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The NFL is by far the most physical major sports league in the U.S. The risk of injury is higher in football than it is in the other sports. Due to the number of injuries, the average NFL player’s career is significantly shorter than in other sports.

The NFL, however, likes to spin the numbers to make it seem like the league’s players have longer careers than they actually do. Here’s a look at how short the average career is for an NFL player and how much the average player can expect to make before he retires.

How long is the average NFL career?

It’s not just injuries, but the general wear-and-tear the average NFL player puts on his body that significantly shortens a career. Players like Tom Brady or Drew Brees performing for the better part of two decades are by far the outlier. In fact, the average NFL player’s career lasts just 2.5 years, according to’s data.

But, as with anything, this varies by positions. The average career for a quarterback is three years; the average for a wide receiver is a little over two years. For an offensive lineman, the average career length is about 3.5 years, or a year more than the overall average.

How the NFL spins the numbers

The NFL likes to play down the actual numbers, calling them a “myth” and making it seem like NFL players have longer careers than they actually do. The league once issued a press release discussing the topic, claiming that the average player’s career lasts for six years or more. However, the NFL included a bunch of qualifiers in its calculations.

Here are the average career lengths, using the parameters set in the press release.

  • Players who make a team’s opening day roster in his rookie season average a six-year career.
  • A player on a team’s roster for at least three games in at least three seasons plays for an average of 7.1 years.
  • First-round draft picks have average careers of 9.3 years.
  • The average career length skyrockets to 11.7 years for a player who is chosen for or plays in a Pro Bowl at least once in his career.

While those numbers must be accurate if the NFL released them publicly, according to Business Insider, they are attached to stringent qualifiers that apply to the better players but not the average player in many cases. In the end, those qualifiers help the NFL dispel the notion that its players have significantly shorter careers than athletes in other sports.

The average NFL player’s career earnings

That brings us to the topic of money. The average NFL player makes less than the average player in the NBA, NHL, and MLB, reports Business Insider. Football players’ careers are also shorter than their counterparts because the NFL doesn’t have guaranteed contracts.

This means that, over the course of his career, the average NFL player makes less than half of the average athlete salary in the other leagues and about 2.5 less than the average salary of players in all four leagues.

The only reason the NFL’s average is even that close to the other leagues is because of quarterbacks signing contracts that pay more than $20-$30 million per year. Salaries at the top of the NFL will likely go up even more as Patrick Mahomes is expected to sign a deal for $40 million a year in the next year or two.