When we think of football players, names like that of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady or Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald often come to mind — household names with multi-million-dollar contracts and lucrative endorsements with sportswear companies and other brands.
But when these two players face off at Super Bowl LIII on Feb. 3, they'll be the exception rather than the rule.
That's because they are among the NFL's highest-paid players. Brady's average annual salary is $15 million, while Donald's tops $22 million, according to contract data from Spotrac. Factor in bonuses as well as ad deals and each earned more than $29 million in the past year, according to Forbes.
But the majority of players will never see a payout anywhere near those. For every high earner there are hundreds making the league minimum, which for an NFL player is, of course, still far more than the average worker's.
The minimum annual salary for a rookie active roster player with a one-year contract is $480,000, according to the collective bargaining agreement the NFL signed in 2011 with the NFL Players Association, which will be in effect until 2020.
That minimum increases for each year a player spends in the NFL. A player with three years' experience would command a salary equal to at least $705,000, while players with seven to nine years on the field must be paid at least $915,000.
That's great news for those lucky enough to last that long in the NFL, but many won't ring in a seventh year on the job. The average career length is less than three years, meaning most players never advance beyond the lower rungs of that payment ladder.
Of course, $480,000 is by no means a poor wage — it just isn't quite the seven-digit figure many football fans might expect.
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.
But even that average salary is probably too high to accurately reflect what an everyman in the NFL makes in a year, thanks to outliers like Donald and Brady pulling the average up with their outsize earnings. The median salary for all NFL players is actually about $860,000, much closer to those sums outlined in the sport's minimum payment guidelines, according to The Houston Chronicle.
Quarterbacks tend to fare the best in terms of payouts — their position's average salary is $5.76 million and the median wage is $1.1 million, according to The Houston Chronicle. Running backs, on the other hand, can expect an average salary of about $1 million and a median wage of only $630,000.
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