For many people, a first job is an entry-level position whose greatest form of payment is experience. People taking these jobs have to slowly climb the ladder and prove themselves before they can earn better money. They have to pay their dues.
For professional athletes, there is no entry-level job—they’re put on the field on day one and are expected to deliver the goods. Rookie athletes are well-compensated for this, and for many sports fans, the players’ salaries and contracts are almost as fascinating as their yards passed or runs batted in.
Rookie athletes receive paydays with no equal in any other field, based solely on the hope that they’ll play as well as they did in college. There is no guarantee this will happen, and some teams pick the wrong rookies and pay dearly for it. But on the off chance they may be signing the next great Hall of Famer, teams keep handing over the money and hoping for the best.
Who are some of the rookie athletes who received huge paydays to play for major league teams? Click ahead to find out.
By Daniel Bukszpan
Posted 13 September 2011
Sam Bradford is a quarterback for the St. Louis Rams. He was selected during the 2010 National Football League draft after an impressive stint in college football. When he was just a sophomore, Bradford won the Heisman Trophy, making him only the second sophomore ever to win the coveted award. In his first season in the NFL, he earned the Offensive Rookie of the Year Award.
Despite his outstanding rookie-year performance, it remains to be seen whether the team will get its money’s worth: The six-year deal Bradford signed in July 2010 was valued at $78 million, $50 million of which is guaranteed. This was, without exception, the most lucrative contract ever paid to an NFL rookie.
Matthew Stafford is a quarterback for the Detroit Lions. He was top pick overall in the 2009 NFL draft after an illustrious career at the University of Georgia. Stafford dropped out of college to pursue professional football, a move that many analysts, including CBS Sports’ Pete Prisco, had seen coming.
Detroit secured Stafford’s services one day before the draft was held, and he didn’t come cheap. Stafford was awarded a six-year contract worth $72 million, almost $42 million of which was guaranteed. In fact, until Sam Bradford came along, it was the most lucrative contract ever awarded to an NFL rookie.
Larry Bird played basketball with the Boston Celtics from 1978 to 1992. He served for 13 seasons on the Beantown team before being permanently sidelined with back problems. Despite his health issues, Bird made the National Basketball Association’s 50th Anniversary All-Time team in 1996, and was inducted into The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame two years later.
When Bird was signed to the Celtics in 1978, he was awarded a contract worth $650,000 a year. This made him the most highly paid rookie in NBA history. It was considered an obscene amount of money and caused a major furor, which is a mark of how much things have changed since then.
JaMarcus Russell is a free agent professional football player, but he wasn’t always.
In 2007, the Oakland Raiders signed him to a $61 million contract, with $32 million guaranteed.. Hopes were high.
Sadly, Russell proved to be a bust. By 2009, a combination of poor play and alarming weight gain made him a clear liability for the team. He was released in 2009, after gaining the dubious distinction of having the least passing touchdowns or passing yards of any qualifying quarterback in the NFL.
Cam Newton is the son of former Dallas Cowboys player Cecil Newton and the brother of the New Orleans Saints’ Cecil Newton, Jr. He signed with the Carolina Panthers in July 2011, in a deal that was good for four years and guaranteed a $22 million payday. This relatively lower salary reflects the rookie wage scale of the recent collective bargaining agreement, which limits how much money a rookie can earn. Newton’s compensation would likely have been much higher had the agreement not been in place.
Newton made his NFL debut on Sept. 11, 2011, but sadly his team lost to the Arizona Cardinals. Still, he distinguished himself by throwing for more than 400 yards, becoming the first rookie to do so in his first career game. He also broke the rookie record set by Peyton Manning for the most passing yards on opening day.
Peyton Manning is a quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts. He holds four Most Valuable Player Awards, has the sixth-highest career passing rating in the history of the NFL, and in 2009, The Sporting News named him the NFL’s top player.
In Manning’s rookie year, he and his agent, Tom Condon, negotiated a six-year contract worth $48 million that included an $11.6 million signing bonus. When this deal was signed in 1998, it was one of the most lucrative rookie contracts of all time.
Stephen Strasburg pitches for the Washington Nationals. He was chosen in the 2009 Major League Baseball draft, and his reputation preceded him. The media dubbed the right-handed pitcher a “lean, mean, triple-digit-fastball-throwing machine,” and the Nationals were aggressive in their effort to sign him.
Strasburg signed a contract with the team for more than $15 million. He holds the record for a contract signed closest to the deadline, putting his name on the document with a mere 77 seconds left on the clock in which to do so.
Glenn Robinson is a retired basketball player who used to play for the Milwaukee Bucks. He was the top pick in the 1994 NBA draft, but at first he refused to take yes for an answer. Instead, Robinson began a contract holdout that lasted until he got a deal that was spectacular by any measure.
The contract was the subject of many rumors. Some analysts speculated that he would receive a contract lasting as long as 13 years, worth an unheard-of $100 million. Ultimately, this all turned out to be conjecture, and according to The Sporting News, he was awarded a 10-year contract for the sum of $68 million.
Kellen Winslow, Jr. is a tight end for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the son of Hall of Famer Kellen Winslow. Before playing for Tampa, he played for the Cleveland Browns, who had acquired him in the 2004 NFL draft. He was signed to a very generous six-year, $40 million contract with a $16.5 million signing bonus that made him, at the time, the highest paid rookie tight end in history.
Sadly, his career with the Browns was compromised almost immediately. In the second NFL game of his career, Winslow broke his leg, costing him the entire season. He was sidelined again in 2005 when he was involved in a motorcycle accident.
Jake Long is an offensive tackle for the Miami Dolphins, who acquired him in the 2008 NFL draft. He was put in as a starter in his first game, and has remained a starter in every game since then, including the 2010 Pro Bowl.
The 2008 NFL draft took place on April 26 and 27 of that year, but in Long’s case it was little more than a formality. He had already signed a five-year deal with Miami on April 22 for almost $58 million, with $30 million guaranteed.