Pro Football Player Salaries

Have you ever wondered how much your favorite football player makes? How much your favorite team spends? Well we have and, here at The Best Sports Blog, we decided to take an in-depth look at NFL Player Contracts. What is the salary of the average NFL player? How are salaries determined? What roles do the minimum wage and salary cap play? And, finally, which NFL Player Contracts are the most valuable, most egregious, and most expensive overall?

Interestingly, all of this information may change in less than a month. After March 3rd, there will either be a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) or an NFL lockout. Every football fan, myself included, is hoping for the former and, assuming there is a new CBA, The Best Sports Blog will of course update you on all the notable changes. But, as its stands today, here is what you might want to know about Pro Football Player Salaries:

NFL Player Contracts and salary figures are determined by a number of factors. First, there is the absolute minimum salary for an NFL player; even rookie 7th round draft picks cannot make less than the minimum if they make the official roster. The minimum number has been rising steadily under the soon to expire CBA and was 295,000 in 2008 before rising 15,000 to 310,000 in 2009. However, few players actually make anywhere near this little because of a number of important factors. Regardless of performance, NFL Player Contracts go up in value as a player remains in the league and becomes a veteran. While exact figures are hazy and often unpublished, a veteran player will always have a higher minimum salary than a rookie.

Beyond the base minimum, NFL player salaries are determined by a scaled tier system. This system, which has caused player salaries to rise rapidly under the current CBA, is one of the major sticking points of the ongoing labor dispute. As it currently exists, the CBA dictates that players joining a new team have less leverage-relating to their minimum salary-than those seeking to extend their service past three years (Tier 2) and four years (Tier 3). As a result of that setup, the average NFL Player Contract is for 770,000 and the average new base contract was for 990,000. Combined with an average 1.3 million dollar signing bonus, that means that the vast majority of NFL veterans-even career backups-make far, far more than the salary minimum would suggest.

Beyond those regulations, NFL teams must simply fit all of their salaries under an annual cap. While technically a ‘hard’ cap, the NFL’s tolerance of often ridiculous signing bonuses means that team’s often find it relatively easy to bypass the annual cap. For example, as stated above, the average NFL signing bonus of 1.3 million is higher than both the average player’s salary and base compensation. Signing bonuses must fit within the cap but, since they can be prorated and paid over many years, they still serve as an effective means for big spending teams to circumnavigate cap regulations. The Chicago Bears, for instance, used a signing bonus to help with its extension of Jay Cutler (2009) and free agency acquisition of Julius Peppers (2010).

So, let’s get to the fun stuff. Which teams spend the most (and least) on their player costs? Which players make the most money? Who is currently robbing their franchise blind? As of 2009, the New York Giants, Miami Dolphins, Houston Texans (on what you might ask), New Orleans Saints, and Chicago Bears (yeah that one surprised me too considering the owner’s reputation for parsimony) were the top five spenders on player salaries. The Colts, Patriots, and Steelers were all in the middle of the pack but this more likely indicates intelligent spending and proper management than a cost-saving mindset. Unsurprisingly, teams like the Jaguars, Chargers, and Bengals were near the bottom; indeed A.J. Smith’s well chronicled fights with his player’s requests for lucrative extensions showcase the struggles of mini-market teams under the current system.

Last, but certainly not least, who made the most money? As of 2009, defensive end Julius Peppers was the highest paid player in the NFL but he remains a high-level performer. Bears quarterback Jay Cutler joined the top five group in 2010 but also started justifying his contract midway through his second season. Ben Roethlisberger and Peyton Manning (who is in line for even more after this season) rounded out the top 5 while, Tom Brady will join them in 2011. Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer, an underachiever in 2010 (read: since sometime in 2006) remains the league’s highest paid bust at 16 million dollars annually and could rob the Bengals blind for another four years. And who was it who was complaining about playing for the Bengals and threatening to retire if he wasn’t traded?

All of this information is good as of February 2010 but, with a new CBA (it will happen at some point) there will undoubtedly be changes. Stay tuned for those updates on this page: here at The Best Sports Blog we always do our best to keep you updated. Plus, if you have any other questions, don’t hesitate to comment or post on the form below!

Of course this discussion of pro football player salaries is particularly relevant to the potential for an NFL Lockout in 2011.

You might also be interested in reading about the NBA Salary Cap and NBA Minimum Salary.

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