Being a top NFL player is lucrative. Players like Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers, and Tom Brady make boatloads per season. But what’s it like for the NFL players at the bottom and even the middle of the pack? The truth is they do very well compared to the average person, but they don’t make nearly as much as the elite players.
Let’s take a closer look at how the NFL determines its minimum salaries, what the average NFL player makes, and what the league minimum salary is for the 2019 season.
How the NFL determines its minimum salaries
Minimum salaries are collectively bargained by the NFL commissioner, who represents the owners, and the NFL Players’ Association (NFLPA), which represents the NFL players.
The NFL and NFLPA reached their last collective bargaining agreement in 2011 after a work stoppage that obliterated the summer’s preseason. (Based on the quality and lack of interest in preseason play, it’s unclear whether anyone noticed.) The next deal is up in 2021.
Reportedly, the two sides met this summer to begin negotiations, but they were unable to reach an agreement. Rumor has it a work stoppage may occur, with NFLPA head DeMaurice Smith encouraging players to start saving now. Essentially, the NFLPA’s job is to ensure that the player’s “piece of the pie” is as big as possible. This means trying to make the league minimum as high as possible.
What the average NFL player makes
While NFL stars are well taken care of, what about the men in the middle? What does an average NFL player make? Well, in 2017, CNBC reported, “When you factor in all the players earning these minimum salaries, along with the payouts of a team’s golden boy, you’ll find that the average NFL salary was only about $2.7 million in 2017.”
According to The L.A. Times, “That’s less than three-quarters of the average $4 million earnings of a major league baseball player and less than half the typical wage of NBA players, who earn about $7.1 million on average.” While this is an average NFL salary, it doesn’t quite reflect what the average player makes.
That would be the median salary, which was around $860,000 in 2017, according to the Houston Chronicle. It reported, “For perspective, a starting one-year rookie has a minimum income of $435,000 … The average salary for all quarterbacks is $5,766,000, but the median income is $1,100,000.” After quarterbacks, defensive ends earn big salaries, with an average income of $2,625,000 and a median salary of $847,300.
The team with the highest average salary in 2018 and 2019? The Jacksonville Jaguars at just about $3.4 million. The lowest was the Seattle Seahawks at $2.57 million. (The Jaguars missed the playoffs last year while the Seahawks did not.)
What is the NFL league minimum salary for 2019?
The league minimum depends on the player’s years of service in the NFL. Below is the league minimum for each threshold, courtesy of Spotrac:
- Rookie: $495,000
- 1 year: $570,000
- 2 years: $645,000
- 3 years: $720,000
- 4-6 years: $806,000
- 7-9 years: $930,000
- 10+ years: $1,030,000
Those figures aren’t bad, but when you consider how much physical sacrifice NFL players put their bodies through to make it in the league, it’s not nearly as much as some fans believe.