COVERING ALL THINGS SILVER AND BLACK

Salary Shocker: Heyward-Bey Highest Paid Bay Area Athlete

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    Darrius Heyward-Bey is the area's highest-paid.

    Sports Illustrated released its annual Fortunate 50 list this week, detailing the 50 highest-paid pro athletes in America for 2010 based on salary and endorsements.

    You'd think that the Bay Area homeboys on this list would be our biggest superstars, franchise players like Tim Lincecum, Patrick Willis, or Nnamdi Asomugha.

    Not quite. The highest-paid guy in 2010 among all Raiders, 49ers, Giants, A's, Warriors, and/or Sharks is the Oakland Raiders' underperforming draft bust, wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey.

    DHB's astonishing $21.4 million salary for 2010 knocks Barry Zito off his perch as the Bay Area's most overpaid sports flop. Heyward-Bey is ranked No. 28 among all American athletes -- tops in the Bay Area -- whereas Zito's paltry $18.5 million salary has him all the way down at No. 39.

    Lincecum, Nnamdi, and Patrick Willis do not make this list. No other pro players in the Bay Area make this list. Eleven Bay Area players may have made their league's respective 2010 All-Star rosters, but they did not make Darrius Heyward-Bey kind of money. 

    The more you look into these numbers, the less sense they make. Consider that the richest NFL player on the list, Peyton Manning at No. 9, has a 2010 salary of $15.8 million. While Manning doubles that in product endorsements, Heyward-Bey's actual NFL salary is almost $6 million higher than Manning's. 

    That's right. A fourth receiver who caught all of nine passes last season makes $6 million more to play football than the reigning league MVP does.

    I may be too charitable in calling Heyward-Bey a fourth receiver. DHB ranked tenth -- tenth! -- on his own team in catches.

    To be fair, the Raiders do throw a lot of passes to their tight ends. But this was the 29th-ranked passing team in the NFL. Its tenth-most-productive player is simply not contributing very much.

    Sports Illustrated notes that DHB's oversize 2010 salary is the result of some unorthodox accounting. Heyward-Bey did not receive a proper signing bonus last year. But according to SI's report, DHB receives "$20.7 million in combined option and roster bonuses" this season to make up for it.

    And this is becoming more common. The Lions' Matt Stafford and the Rams' Jason Smith are also making $20+ million this season, because they too chose second-year jackpots over first-year signing bonuses.

    Interestingly, the NFL's five highest base salaries for 2010 are Stafford ($26.9 million), Terrell Suggs ($24.9 million), Albert Haynesworth ($24.6 million), Heyward-Bey ($21.4 million), and Smith ($20.5 million).

    None of these guys were particularly Pro Bowl caliber players last season. Several of them downright sucked.

    This may not bring you much comfort when watching games on Sundays. But it may help bring you some perspective Monday through Friday when you are dealing with fools who make a lot more money than you.

    Joe Kukura is a freelance writer who thinks this list of richest athletes would look a lot different if you factored in alimony and child support payments.