CINCINNATI -- One of the longest standing myths in pro football is that the Cincinnati Bengals are cheap when it comes to paying their players.
That perception was dealt a heavy blow last summer when the Bengals signed two of their prized defensive linemen to mega deals that nearly combined for $100 million.
As a result of those major signings, the Bengals last week ended up with two players landing on Forbes' list of the 100 highest-paid athletes. Defensive tackle Geno Atkins came in at No. 53 overall, and defensive end Carlos Dunlap checked in at No. 84. Last summer, Atkins inked a five-year, $55 million contract extension, while Dunlap agreed to his own six-year, $40 million extension.
According to the Forbes list, Atkins earned a total of $22.4 million between June 1, 2013 and June 1, 2014. In that same stretch, Dunlap earned $18.8 million. In both cases, many of those dollars came from the new deals they signed that went into effect in time for the 2013 season.
Those earnings, like the ones from the other 98 athletes on the list, were comprised of salaries and bonuses paid in the last year, as well as any signing, award or playoff bonuses that were given to the athlete. Also included in the total earnings are estimates for endorsements each athlete has. According to Forbes, Atkins and Dunlap made about $50,000 each in endorsements in the last year.
Using those metrics, the highest-earning athlete for the year was boxer Floyd Mayweather, who took home about $105 million, according to Forbes.
Atkins ranked ahead of the likes of quarterback Drew Brees and baseball players David Ortiz and Justin Verlander. He was also just five spots shy of suspended baseball player Alex Rodriguez, who earned $22.9 million last year, including $300,000 in endorsements. Dunlap outpaced NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon and Bears receiver Brandon Marshall, among others.
Dunlap this season is expected to be Cincinnati's star at defensive end now that former end Michael Johnson signed with Tampa Bay in free agency earlier this offseason. Their two-man tandem is no more. Instead, it'll primarily be Dunlap at one end position and a rotation at the other. Margus Hunt and Wallace Gilberry are poised to split the playing time at the end position opposite Dunlap.
Atkins will be returning from an ACL tear that ended his season nearly two months to the day after he signed his contract extension. Lost in Week 9, Atkins has been rehabbing ever since, and is eyeing a return just in time for the start of this coming regular season. It's unclear right now if he'll be ready by then. Two years ago, he was the Bengals' sack leader, finishing with 12.5. Cincinnati hopes his pass-rush success returns with him this season.
The linemen were two of 17 NFL players on the Forbes' list. According to contract figures from ESPN Stats & Information, Cincinnati had the league's best-paid defense last season. The Bengals spent more than $69 million in cap value on the defense last season, about $6 million more than the Steelers. It appears to have had an impact on the field, too. Cincinnati had the league's third-ranked defense in 2013.