No one in the NFL is set to make as much money as Patrick Mahomes. The value of an elite quarterback is undeniable, and Mahomes in particular provides immense value to both the Chiefs and the league. Any NFL player risks grievous injury — just ask Dak Prescott. But ironically, the highest-paid position happens to be one of the safest. So where does that leave the rest of NFL players?
Average NFL salaries may surprise you
Usually, contracts are discussed in the media from two perspectives. It’s either the biggest, blockbuster deals in the entire league, or it’s about finagling numbers around to cope with salary cap issues. That often leaves the reality of how most NFL players live and retire out of the discussion.
The NFL, notorious as it is for how much permanent damage many players take on, is one of the worst paying leagues overall. The average salary of $2.7 million sounds like a lot. But compare that to this LA Times reports that references an average NBA salary of $7.7 million. Football turns out to be a bad way to maximize one’s value as a professional athlete.
That’s an odd phenomenon, given how enormous the NFL is in American pop culture. Stranger still, it’s a sport often thought of as in decline where players take on the big salaries with much longer careers. While Patrick Mahomes might make slightly more for his 10-year contract than Mike Trout’s 12-year one, but he is an extreme outlier.
The bottom tier of the NFL pay scale
The Houston Chronicle reports that there is no one position that consistently ranks as the least valuable. Instead, a rotation of three positions generally rank near the bottom across the league. If a player came up through college ball as a fullback, tight end, or long snapper, they’ll land at the bottom of the pay scale.
As of 2018, the absolute worst position to make money in was fullback. The median income at the position was $616,000 a year. That’s absolutely nothing to sneeze at, of course. But one must consider the full context of such a salary.
SB Nation‘s piece on average NFL career lengths pins fullbacks at two and a half years before the vast majority exit the league. It’s also worth a reminder that “average” still means quite a few players take in much less than the $616,000 figure. It takes a player their entire youth and young adult years to prepare for these positions, making the numbers far different from an average worker taking on half a million a year for decades.
Why NFL owners tend to invest big at left tackle
Mahomes had the chance to play baseball, but he took a risky bet on the NFL. It paid off, in a way that probably isn’t recommended for most young athletes. But becoming a football player is, of course, about much more than money. So, for the dedicated NFL hopefuls who aren’t jibing with QB, where’s the next best position to focus on in terms of potential salary?
According to Spotrac, it’s left tackle. The reason, as is so often the case in football, centers on their relationship to the QB. A huge investment in a QB is the top way to buy wins. The left tackle is the most crucial position for keeping the QB safe. v means keeping them healthy, and even the most stringent rules can’t entirely protect them.
So that’s where the left tackle comes in. The position requires a rare set of talents: great footwork, high top speed, brute strength, somehow all in a huge body. That’s why Spotrac rates Laremy Tunsil as the highest-paid non-QB in the NFL. Deshaun Watson needs the space to work, and stay safe. Tunsil provides that cover for him.