When we think of the NFL, names like that of Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson or Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott often come to mind — household names with multi-million-dollar contracts and lucrative endorsements with sportswear companies and other brands.
Wilson, who is currently the NFL's highest paid player according to Forbes, signed a record four-year, $140 million contract extension with the Seahawks in April. Meanwhile Elliott, who is now the highest-paid running back in the league, recently signed a six-year, $90 million contract extension with the Cowboys.
Though Wilson and Elliott are among a handful of other NFL players with lucrative deals, their multi-million dollar contracts do not reflect the earnings of many of their peers. In fact, for every high earner in the NFL, there are hundreds of other players making the league minimum, which is, of course, far more than the average worker.
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 Wilson and Elliott 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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