Jerry Rice Would Have Been Extremely Underpaid If He Played in 2020

Jerry Rice is one of the greatest players in NFL history, regardless of position, and he holds an all-time place with the sport’s all-time legends. Conversations will continue about how effective the 6-foot-2 Rice would fare if he played in 2020, especially with the likes of Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes dominating the NFL with their elite arms.

Rather than speculate how good Jerry Rice would be if he played today, let’s go a different route. Using inflation and the NFL’s current rules, how much would Rice be worth if he caught passes in 2020 instead of 1985?

Even with how talented Jerry Rice was, the numbers on how little he’d make will surprise you.

Jerry Rice is the greatest receiver in NFL history

There aren’t many ways to dispute Jerry Rice isn’t the greatest receiver of all-time. He holds the all-time records in receptions (1,549), receiving yards (22,895), and receiving touchdowns (197). Rice also caught another 22 touchdowns in the playoffs and won three Super Bowls with the 49ers.

Jerry Rice was an unstoppable threat in the 1980s and 1990s with his 6-foot-2, 200-pound frame. Rice remained a reliable target even after joining the Oakland Raiders in his late 30s and, even as he nears his 60s, could probably scare some teams today.

Inflation wouldn’t have helped Rice’s rookie contract in 2020

San Francisco 49ers legend Jerry Rice played in the NFL from 1985-2004. How much would the greatest receiver of all time have made if he played today?
San Francisco 49ers legend Jerry Rice played in the NFL from 1985-2004. How much would the greatest receiver of all time have made if he played today? | Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Spotrac estimates Jerry Rice made $175,000 as a rookie in 1985. In theory, Rice would make $419,796 as a rookie in 2020. according to the Inflation Calculator. However, that doesn’t take into account the NFL’s new salary cap, nor the slotted draft pick rules.

Jerry Rice was the No. 16 overall pick in 1986. Spotrac’s 2020 draft tracker estimates the 16th overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft is worth $14 million with an $8.2 million signing bonus.

Carolina Panthers outside linebacker Brian Burns, the 16th overall pick last year, made $495,000 in base salary as a rookie, according to Over The Cap. Las Vegas Raiders offensive lineman Kolton Miller earned a $480,000 rookie salary after being drafted at the same spot in 2018.

If Jerry Rice played in 2020 and he entered the league as the 16th overall pick, he would likely earn close to $500,000 in base salary. However, it is not yet known how the coronavirus pandemic will affect certain aspects of rookie contracts.

Would Jerry Rice break the receiver bank if he played in 2020?

With Jerry Rice’s earliest salaries covered, let’s go a different route. NFL teams have shown with the likes of Julio Jones, Michael Thomas, and Odell Beckham Jr., among others, that the best receivers will receive heavy paychecks. The Dallas Cowboys signed Amari Cooper to a five-year, $100 million contract this offseason with $60 million guaranteed.

Spotrac estimates Jerry Rice‘s highest base salary was the $2.5 million he earned in 2000. Patriots special teams ace Matthew Slater, who is officially designated as a wide receiver, will make roughly $2.6 million the next two years. Slater hasn’t caught a pass since 2011.

The Inflation Calculator rises Rice’s $2.5 million base salary from 2000 to $3.74 million in 2020. The closest comparison is Carolina’s Seth Roberts, who signed a one-year, $3.75 million contract this offseason.

Jerry Rice played most of the 2000 season at 38, so it is extremely unlikely he’d break the bank then. But if Jerry Rice played in 2020 and entered free agency for the first time at 27, he would almost certainly come close to a $100 million contract. Michael Thomas signed his record-breaking contract at 26 and Amari Cooper doesn’t turn 26 until June 17.

Jerry Rice made plenty of money both during and after his playing career. But it is interesting to see just how those contracts look in 2020 value and how much he would have possibly made today.