How Much Do NFL Players Make?

Professional athletes are some of the highest-earning people in the world. Add endorsements and bonuses to their salaries and you have a lot of millionaires on the field. But what about NFL players in particular? How much money do they make?

League minimum NFL salaries

An NFL player’s salary is based on years of experience. Each year the minimum amount a rookie player can make goes up by $15,000. For 2019, this number was $495,000. In 2020, first-year salaries will rise to $510,000.

The NFL commissioner, representing the owners, and the NFL Player’s Association (NFLPA), representing the players, collectively bargain to decide on the minimum salary. The current minimum rates are set until 2021 when renegotiation will happen. 

How much NFL players make on average

A player’s starting salary goes up by at least $75,000 for each year they are in the NFL. Numbers for 2020 will follow this schedule:

Years           Salary

  0               $510,000

  1               $585,000

  2               $660,000

  3               $735,000

  4-6           $820,000

  7-9           $945,000

 10+         $1,045,000

This will put the average player’s income at about $832,000. However, it doesn’t account for signing, roster, and workout bonuses. Nor does it consider franchise and transition tags.

Franchise and transition tags are one-year deals that hold a player’s rights with a team and kept him from free agency. For instance, a franchise tag for a quarterback would amount to $24.865 million; a transition tag for the same position would be $22.783 million.

Different positions demand different compensation, so the median salary for a quarterback may be in the range of $6 million. That of a defensive end would be in the ballpark of $3 million. The average NFL salary would fall right around $2 million.

The highest-paid NFL players

Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson is not only the highest-paid NFL player today, but he’s also the highest-paid player in NFL history. He earns a whopping $35 million a year.

Following Wilson is Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who brings in $32.5 million a year. The next two spots go to Falcons QB Matt Ryan at $30 million, and Vikings QB Kirk Cousins at $28 million. Not too shabby.

NFL salary changes over the years

NFL players weren’t always so well-compensated. In fact, until the modern-day, pro football players often worked side jobs to make ends meet. High salaries were only won through decades of battles with NFL owners.

These days, the only time a player would even consider taking on extra work is when it involves movies or TV in the hopes of a possible post-football career.

In the early days of the NFL, players were paid on a per-game basis. Then, in 1926, Red Grange signed a 19-game deal with the Chicago Bears for roughly $100,000. From there, player salaries depended on star quality and their teams.

In the late ’50s, they demanded a minimum salary. But this didn’t actually happen until 1970 when owners agreed to a $9,000 minimum for rookies and $10,000 for veteran players. NFL strikes in the ’80s led to an explosion in salaries, and they have continually been on the rise.