Peyton Manning will earn $18 million with the Denver Broncos in this 2012 NFL season. This is the highest base salary in the NFL and it's also his impact on the cap. Only two other players have a higher cap impact on their teams this season: Elvis Dumervil ($18.95 million) also with the Broncos and Dwight Freeney ($19 million) with the Colts.
Another way to look at the highest paid athletes in the NFL is to use their contracts and calculate an average yearly salary from that. These are the top ten salaries in 2012, based on their multi-year contracts:
1$20mQBDrew Brees2$19.2mQBPeyton Manning3$18.8mWRCalvin Johnson4$16mWRLarry Fitzgerald5$16mDEMario Williams6$15.27mQBEli Manning7$14mQBPhilip Rivers8$13.7mRBAdrian Peterson9$12.75mQBBen Roethlisberger10$11.5mTJoe Thomas