How Much Salary Do NFL Players Make?

How Much Salary Do NFL Players Make?


There are many sports in the United States. In fact, it is worldwide. There is basketball, baseball, volleyball, soccer, football, to name a few. One has only to watch the Olympic Games. The immense variety of athletes there are all over the world is staggering. Let’s know How Much Salary Do NFL Players Make?

Let us not sway out of our realm. There are different levels in each sport. An amateur league and a professional one. An amateur league may even have different strata within it. The NBA has done that. 

All professional sports in the USA have amateur leagues. One purpose for that is to have a bank of dependable players. Another is to have an alternative to the existing leagues. Still, another would be the love of the sport itself.

There is one sport that is unique to the USA alone. There is never anything like it in other parts of the world. The same as sumo wrestling, which has a big following in Japan. The hobby horsing of Finland would be the same. If it has not spread among its neighbors yet. 

This sport we are talking about is no other than American football. We zoom in on the professional league, The National Football League, or NFL.

As a guide to this article, we lay down the structure of the discussion.

  • Introduction
  • The Game History 

The Father of American Football

The Professionals

  • The Team
  • Player Positions
  • Football Essentials
  • Average and Highest Salaries by Position

The Game History

Like all sports, there is a starting point for American football. This is an evolution of two sports from England; rugby and soccer. In its early stages, colleges and universities were the ones playing football. All were elite schools from northern America.

The first-ever recorded game of football in the USA was on the 6th of November 1896. The two protagonists were Rutgers and Princeton. They held the game in New Jersey with rules copied from London. 

It then had a steady growth in popularity among academic institutions. Elite colleges in the northeastern section of the country adopted the sport. Not Harvard, though. It still stuck to the hybrid game from England until only such time.

  • The Father of American Football

A young medical student of Yale has the credit as the father of modern American football. Walter Camp played the game as a halfback and was the team captain of the Yale team as well. What made him an integral part of the history of the sport was the IFA.

The IFA was Intercollegiate Football Association and Camp was a member. He was instrumental in the formulation of the rules of the game. Though the association did not last long, it formed the basis for the years to come.

  • The Professionals

One day in September 1920, the predecessor of the NFL came about at Canton, Ohio. It was the American Professional Football Association. It was also quite a strange circumstance. To find 14 men inside the showroom of an automobile dealership was odd. They all did not want any of the cars. 

They were owners or representatives of professional football teams. And they were desperate. They cannot compete against collegiate football. They were losing money as well.

Two years went by and they were still struggling. They changed their first president and also changed their name. The new name was now National Football League (NFL). In 1925, things started picking up. That year, NFL had recruited a college football superstar, Red Grange. 

The American Football League (AFL) had a more interesting existence. It came into being five times in its history all in the same name, save the fourth. These were in 1926, 1936, and 1940. The fourth birth lasted only 7 years. It was under the banner name of the American Football Conference. The fifth one of the undying league started in 1959, reverting to the first name. It lasted not long after, but on a very high note. 

All this existence was nothing but for direct competition against the NFL. It was not for some deep negative feelings. These were personalities and teams that did not get the nod of the NFL.

The first four births of AFL were all flops. The fifth was finally a success that turned the heads of the top honchos of the NFL. This attention resulted in the merger of the two leagues. This was in 1966. But full integration of schedules and operations would not happen until 1970.

The Teams

The NFL is a humongous organization. To get around this enormity, the NFL redesigned the structure of the organization. It took them years to create and polish the NFL to what it is today.

In its present state, the organization had divided into eight conferences. This is to reach out to as many citizens of the USA though TV broadcasts can reach out far better. But then again, viewing of the actual game, the touching of the player, and the noise of the crowd is of a different level.

We start from the top. The first level under the enormous umbrella is the conferences. These are the American Football Conference (AFC) and the National Football Conference (NFC). They set the two down into smaller units, the regional divisions. These are East, West, North, and South divisions. 

American Football Conference: North

  1. Bengal Tigers.
  2. Philadelphia Steelers.
  3. Baltimore Ravens.
  4. Cleveland Browns.

American Football Conference: East

  1. New York Jets.
  2. New England Patriots.
  3. Miami Dolphins.
  4. Buffalo Bills.

American Football Conference: South

  1. Indiana Colts.
  2. Houston Texans.
  3. Jacksonville Jaguars.
  4. Tennessee Titans.

American Football Conference: West

  1. Kansas City Chiefs.
  2. Denver Broncos.
  3. Las Vegas Raiders.
  4. Los Angeles Chargers.

National Football Conference: North

  1. Chicago Bears.
  2. Green Bay Packers.
  3. Minnesota Vikings.
  4. Detroit Lions.

National Football Conference: East

  1. Dallas Cowboys.
  2. New York Giants.
  3. Philadelphia Eagles.
  4. Washington Football Team.

National Football Conference: South

  1. Atlanta Falcons.
  2. Carolina Panthers.
  3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
  4. New Orleans Saints.

National Football Conference: West

  1. San Francisco 49s.
  2. Seattle Seahawks. 
  3. Arizona Cardinals.
  4. Los Angeles Rams.

Football Essentials

  • The Playing Field 

Gridiron football. That is the proper name of this sport the Americans love. It is so because of the lines that mark every ten yards. There are also end zones at both ends of the field. These end zones add an extra ten yards each.

At each end is a goalpost with a crossbar. The goalposts measure a total height of at least 45 feet above the ground. The 100-yard playing field is in the grass to cushion falls and tackles. With two end zones at each side, the total length of the field is 120 yards.

That is the playing field for the two teams to play. That does not change at all; in due time. That which is very fickle and changes a lot is the playing time.

  • The Playing Time 

By all measures, this is actually standard and does not change at all. What is fickle in these are the situations and circumstances that the game falls into. Let us begin with the basics, though. 

The game is sixty minutes long, divided into four quarters of 15 minutes each. Straightforward enough to munch down a box of pop-corns. But it is more than that; the time, we mean. On average, a regular-season game would last around 3 hours. More if both teams are equal in the score at nil by the end of regulation. Even much longer for Super Bowl games.

The longest single football match in history lasted over seven hours. It was on a regular season with no fanfare. The match was between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Miami Dolphins in 1971.

There are many reasons the game may stretch beyond your bag of popcorn. Four quarters; a 3-minute break between the first and the second quarter. A 15-minute break for halftime. Another 3-minute break between the third and fourth quarters. Not much you might think and I agree. But there is more to it than that.

There is also an allotment of time for the change from an offense set to a defense set or a special team set. Time will roll by again when referees have to review a call. This is to get the most appropriate call for a certain sequence of the game. These are two instances of the many that may happen. This excludes the time when Shakira will perform on the stage at halftime in the Super Bowl.

  • Player Positions

Each of the 32 teams in the NFL has the same set of internal teams of their own. They are to have an offensive team, a defensive team, and a special team. Each of these internal teams has unique positions and different purposes.

Offense Team

This is the set of players whose primary target is to get points for the team. They do it by crossing the enemy’s field and on to the goal itself. There are varying ways to score a point or a set of points. The best an offense team can do is a touchdown

  • Quarterback (QB). This is the central character of the team. This guy may even have the highest pay of his team. His arms, like a pitcher in baseball, are impressive in physical execution. His job is to execute a play to score. Sometimes he may do the dash to the end zone to score.
  • Running Back (RB). This is the multi-role combat personality of the offense team. He runs, ducks, slides, and rolls, jumps and pushes, and dash all the way to the end zone. Some Running Backs sometimes do somersaults to avoid an oncoming tackle. He is a super athlete in that he is very agile and cunning.  
  • Fullback (FB). This is the big brother of the RB. He is bigger, heavier, but he can still move and run. He is so positioned to cover the QB and RB and to make a path for them. His most important role is to block those that come to their path. 
  • Offensive Line. These are the men that are big and strong. They do not have to touch the ball, except for the guy called ‘Center’. There are five of them on the offense team. Two Tackles, two Guards, and the Center line up to protect the QB. The Center is the guy that holds the ball to the ground and passes it to the QB when the play starts. 
  • Wide Receivers. In a team’s roster, there may be 6 wide receivers. Depending on the play and the strategy of the coach, there could be four wide receivers on a single play. These are the guys that break from the formation. They penetrate the enemy territory to catch the ball from the QB. 
  • Tight End. This player is a multi-role member of the offense. This makes him a sort of hybrid. He may morph himself into an offensive line or may also be an RB. He is adept and strong enough to block the enemy. He is also agile enough to run and catch the ball.

Defense Team

The enemy has the ball. Their role is to prevent the enemy from scoring. One rewarding aim for them is to tackle the QB before he can throw or pass the ball.

  • Defensive Line. The counterpart of the offensive line. Men who are big, strong, and quick to move. They are the Defensive Tackle and the Defensive End. They are to tackle down the offensive line, the RB, and the QB.
  • Linebacker (LB). These men are to back up the defensive line. Their eyes are always on the enemy’s RB or WR’s. Two positions are in a game: Inside and Outside Linebackers.
  • Cornerback (CB). The fastest man on the defense team. His prime task is to tackle the QB or shadow the WR’s of the enemy.
  • Safety (S). There are two safeties in a game. They both have a similar task which is to cover the RB, WR’s. The two safeties are Free Safety and Strong Safety.

Special Team

This is the team that takes the field for kick-off, goals, and punts. In the shortest possible time, they may score for the team.

  • Kicker (K). This is the most important player in the Special Team. He must have sturdy legs. Along with that, he must be accurate to kick the ball into the goal or far out to the end zone.
  • Punter (P). If the offensive team cannot get a first down, the punter comes in. His responsibility is to kick the ball to the enemy’s Return Specialist.
  • Return Specialist. This is the player who catches the ball from the enemy’s Punter or Kicker.
  • Long Snapper (LS). Like the Center, but at a longer distance, the LS snaps the ball to the Kicker or the Punter. After, he assumes the role of an offensive lineman.

Average and Highest Salaries by Position

Not all players are the same. Not even all Quarterbacks are the same. Their abilities and athleticism are important to assess if they are fit for the position. And if we talk about the money, the more so that the gap widens. 

The table below represents the playing positions. It also has the average and the highest salary for each position. This is for the year 2021.

Position Average Pay Highest Pay

Quarterback $16.8M $45M, Patrick Mahomes, KC Chiefs

Running Back $10.2M $16M, Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers

Fullback $10.2M $  5M, Kyle Juszczyk, SF 49ers

Wide Receiver $22.7M $27M, DeAndre Hopkins, Arizona Cardinals

Tight End $9.7M $15M, George Kittle, SF 49ers

Offensive Line $34.0M

Left Tackle…….………………………… $23M, Trent Williams, SF49ers

Left Guard……………………………… $16M, Joe Thuney, KC Chiefs

Center…………………………………… $13.5M, Frank Ragnow, Detroit Lions

Right Guard…………………………….. $18M, Brandon Scherff, Washington Redskins

Right Tackle……………………………. $19M, Ryan Ramczyk, NO Saints.

Defensive Line $31.9M $22M, Aaron Donald, LA Rams

Linebacker $22.4M $19M, Darius Leonard, Indiana Colts

Defensive Back $31.7M

Edge……………………………………. $27M, Joey Bosa, LA Chargers

Safety…………………………………… $17M, Jamal Adams, Seattle Seahawks

Corner Back……………………………. $20M, Jalen Ramsey, LA Rams

K/P/LS $5.3M

Kicker………………………………….. $5M, Justin Tucker, Baltimore Ravens

Punter………………………………….. $3M, Johnny Hekker, LA Rans

Long Spanner………………………….. $1M, Reid Ferguson, Buffalo Bills

Quarterbacks have the highest salary in any one team. Usually. There may be a spare quarterback but he will not earn as much as the star QB.  

Within a team, different playing positions may sit at the bottom of the pay scale. It could be a Punter since using his services is seldom. Sometimes it could be a Long Snapper or even a Running Back. 

One reason they have low salaries may be that they are reserves in the roster. Another reason could be that the player is not a member of the player association. This may have risen for the benefit of both the player and the team. All teams in the NFL have salary caps or ceilings. Compromises may happen from such limitations.

The position of the Running Back that has one of the lowest pay in the NFL is incongruous. There are historical records to prove this one. This is the player that gets bludgeoned by the opposing team’s defensive linemen. Yet he has low pay. Added to that, the average NFL life of an RB is a mere 3 years plus.

The Kicker gets better pay than the RB sometimes. He does not get tackled to the ground. In fact, any member of the opposing team that touches the Kicker will get a penalty for such action. He also lives much longer in the NFL, about twice that of an RB.

Discretion is still on the team as long as they follow the rules of the NFL. Any of the positions in the team gets that salary for a reason. The team management has to juggle NFL rules with their internal situation.

  • The NFL Players Association

By good fortune, the NFL has an association within itself, the NFL Players Association. This is to represent all the players in all 32 teams for their common good. This association has maintained a website for practical reasons. Any of the players from the west coast to the east coast can access it anytime. But only players and allowed members of the group.

The player association had come up with a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA). The NFL Management has signed and agreed on it. This CBA, among the many agenda, has put the salary of a rookie player in the first year.

An agenda in the CBA states about a new player from the draft that gets hired by a team. That player to fill any playing position within the team will get to have the least salary. The salary is US$ 660,000.00 in the first year. This is about 20% higher than the previous one.

For a select number of rookie players, they will have more income on the label of signing bonus. The number one pick in the draft will have the highest signing bonus. Along with the highest total for a four-year contract. The salary plus the signing bonus.

  • The NFL Salary Gap

To show this, we will refer to a table of salaries that the NFL has released to the public. The current year, 2021, will follow down below. The table will be for the previous year, NFL 2020.

On that resource, the top five earnings of the players are in the 8-digit income. The first and the fifth player have a salary difference of also an 8-digit income. 

Four of the top five are all Quarterbacks. The black sheep of the five is an Offensive Tackle. A tall 6-foot 8-inch man weighing 380 lbs. He must be a very agile man despite his size to be at number 3.

The bottom-dweller on the list is a player who earned not very much indeed. Not even 0.6% of the salary difference between player 1 and player 5. That is very sorry to know. But, if we look on the bright side, it is good enough a salary in the real world. Not a business executive’s pay, but decent enough for a middle-class life. Plus, we do not know what incentives he may have.

The NFL 2021 is a bit like 2020. There are slight changes and the top five players are all Quarterbacks except one. All five players have 8-digit incomes. This time around, the difference between player one and player five is only 7 digits.

The black sheep this time is a Wide Receiver. He has been in the NFL for six years running. That is impressive considering the NFL lifespan is 7-8 years. He is also at number 3.

The bottom dweller for this year earns six digits. It is off of a 7th digit. His salary is much better than 2020 lowest. His salary is almost 20% of the difference between player one and player five. This time around, all players are better compensated for a rough sport.


It is a rough game; we are all certain of that. There is no security of tenure for a big majority of the players. The right to compensation is only proper. Except for a very select few, an NFL player may not even get to play a 10th season.

For the team management, they will strike a ludicrous deal to have the best player. It is business as usual.

How Much Salary Do NFL Players Make?

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