Terry Bradshaw Earned $25,000 as a Rookie but Doesn’t Feel Sick About Today’s Mega Contracts

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Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw.

Pittsburgh Steelers legend Terry Bradshaw began his career slinging touchdowns long before Tom Brady, the league’s oldest active player, was even born.

Things have changed mightily over the last 50 years. The NFL has had 32 teams for nearly two decades and could still expand in the near future. Over 30 players will earn at least $20 million in salary during the 2021 season. However, don’t expect to hear Bradshaw, who made pennies compared to today’s overpaid stars, complaining about modern contracts.

Terry Bradshaw doesn’t feel sick about current NFL salaries

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw.
Pittsburgh Steelers legend Terry Bradshaw has no problem with current players signing huge contracts | Getty Images

If Terry Bradshaw loved his life in a time when many players made less than $100,00 per year, one can only imagine how much fun he’d have today.

In an interview earlier this year with Parade, the four-time Super Bowl champion reflected on how much the league’s finances have changed. Players earn far more, and teams are worth a considerable amount of money, and it’s hard for Bradshaw to ignore it.

When he spoke with Parade, Bradshaw joked the current contracts make him sick to his stomach. 

“I signed with Pittsburgh for $25,000 rookie year, $5,000 raise next year, and $100,000 signing bonus spread out over 10 years. Compare that to today, and you say to yourself, ‘They’re paying that guy $135 million, and he ain’t worth three and a half!’”

Terry Bradshaw

Bradshaw did not specify who, if anyone, he was referring to in those comments. However, the Steelers legend may have taken a shot at then-Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff, who signed a four-year extension worth $134 million in 2019. The Rams traded Goff, who completed 67% of his passes for 3,952 yards, 20 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions last year, to the Detroit Lions for Matthew Stafford in March.

However, Bradshaw made it clear that he holds no ill will against today’s players and their massive contracts. 

“But I mean, sour grapes? I don’t have that at all,” Bradshaw said.

NFL players didn’t start seeing million-dollar contracts until near the end of Bradshaw’s career

If you need an idea of how much salaries have changed, consider this. The NFL’s minimum salary in 2021 is $660,000. According to UPI, Bradshaw was the second-highest paid quarterback in NFL history with a $470,000 contract in 1981. 

It wasn’t until 1980 that the NFL even saw its first million-dollar player. John “Lam” Jones, the second overall pick in that year’s NFL Draft, signed a $2.1 million contract with the New York Jets. The second overall pick in the 2021 draft, Zach Wilson, signed a $35.1 million rookie deal.

Jones, by the way, never panned out in the league. Given that the Jets selected him over future Pro Football Hall of Fame offensive lineman Anthony Munoz, maybe that selection was always destined to fail. Bradshaw played his final NFL game three years after Jones and Munoz entered the league.

Still, Jones at least set the baseline for what was to come. Players like Patrick Mahomes, who signed a $503 million contract last year, owe their good fortune to Jones.

Modern athletes keep finding ways to break the bank and cash in

According to the Inflation Calculator, the $25,000 that Bradshaw made in 1970 would be worth $175,062 today. For the average Joe and Jane, that’s great news! For an NFL player … well, given that the minimum salary is nearly $700,000, the numbers speak for themselves.

Still, one couldn’t fault Bradshaw if there’s even a tiny part of him that’s frustrated with today’s contracts. Mahomes signed a $500 million contract last summer after only two seasons as a starter. Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout inked a 12-year contract worth $426 million in 2019, the largest deal in MLB history.

The increasing value of teams means that players, understandably, will want to earn as much money as they can. No one should ever fault someone like Josh Allen, the Buffalo Bills’ star quarterback, for signing a six-year extension worth $258 million with $150 million guaranteed.

Bradshaw, at least, won four Super Bowl rings during his prime. That legacy, coupled with whatever he’s earned from his broadcasting career at Fox and his endorsements, seemingly means far more to him than money from 50 years ago.

All contract figures courtesy of Over the Cap.

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