Jerry Maguire and Rod Tidwell would likely salivate at the amounts of money players are being shown these days.
With teams offering decade-long contracts worth nearly half a billion dollars, football has exploded as a game of dollar signs. But the reality remains that many players never come close to that kind of money.
While minimum salaries guarantee a more-than-comfortable living, short careers and sometimes reckless spending habits can dry up even the most padded bank accounts. Roughly 16% of retired football players end up bankrupt within 12 years of stepping off the field for the last time, according to a 2015 study by the National Bureau of Economic Research.
What is the true value of an NFL contract and which positions are most protected from financial hardship?
Here’s the answer to your questions about the highest and lowest earners heading into the 2022 NFL season.
What is the average NFL salary?
The average NFL salary is around $2.7 million, as reported following the 2017 regular season. In the five years since, the NFL Players Association has negotiated another collective bargaining agreement (CBA) and that number is only bound to have increased over time.
What NFL position has the highest average salary?
Unsurprisingly, quarterbacks are the highest paid position on most any NFL team, and it’s not particularly close no matter how you measure it.
Looking at the average salary for every player in the 2022 season, quarterbacks are due to make an average of over $7 million. Their next closest competitor -- wide receivers -- are set to average $2.8 million.
The gap grows even wider when you filter for the creme of the crop. The top-10 quarterbacks average $49.4 million, compared to the $24.8 million average for the top-10 wide receivers.
What NFL position has the lowest average salary?
At the bottom of the salary leaderboard is special teams, averaging $2.775 million. Among the special teams contingency, kickers consistently occupy the highest-paid spots over punters and long snappers.
The fact that running backs occupy the second-lowest spot might come as a bigger surprise. Running backs average just under $2 million, which is nothing to scoff at but probably nowhere near the casual fan’s expectations. A huge reason for their relatively low paycheck is the high turnover rate due to injuries and burnout.
Who is the highest-paid NFL player this season?
Aaron Rodgers is due to make $50.3 million this year, making him the highest-paid NFL player of the 2022 season.
He’s followed by Kyler Murray, who just signed a five-year contract with the Cardinals and Deshaun Watson, who signed the largest ever fully guaranteed contract with the Cleveland Browns this offseason, but remains under intense scrutiny by the NFL for allegations of sexual harassment.
Rounding out the top-five is Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen, who will make $45 and $43 million, respectively.
The complete list of the top-10 earners for the 2022 NFL season is below:
- Aaron Rodgers, QB (Green Bay Packers): $50.3 million
- Kyler Murray, QB (Arizona Cardinals): $46.1 million
- Deshaun Watson, QB (Cleveland Browns): $46 million
- Patrick Mahomes, QB (Kansas City Chiefs): $45 million
- Josh Allen, QB (Buffalo Bills): $43 million
- Derek Carr, QB (Las Vegas Raiders): $40.5 million
- Dak Prescott, QB (Dallas Cowboys): $40 million
- Matthew Stafford, QB (Los Angeles Chargers): $40 million
- Russell Wilson, QB (Denver Broncos): $35 million
- Kirk Cousins, QB (Minnesota Vikings): $35 million
Notice a trend?
Who is the lowest-paid NFL player in 2022?
Looking at the low end of league earners isn’t as straightforward. Players face different minimum values depending on their contract and designation as an active or inactive player.
The minimum salaries for the upcoming 2022 season in accordance with the most recent collective bargaining agreement are as follows:
Minimum salary for a player
on an Active/Inactive list
Minimum salary for a player not on an Active/Inactive list
Practice squad players who either have no accrued NFL seasons, made the active list in less than nine regular season games per accrued season or are one of four selected players to have unlimited number of appearances during a maximum of two accrued seasons are eligible for a fixed rate weekly payment. Meanwhile, practice squad players who do not meet these qualifications are eligible for a minimum weekly payment that exceeds the fixed rate.
These payments are delivered every week a player remains on the practice squad, including the postseason.
- Practice Squad player who falls within one of three parameters for a fixed amount: Fixed weekly salary of $11,500
- Practice Squad player who does not fall within one of the three parameters for a fixed amount: Minimum weekly payment of $15,400; maximum weekly payment of $19,900
How do NFL rookies get paid?
Rookies from the incoming 2022 NFL Draft class will make a minimum $705,000 this year. This marks a $45,000 increase from last year, a trend the league agreed to continue through 2030 when the minimum rookie contract value will reach $1,065,000.
What is a fifth-year option in the NFL?
All NFL rookie contracts run four years, with an optional fifth year available to first round draft picks. The offseason immediately following a player’s third season can prove critical as it is the only time that a team or player can renegotiate a contract and agree to terms for a fifth year.
There are a number of factors that play into the fifth-year salary level including Pro Bowl nods and total percentage of snaps a player is involved in.
How much do NFL first-round picks make?
While the rookie base salary is set for more than a half-million dollars, that’s far from the ceiling. In fact, all 32 first round picks from the 2022 NFL Draft agreed to four-year contracts greater than $10 million, headlined by No. 1 overall pick Travon Walker’s $37.3-million deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
What is the NFL’s pension plan?
Prior to 2020, players needed four accrued seasons to be eligible for the NFL pension plan. However, the new collective bargaining agreement provided a major overhaul to the pension system by decreasing the minimum accrued seasons to three and increasing the total payments from an average of $30,000 a year to $46,000.
Players are eligible to receive funds from the pension at 55, the NFL’s age of retirement.
The new CBA also outlined a 25% increase in Medicare supplement benefit to players over 65 and a plan to establish a program that guarantees former players without insurance receive mental health services, orthopedic care, preventative care and other health interventions at no cost to the player.
The new CBA wasn’t good for everyone, however. Around 400 former players saw their disability payments decrease, a decision made “in totality” to ensure “more men qualify for disability payments.”