiger Woods still reigns for the eighth straight year -- barely. His quickly shrinking earnings have never been lower on our list, nor has he ever been this close to surrendering his once insurmountable lead. As Woods' personal life and game have seemingly fallen apart, he's also seen most of his sponsors desert him, too.

Meanwhile, big question marks loom over the other big names on the 50, as labor strife in the NFL and NBA threaten the future paychecks of their players. Between Tiger's near one-third decrease in total earnings all over sports, the average earnings of the athletes on this year's 50 is $24.3 million, down 7 percent from 2010.

In all, the 2011 list features 19 NBA players, 17 baseball players, eight NFL players, three NASCAR drivers and three golfers.

The average income of the athletes on our International 20 list of the top-earning non-American sportsmen, however, held steady at a share of more than $30 million, as Roger Federer retained his perch at No. 1, followed closely by international boxing sensation and now Filipino politician Manny Pacquiao.

Our findings consisted solely of salary, winnings, bonuses, endorsements and appearance fees. We consulted players' associations, tour records, agents and news reports. Our endorsement estimates for 2011 came from Burns Entertainment & Sports Marketing, other sports-marketing executives and analysts, and agents. Formula One estimates came from Formula Money. Salary figures were based on current or most recently completed seasons (the upcoming 2011 season for the NFL). For winnings-based sports (auto racing, golf, tennis), we used the '10 calendar year. Boxing purses are from June '10 to May 2011. Candidates for the U.S. 50 had to be American citizens and currently active in their sports.

For the 2010 list, go here.

For the 20 highest earning international athletes, go here.

  • 1
    Tiger Woods

    Tiger Woods

    Golf

    Last Year's Rank: 1
    1. $2,294,116
    2. $60,000,000
    3. $62,294,116

    Tiger's empire has crumbled, but Rome wasn't built in a day. His Nike and EA deals still keep him on top of the charts while other endorsers -- and his game -- have gone in other directions. But his reign at No. 1 may soon be over. For more on Tiger go here.

  • 2
    Phil Mickelson

    Phil Mickelson

    Golf

    Last Year's Rank: 2
    1. $4,185,933
    2. $57,000,000
    3. $61,185,933

    Lefty's hefty sponsorship portfolio isn't flashy -- deals with Callaway, KPMG, Rolex, Barclays Capital, ExxonMobil and Amgen/Pfizer -- but he's one of the most reliable endorsers in pro sports. For more on Phil Mickelson go here.

  • 3
    LeBron James

    LeBron James

    Miami Heat (NBA)

    Last Year's Rank: 4
    1. $14,500,000
    2. $30,000,000
    3. $44,500,000

    There's plenty of room for LeBron's talent in his $9 million Coconut Grove mansion. King James' compound features a wine cellar, library, home theater and dock that can fit two 60-foot yachts. But all the money in the world can't buy an NBA title.

  • 4
    Peyton Manning

    Peyton Manning

    Indianapolis Colts (NFL)

    Last Year's Rank: 9
    1. $23,070,000
    2. $15,000,000
    3. $38,070,000

    Who needs a lucrative new contract, anyway? If the Colts place the franchise tag on the four-time NFL MVP again next year, Manning will earn more than $50 million in salary over two seasons.

  • 5
    Alex Rodriguez

    Alex Rodriguez

    New York Yankees (MLB)

    Last Year's Rank: 5
    1. $32,000,000
    2. $4,000,000
    3. $36,000,000

    If A-Rod's bat catches fire, he could cash in this season on the first milestone bonus written into his contract: another $6 million for passing Willie Mays (No. 4 at 660) on the all-time home-run list.

  • 6
    Kobe Bryant

    Kobe Bryant

    Los Angeles Lakers (NBA)

    Last Year's Rank: 7
    1. $24,806,250
    2. $10,000,000
    3. $34,806,250

    Kobe relinquished a pair of back-to-back titles this spring: the NBA championship and his crown as the NBA's top jersey seller worldwide. LeBron's No. 6 Heat top now outsells Kobe's No. 24.

  • 7
    Kevin Garnett

    Kevin Garnett

    Boston Celtics (NBA)

    Last Year's Rank: 15
    1. $18,832,044
    2. $14,000,000
    3. $32,832,044

    This could be KG's final appearance on this list, as he's set to earn $21 million next season in the last year of his contract and could retire. He'll have earned more than $300 million over his career.

  • 8
    Matt Ryan

    Matt Ryan

    Atlanta Falcons (NFL)

    Last Year's Rank: NR
    1. $32,250,000
    2. $450,000
    3. $32,700,000

    The bulk of guaranteed money in Ryan's six-year, $72 million contract he signed in 2008 should be paid out this year, when he'll earn a $22 million roster bonus on top of his $10.25 million salary.

  • 9
    Tom Brady

    Tom Brady

    New England Patriots (NFL)

    Last Year's Rank: T-28
    1. $20,007,280
    2. $10,000,000
    3. $30,007,280

    Brady's four-year, $72 million extension signed last September gives him the highest average annual salary in the NFL. He's due to collect $10 million of his $16 million signing bonus in August.

  • 10
    Dwight Howard

    Dwight Howard

    Orlando Magic (NBA)

    Last Year's Rank: 12
    1. $16,647,180
    2. $12,000,000
    3. $28,647,180

    Any dream of Superman joining Lakers needs a cold dose of reality: Howard would have to accept a huge reduction from $17.9 million he's own next year; Kobe might have to take a pay cut, too.

Sources: Salaries, winnings and bonus figures from players' associations, tour records, agents and news reports. Endorsement estimates from Burns Entertainment & Sports Marketing, other sports-marketing executives and analysts, and agents. Formula One estimates are from Formula Money. Salaries based on current or most recently completed seasons (exception: 2011 for NFL). For winnings-based sports (golf, auto racing, tennis), 2010 calendar year amounts used. Boxing purses are from June 2010 to May 2011.

 
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