In researching information for this article, the latest data for the presentation of the highest salaries in the NFL is for the 2008 season. It should be noted that this list changes from year to year. Also, the salary cap imposed by the NFL commission increases from year to year. The salary cap is the amount of money an NFL team can spend on salaries for their players per year. The salary cap has progressively increased year by year since its inception back in 1994.
The NFL salary cap, as negotiated by the players Union in the current collective bargaining agreement, is 62.24% of all football related revenue divided by 32 teams. For the 2009 season that figure is 128 million dollars.
The following shows the steady increase in salary cap since 1999:
Salary Cap Per Team for NFL Player Salaries by Year:
2008 $116 million
2007 $109 million
2006 $102 million
2005 $85.5 million
2004 $80.5 million
2003 $75 million
2002 $71 million
2001 $67.5 million
2000 $62.2 million
1999 $58.4 million
As the salary cap increases, so does the salary of players. The real question is how is the money distributed to players. There is a type of salary distribution model that teams use which is not known to the general public. What is known is that the top 20 salaries for 2008 only had a couple of quarterbacks. Yet the highest paid player for 2008 was quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. So who were the highest paid NFL players for 2008. The following table tells it all:
TOP 20 HIGHEST PAID PLAYERS IN 2008
1. QB Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh $ 27,701,920
2. DE Jared Allen, Minnesota $ 21,119,256
3. WR Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona $ 17,103,480
4. QB JaMarcus Russell, Oakland $ 16,872,400
5. RB Michael Turner, Atlanta $ 16,003,840
6. G Chris Snee, N.Y. Giants $ 14,890,000
7. CB Asante Samuel, Philadelphia $ 14,145,000
8. WR Randy Moss, New England $ 14,006,720
9. T Flozell Adams, Dallas $ 14,005,760
10 .DT Tommy Kelly, Oakland $ 13,978,480
11. WR Terrell Owens, Dallas $ 13,731,560
12. WR Bernard Berrian, Minnesota $ 13,705,000
13. T Michael Roos, Tennessee $ 13,505,520
14. C Jeff Faine, Tampa Bay $ 13,105,760
15. DE Will Smith, New Orleans $ 12,950,000
16. QB Tony Romo, Dallas $ 12,886,600
17. G Travelle Wharton, Carolina $ 12,850,000
18. DE Antwan Odom, Cincinnati $ 12,800,000
19. CB Terence Newman, Dallas $ 12,611,240
20. RB Marion Barber, Dallas $ 12,522,400
Lets examine the concept of salary in the NFL a little more closely. As previously stated, how teams pay their players and the value they place on them is known by only a few, including the player agent. It is interesting to note that having high salary players does not necessarily mean success to the team.
A case in point. One of the most successful NFL teams over the past ten years has been the New England Patriots. Yet only one player from the Patriots is in the top 20 for 2008. That is wide receiver Randy Moss. Yet Oakland, over the past ten years, which has two players in the top 20, has not seen the success that the Patriots have had. As a matter of fact, they have not even come close.
Also, you can see five players from the Dallas Cowboys in the top 20 list for 2008, yet they have not been in the Super Bowl since 1995 (Super Bowl XXX). It appears that the New England Patriots like to spread their money around to their players, so that one or a few players do not get an enormous salary while the rest of the players make a fraction of that amount. Randy Moss may be an exception to this rule.
This team concept of salary distribution that the Patriots employ falls in line with the team concept they have set for their players when it comes to playing football. The Patriot’s organization believe that it requires a team effort to win football games, and not the superior effort of only a few players. Maybe that is one of the reasons the Patriots have been so successful over the past ten years. And lets not forget that the Patriots is one of the best managed teams in the NFL. Part of that management is proper salary distribution. Team owner Robert Kraft and head coach Bill Belichick seem to know what they are doing.
In any case, NFL player salaries continue to increase year by year. Today the lowest rookie makes a bare minimum of $285,000.00 (at least for 2007). In terms of all professional sports, the NFL players are the highest paid. This is why so many college players seek to get into the NFL. But it should also be remembered that the average length of a career for a player in the NFL is only 4 years. So obviously a player needs to make all he can during that short career. The question is are the players worth these very high salaries.
A persons salary is dependent on one major factor. That is how many other people can do the job they are doing? The fewer the number of people that can perform a particular job, the higher the salary. Not to many people can play in the NFL. Also, the players do deserve most of the revenue that is produced simply because, without the players, you would not have any business entity. And since fans are willing to pay the high ticket prices, then I would have to answer the question that yes, the players do deserve the salaries they receive.
Football is a form of entertainment, but it is a form of entertainment Americans can not do without. Even in the Roman period, people had a need to see the gladiators fight in the Colosseums. The Romans had to pay to see their gladiators fight to the death. Sometimes all the seats were free, if a rich person had given money to pay for the show. Other times, you had to pay, and it cost more money for the good seats than for the bad seats, so the poor people had to sit way up top in the Colosseum where it was hard to see. Even the Colosseums had their nosebleed seats. The point is, Romans were willing to pay to see the gladiator form of competition. This willingness to pay to see competition has existed throughout the history of mankind.
Every year, fans watch their teams with the hope that their team will reach the Super Bowl, or in some cases, simply end up with a winning season. And in the end, we really do not care to much about a players salary. As long as we enjoy watching our team play, we will continue to pay high ticket prices.
So to conclude, there are really two basic reasons why NFL players can make millions of dollars per year. First and foremost, fans are willing to pay high ticket prices to see their team play. Secondly, not to many people can play in the NFL. This results in a high demand for their skill. Lets face it, not to many people have the skill of a Tom Brady or a Ben Roethlisberger. So as long as the demand for tickets remains high, players will continue to enjoy a high income.
Information sources for this article:
Sources: payscale.com, usatoday.com, historyforkids.org