Football ranks as one of the most popular sports in the United States, alluring myriad fans with its hard-hitting action. Multiple professional leagues cater to these fans, with the National Football League (NFL) standing out as the sport's top tier of competition. Several other minor leagues also operate in both the United States and Canada. Of course, professional football player salaries vary drastically depending on numerous factors such as league, team, position, experience and overall performance. Some elite players make extravagant fortunes in football, while low-profile developmental players tend to make far less than their superstar counterparts.
Average NFL Salaries
The average annual player salary in the NFL as of 2009 was roughly $1.9 million, according to an article on the "USA Today" website. This figure increases slightly each year in accordance with inflation rates and steady pay hikes. However, this average is somewhat distorted by the handful of astronomical salaries enjoyed by the league's most famous players. The median salary for players in 2009 was $790,000, less than half of the reported average.
Low-End NFL Salaries
Rookies selected in the late rounds of the draft and those who break into the NFL as undrafted free agents generally make the league minimum salary, as do journeymen fringe players on the low end of teams' depth charts. The NFL offers minimum player salaries of $325,000, according to a 2010 article in "USA Today."
High-End NFL Salaries
Star players in the NFL often make between $10 million and $15 million per season in salary alone, excluding all the extra income they get from lucrative endorsement deals. An articles on the "USA Today" website notes that more than half of the 118 players in the 2009 NFL Pro Bowl boasted salaries of more than $4 million a year, with 15 of the most elite players in that group enjoying contracts worth upwards of $10 million annually. The "Sports Illustrated" website provides an overview of the NFL's average salaries by position, which shows that iconic franchise quarterbacks typically haul in the biggest paychecks in the NFL, though there are a few exceptions at other positions on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball.
The Arena Football League (AFL) serves as an alternative for players who fail to make it in the NFL. The average AFL player salary in 2008 was around $80,000, according to the "NY Daily News." However, a lockout occurred in 2009 followed by a restructuring of the league. AFL players were hit with major pay cuts after the lockout.
The AFL now pays nearly all of its players a flat rate of only $400 per game, as noted in a 2010 article in the "Sports Business Journal." A maximum of three players per AFL team can be designated as franchise marketing players, making them eligible for an improved salary of $1,000 per game in exchange for participating in promotional appearances for their teams and the league. Despite the relatively paltry salaries offered in the AFL, players do receive financial assistance for housing and food as additional compensation for their efforts.
The United Football League (UFL) started up in 2009 and consists of six franchises as of 2010. The UFL offers the majority of its players one-year $35,000 contracts, according to the website FanHouse. Punters, kickers and long snappers earn just $25,000 per season. The only players with hefty salaries in the UFL are quarterbacks. FanHouse reports that the going salary for starting quarterbacks in 2010 was $200,000. In addition to base salary, the UFL also covers all housing expenses for its players.
The Canadian Football Leauge (CFL) operates its own version of professional football. The league minimum salary in the CFL is around $41,000, according to Monster.com. Lower draft selections and undrafted free agents typically earn the minimum rate, while high draft picks can earn approximately $50,000 in their first year. Some established veterans command six-figure salaries. A few elite players earn substantially more. For example, Edmonton Eskimos’ quarterback Ricky Ray ranked as the highest-paid player in the league in 2009 with a salary of $460,000.