How NFL and NBA Rookie Contracts Differ
Contract talk is always a big deal when it comes to the NFL and NBA. Guaranteed money is always a discussion, especially since the majority of NBA contracts are guaranteed. That’s not the case in the NFL.
Once a player has spent a few years in the NFL, they start looking for that big contract, the one that’s going to set them up for life. However, 99.9% of the time, they only get some guaranteed money, with the rest coming in bonuses and incentives. The only veteran with a fully-guaranteed contract in the NFL is Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins, who famously signed the historic, three-year/$84 million deal in 2018.
That’s one major problem that certain players, including Russell Wilson, have with the newly proposed NFL collective bargaining agreement. If the new deal is passed, there still won’t be many guaranteed contracts, as there are in the NBA and Major League Baseball.
The only place where an NFL player can find some decent guaranteed money is in their rookie deal, and that’s only if that player is a high draft pick. While somewhat the same, the NBA also has a rookie wage scale. Yet, there still are differences between the two.
How the NFL handles rookie contracts
All NFL contracts for players that are drafted are for four years. The amount obviously differs on where that player was selected, but the length is the same. Every pick in the draft has a minimum and maximum he gets paid throughout that contract and very few things can be negotiated.
The maximum annual increase in salary in each of those first four years is 25% of the cap number in year one. That number is the sum of a prorated signing bonus, which varies, and the rookie minimum salary, which was $495,000 last year. All deals signed include a base salary and the remainder of the contract is done within those constraints. Teams have the option to pick up a fifth year on the rookie contract but must do so before the fourth year of that deal officially begins. If that option is exercised, the fifth year is fully guaranteed. The first 23 picks in the 2019 NFL draft all have guaranteed contracts through the end of the 2022-2023 season.
If a player is a top 10 pick, the fifth-year salary is the average of the 10 highest salaries for a player’s position in the fourth year of his deal.
How the NBA handles rookie contracts
While there is also a floor and a ceiling for rookie contracts in the NBA, things are a little different. Depending on the pick, there is a set amount assigned to each selection. Once choosing a player in the NBA draft, teams can choose to sign that player for as little as 80 percent or as much as 120 percent of that designated amount. Rookie contracts are only guaranteed for two years with separate team options in years three and four.
There is a set amount for the third-year option where the original percentage paid comes into play. The fourth-year option also depends on where the player was selected. A No. 1 overall pick would get 26.1% raise from his third year’s salary. The No. 2 overall pick would get a 26.2% raise, all the way up to the 30th and final first-round pick, who would get an 80.5% raise.
After the fourth year, players become restricted free agents if given a qualifying offer. The raises there could be anywhere between 30% and 50%. Rookie contracts in the NBA can’t be extended until after the third year of their deal is complete.
The difference in the contracts of Zion Williamson and Kyler Murray
If that all sounds a little confusing, don’t worry. You’re not alone. The easiest way to look at things is to compare the deals of last year’s number one picks in the NBA and NFL, Zion Williamson and Kyler Murray.
After year one, Kyler Murray will have made $24,084,924. Zion Williamson will have made $9,744,840. That’s quite the discrepancy. That’s because Kyler Murray’s signing bonus was nearly two-thirds of his entire rookie deal. Zion Williamson’s first year was a higher percentage of the amount designated for the first overall pick.
However, for the remaining years on Murray’s deal, he’ll make just $11,073,720 over three years. NFL rookie contracts are constantly heavier on the front end with the signing bonus. In contrast, Zion will make $34,469,024 in the final three years of his rookie deal, assuming the Pelicans choose to do pick up the options, which they will. That puts Zion at more than $9 million more overall for the first four years.