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Football ranks as one of the most popular sports in the United States, and the National Football League (NFL) stands out as the premier stage for elite players and coaches. Consisting of 32 franchises in major cities throughout the country, the NFL brings in massive revenue with its hard-hitting and highly skilled brand of football. Of course, a significant amount of that revenue goes to paying the players on each team. Salaries vary greatly for rookies starting their first year in the league, with some stars collecting huge sums while other new players pull in much more modest earnings.
Top Rookie Salaries
Rookie football players selected early in the NFL's annual draft have a longstanding history of receiving extremely lucrative contracts. Teams pick from about 250 players in the draft, but those who go off the board near the beginning of the selection process get the biggest deals. For instance, first-round draft choice Joe Flacco got a starting contract from the Baltimore Ravens in 2008 that will pay him anywhere from $12 million to $30 million over five years, according to Peter Shaffer of the Washington Post. Similarly, the No. 1 overall pick of the 2009 draft, quarterback Matthew Stafford, landed a six-year deal worth at least $41.7 million in guaranteed money, according to Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports. Second- and third-round draft selections make significantly less than first round picks, but they still haul in contracts that pay them an average of $500,000 to $1 million per year. For example, Eddie Royal was a second-round pick for the Denver Broncos in 2008 who got a contract worth $800,000 per year for four years, and Dan Connor was the Carolina Panthers' third-round pick in the same draft who negotiated a $623,000 annual salary.
Bottom Rookie Salaries
Most rookies starting their first year in the NFL earn a relatively small salary compared with stars of the draft and established veterans. Rookies selected in the later rounds of the draft or those who enter the NFL as undrafted free agents typically make the league minimum. The league minimum salary for players in the NFL was $285,000 in 2007, though that figure rose to $325,000 for the 2010 season, according to Jarrett Bell of USA Today.
Average Rookie Salaries
It is difficult to gauge the average starting football salary in the NFL because the monster contracts of the top rookie draft selections skew the overall numbers. Still, Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports provides a useful framework. Wetzel notes that in 2008, the average guaranteed salary for first-round picks was nearly $12 million, while for second-round picks that number dropped to around $2 million. Third-rounders average just $650,000 in guaranteed compensation, and the salaries continued to drop off dramatically further down the draft order. The majority of low-round picks and undrafted rookies make the league minimum.
First-Year Coaching Salaries
Veteran coaches in the NFL make upward of $5 million per season, but the league's newest coaches earn much smaller salaries. The average salary for most of these new coaches hovers between $2 million and $3 million, according to a 2009 article by John Czarnecki of Fox Sports.
Trends and Outlook
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has expressed his desire to alter the league's rookie salary structure, according to a 2010 piece by Don Banks of Sports Illustrated. The league wanted to install a fixed rookie salary scale based on draft slots to avoid the astronomical signing amounts that make new players exceedingly rich before they ever prove themselves or play a single down. Of course, the NFL Players Association was resistant, and threatened a lockout in 2011 if issues such as salary security and long-term health coverage were not resolved.