Joe Montana's paycheck finally is matching his accomplishments.
The four-time Super Bowl quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers, who was the National Football League's fifth-highest-paid player in 1989, vaulted into first place this year when he became the first player in league history to average more than $3 million.
According to the annual salary survey conducted by the NFL Players Association, Montana signed a four-year, $13 million contract this year, averaging $3.25 million. This year, Montana also became the first player to earn $4 million in base salary. His base salary was $1.2 million in '89.
A strange thing about his new contract is that it goes down -- to $3.5 million, $3 million and $2.5 million the next three years.
This reflects that Montana is 34 and should start declining one of these years, although he shows few signs of it yet.
His salary is about 15 percent of the $26.8 million 49ers payroll that is the highest in the league. The New York Jets, Los Angeles Raiders, Washington Redskins and Cleveland Browns round out the top five in team salary.
Buffalo Bills quarterback Jim Kelly has the second-best package, averaging $2.6 million. He agreed to a six-year extension plus an option year in November 1989 that kicks in next year worth $21.7 million, including a $3 million signing bonus. Adding the last two years of his old contract, it's a nine-year deal worth $23.4 million.
Quarterback Randall Cunningham of the Philadelphia Eagles, who was last year's highest-paid player with a $2,562,857 average, slipped to third in 1990.
The figures in the survey were compiled by the NFLPA from figures provided by agents, because the NFL Management Council no longer provides contracts to the NFLPA.
There is some debate, though, about how to interpret the figures. For example, quarterback Jeff George's contract -- originally announced at $15 million -- was valued at $12.475 million by the NFLPA because the Indianapolis Colts can pay the lower figure if they don't defer their payments to George.
Chris Doleman of the Minnesota Vikings has the best defensive package, a one-year deal listed at $1.6 million. He has an unusual contract with a $330,000 base and a $1.27 million signing bonus. There is some dispute about the exact value of the deal.
The defensive player with the highest base this year is Lawrence Taylor of the New York Giants at $1.55 million. But his average package of $1.5 million in the three-year, $4.5 million deal he signed after a long holdout this year put him slightly behind the $1,512,500 average that Reggie White got from the Eagles a year ago.
The highest-paid running back is Eric Dickerson of the Colts, who agreed to a four-year, $11.1 million extension when his suspension ended in October. Counting his $1.45 million base this year, he has a five-year, $12.550 million deal averaging $2.510 million.
Dickerson will earn $3.2 million in base salary if he plays in 1994.
There were 54 players who got a package worth at least $1 million a year, including such unsung players as wide receiver Andre Reed of the Buffalo Bills and defensive lineman Jon Hand of the Colts.
Last year, there were 37 players earning at least $1 million a year, and just 19 two years ago.
John Elway, the Denver Broncos quarterback who was the league's highest-paid player in 1988 with a $2.166 million average, is down to seventh place.
The five highest-paid players in the NFL (by average salary per year):
Player, team, salary
Joe Montana, San Fran., $3.25 million
Jim Kelly, Buffalo, $2.6 million
Randall Cunningham, Phila., $2.56 million
Eric Dickerson, Ind., $2.51 million
Bernie Kosar, Cleveland, $2.33 million
Team total salaries