All NFL players should be making at least $1 million per year

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[Editor’s note: Agent Neil Schwartz recently approached me with an idea to make veteran players more attractive to teams and, more importantly, to ensure that all NFL players make a very comfortable living. The end result is a column on which Schwartz and I collaborated. Any typos are his fault.]

As the NFL and its players learn more about the realities of playing pro football, it’s more important than ever that all players receive fair compensation for the risks they assume. And by all players, that means every player. Which means that each player should have a minimum salary that reflects the maximum toll the game can take on the human body.

Currently, the league ties minimum salary to experience. For new players, it’s $450,000. For players with 10 or more years of experience, the minimum rises to $985,000. This disparity makes younger players more attractive than older ones, even with the “minimum salary benefit,” a device that provides teams with a salary-cap break on older players with minimum-salary deals, but not a cash break.

When it comes to the 29 positions on the 53-man roster that don’t go to offensive and defensive starters, cheaper is usually better. And younger is always cheaper.

The gap between young/cheap and old/costly gets partially bridged under the existing labor deal through the performance-based pool, which gives the lowest-paid players more money based on how much they play. Still, that money comes from the league at large; at the team level, going young on the back half of the roster means saving money. Which gives the teams even more leverage when squeezing veteran players to take less.

So why not guarantee every NFL player who is on an active roster more? The floor should be the same for all players, and the best place to start is the number that still exudes “rich.” One million dollars.

Yes, the minimum salary for all players should be the same, regardless of experience. And it should be $1 million dollars for now, with increases based upon the annual increases in the salary cap.

The adjustment will cost the owners nothing, since they’re already operating in a salary-capped environment. It will, as a practical matter, pick the pockets of some the NFL’s richest players, but maybe the league needs a dash of Robin Hood in order to ensure that all players are able to exit the sport with enough money to have made it worth their while.

As a practical matter, non-superstars who currently are making a significant amount of money would likely lose the most. But that group isn’t nearly big enough to dictate policy for the union at large. As a matter of basic fairness, those players still have every right to negotiate competitively the best possible deal within the confines of the salary cap — a dynamic that all players currently face.

Increasing the minimum salary regardless of experience will create an incentive both for teams to keep older players and for older players to keep playing. It also will make the sport even more attractive for the vast majority who currently won’t get truly rich but could die prematurely for the trying.

That latter angle could be the most important one. At a time when a smattering of veterans are walking away from the game due to concussion concerns, no rookies currently are opting out of the chance to get drafted. At some point, that could change. Putting more money on the table sooner than later could keep that from happening.

Although the current labor agreement has five years remaining on it, side deals can be reached at any time. This is a potential side deal that will help both sides significantly, a true win-win for management and labor that in turn can be a big win for most players.

81 responses to “All NFL players should be making at least $1 million per year

  1. The NFL may have a problem with this disparity, but it comes nowhere close to being as bad as the system in place in MLB. Especially when you consider that minor leaguers (who don’t have union representation) don’t even make minimum wage for their efforts with the exception of very high draft picks (the “bonus babies”).

  2. Minimum Wage set at 1M is funny to see in a written proposal……no matter what side you end up favoring.

  3. One of the down sides is it makes the owners that much less likely to expand the rosters, which they are years late in deciding to do.

  4. So, the NFL has a starting minimum salary of $450k, and they have hundreds, if not thousands of people ready and willing to take on the risk for that money, but you have declare for them that $450k/yr is not enough for them???

    Exactly who are you to declare that??

    Let me ask you a question, how much is the minimum that you pay the members of your staff? Well, whatever it is, I declare that it is not enough and you should double it! It’s only fair… Because, much like the reasoning in your article… Because I think so, and my opinion on how you should handle your workers salary should apparently matter now according to you.

  5. They all need a living wage! The toll it takes on their bodies! –U.S. Military,Firefighters, Law Enforcement, EMS, construction workers, loggers, miners and on and on.
    Every day their jobs take their toll on their bodies.
    Don’t give me the dangers of the job crap.
    Besides, this is proposed by a freaking agent! Suppose he’ll benefit any from $1 mil per player?

  6. Won’t work in the NFL. That concept makes way too much sense for the league office to understand.

  7. I would say that active duty military members serving in combat zones are much more deserving of a $1M salary than someone who plays a game for a living…

  8. Really. Cause they play football. So other people who are not famous should not be entitled to more money. I suppose u support the $15 per hour minimum wage too. I hope so cause it’s the same scenario. Low end guys making more to balance out the league.

  9. Interesting idea, but don’t try to frame it in a “these guys could be killed!” context. If that’s really your concern, keeping guys on the field for additional years to absorb more hits instead of spreading those hits out among a larger number of constantly churning players is probably a recipe for more serious issues later in life. Spreading the money out more evenly to players would, surprise surprise, spread it out more evenly to agents, too. Just own it. Cash grab.

  10. Rookie wage scale + extra goodies for veterans = veterans pushing themselves out of a job… (They really ought to give EVERY player a percentage of snaps played salary.)

  11. * What about practice squad players?
    * Is this paid on a per game played basis?
    * What if a player is only activated for one game… $1M?… or 1/18th?

    * $1M for a rookie, v $1M for a vet. Shall we reduce the draft to 4 rounds?

  12. Before you increase the minimum salary, it might be a good idea to reduce the maximum.

    Some of these guys simply make too much.

  13. So Florio has outed himself as a Bernie supporter.

    I’d like Florio to put this plan into action using himself and this website. I think he should give up some of his revenue and income and give it to smaller football blogs. All bloggers and websites should be able to make it worth their while.

    When the people telling me it’s crisis, start acting like its a crisis, and change their habits to solve the crisis, I’ll believe it’s a crisis.

  14. Very interesting article.

    But you are taking from the true grinders in the NFL. The five teams in seven years OL who can play three positions every team needs…And giving to the two years in the NFL flamouts.

    I don’t think it’s that bad a future career backup have to prove he can grind through the practices for a few years before he gets a pay bump for surviving to a second or third contract.

  15. This will never happen. The younger players have a lot less influence and political power within the unions. The highly paid stars and the respected veterans have pull. If anything, they’ll look to direct money away from the younger players into the hands of the veterans. That was the primary motivation behind the establishment of the rookie pool to limit draft picks’ salaries.

  16. Teams would still go for the younger player, no matter what. It’s just a better investment, especially for that price.

  17. Interesting idea. I like it. Will help to keep some of the older (better) players in the league over a young player that can’t play. Florio Believer joked, but this is kind of the NFL version of a Bernie policy. That was my first thought when reading this article. Solid idea #feelthebern

  18. So the vet should throw away all his years of experience and have the same minimum as the guy who just got here?

    It still won’t work. Vet has one foot across the finish line while the rookie hasn’t even crossed the start line.

  19. Ummm….nope. And here’s why.

    Instead of NFL players, let’s say that ALL cars should be priced at $25,000. That means large, small, new, used, gas, diesel, hybrids, and even Teslas.

    Which means my beat-up 2003 Toyota is “worth” $25k. So now I want to trade straight-up for a brand-new Audi A8, since it is now “worth” $25k instead of $85k.

    Everyone would want to do the same thing, because the new price ignores things like performance, remaining expected life of the vehicle, wear-and-tear, required maintenance, and dozens of other factors.

    That would be a ridiculous waste of resources. Now let’s get back to football players.

    Since I have to spend at least $1M/year for ANY player, am I going to go with wily old veterans with broken-down bodies, or younger, stronger, healthier rookies and UFAs? One group has a bright future ahead, and the other has a bright future in the rear-view mirror.

    I think the unintended – but very real – consequence of this proposal is that most clubs would spend their cap dollars on younger players with upside, who have a chance to deliver better performance for the same price. There would be a niche market for experienced specialists, but marginal veterans would be cut even faster than before.

    My 2003 beater has lots (>200k miles) of “experience”. Who is going to pay $25k for that, when they can get any new car they want for the same price?

  20. It’s a very valid argument, but I’ll try to add some perspective from the fan level.

    $450,000 is a LOT of money looking from where I’m at. I understand the owners/contract negotiators could spread the wealth around a bit more.

    I understand these gentlemen run risks. I understand these gentlemen come from “not so good” environments. But..

    .. I’m thinking of the ladies and gentlemen that come from the same, if not worse environments. More than likely gifted with just “enough” athletic prowess and smarts to do a job, but no where near enough to get a college scholarship. They serve, at least, a four year commitment so that the funds they put into college will be “matched” by the federal government. All they’re asked to do? Stand on the front lines to defend our country.

    Talk about risks associated with a job? C’mon. There’s no congressional hearings on the medical evidence of a leg being blown off. Those are pretty cut and dried.

    So, THEIR choice is to play a game cause they were blessed with the genes to run or tackle the guy on the opposing team, plus have the chance at a free ride towards a piece of paper that will better you and your family. Then decide to go chase your dream to play a game… for $450,000 a year… and then complain about it??

    Go ask PFC Smith, who lost an arm from a home-made bomb over in some other country “fighting for your freedom”, how much money he and his family was making that year… ….. You’d choke.

  21. Sure, let’s let the star QB’s who take a real beating subsidize the backup free safety that rarely sees the field. Sounds like liberal thinking in an election year.

  22. Um, how about salary being based on, you know, performance? Start paying players because of what they are risking, and every game will be a version of the pro bowl. What would the inventive be to excel?

    And people think Goodell is ruining the league.

  23. The only part of that that I agree with is have a flat minimum for ALL players. It is sad when good players are forced out, not because of skill, but because in the capped league a vet can be just to expensive compared to his rookie counter part. If the vet wants to keep playing for that team and is willing to do it for the rookie minimum no one should be able to stop him.

  24. I wonder if this issue was placed to a vote before NFL players if a majority would even vote in in its favor.

  25. I think it’s absurd to compare this suggestion to Bsrnie. I’m the last person to support socialism, but what’s weitten in the article hS merit. Relative to the profitability of the league, the short life span of being an NFL player, and the injury risk, the minimum salaries for rookies and vets is way too low. Particulary the veteran minimum. How can an NFL vet make a fraction of what an NBA vet makes that’s nothing more than a bench warmer?

  26. Wouldn’t that make it more tempting for star players to start a rival league where they could make more money. Anything can happen.

  27. I was saying they should do this in baseball like 20 or so years ago.

    Of course, only 25 guys on a MLB roster, so apples and oranges.

  28. I hope the people calling this socialism at least support removing the salary cap- that’s an anti-free market policy. So, is giving subsidies to the billionaire owners.

    How about no minimum, no maximum, no cap, and teams have to survive on their own merits? That’s the only purely principled capitalist approach. So, if you support any of those regulations you lose the moral high ground argument.

  29. Interesting opinion….. So someone that is brand new should make as much as veteran? Would anyone else regardless of their career in any industry be happy with that?

    As for the risks associated with football, I understand their concerns. If a player thinks they are underpaid, then they (just like anyone else) have the option of finding another line of work.

  30. “$1,000,000..minimum salary that reflects the maximum toll the game can take on the human body.” 1mil min to the play a game. How about 1 mil a year for jobs that are far more inherently dangerous then playing a game. What do you think the average Police officer makes a year? Or firemen that actually run into the burning building while everyone else is running out. Most will never even reach 1/10th of 1 mil/ year in their career.
    If your worried playing a game will give you bad knees or CTE, then don’t play the game.

  31. I’d take $450K in a heartbeat. If you can play two years and allow yourself a $50K a year salary, you can bank the rest toward retirement, housing, family needs, etc.

    The problem isn’t the minimum salary. The problem is the shear stupidity of young men with money. Vince Young didn’t make the minimum. He still went broke. This article fails to account for the reality that the NFL can’t fix stupid by throwing more money at players.

  32. The whole bickering of “players making too much ” is absurd. These guy have trained day in and day out for their whole lives, everyone talks about how they wish they could play at the NFL level, truth is most people don’t wanna put in the work it takes, ya’ll talk like you would, but very few people can take the grind, these guys are building their bodies up, keep themsleves on good diets (most do anyways) at a very young age, meanwhile we’re all sitting on our computers with our mouth full of chips and commenting about how it’s so unfair. On top of that, people leave the league really messed up playing this game for our amusement, they deserve to live the rest of their lives comfortably and take care of generations after them. Arguments can be made that certain jobs make too little (anything military) for risking themsleves too, but to say these players were offered these opportunitys without hardwork and dedication is false. Hate if you want, I expect it.

  33. We all know the NFL will be forever the most popular of groups, for lack a better term, aside from college football and the SEC in the south, from here to eternity. However, if you rap your mind around what this is saying it is pure insanity. Back in the day, football players made a modest living, some even requiring a 2nd job which is crazy, but to say ALL NFL players should be making a million dollars, I ask others to think about the salaries of the public sector. What should teachers, school administrators, nurses, etc. be making. The develop, maintain, or sometimes save lives. The NFL IS A GAME. I am guilty of loving just as much as the next guy, but I will be damned if I go to Cowboy Stadium and spend 9 on a beer, 200.00 on a seat, 50 to park, when I can see it better in my home.
    Our world doesn’t make sense.
    Before you reply about teachers and administrators making a ton, realize that might be the case in NY where NYSUT is the strongest union in the state and a few other states, but overall educators are paid terrible and they are responsible for educating our children, many who come to school more and more unprepared nor supported to face the world we live in.
    End of soapbox rant. Begin trashing me…………………NOW

  34. No raise to the minimum regardless of age, stupid idea commits, because there is already salary guidelines in place. NFL needs to invest money in to a defined benefit health plan for all players that are employed from day one. These guys need that more than millions. 90% of these players have no clue what to do with $50 let alone $1 mill. Just set up a system where their healthcare is taken care of for life.

  35. So let me get this straight. You said the other day that we need to get rid of the franchise tag so that the best players could earn more. Now you want a rule that enforces the bottom of the roster getting more too. Where is this money coming from exactly? The only way your sums add up is if the ‘middle income’ players get dragged down to the bottom. So basically on every roster you have a few players earning $20m plus per year and the rest earning $1-2m

  36. Great idea, one that does not hurt the owners at all (cap stays the same) then maybe the majority of players would take an interest in union changes instead of just cow towing to what ends up benefitting the NFL 1%(mostly QB’s).
    Pretty sure when Russell Wilson signs his extension he can survive on 20 mil year instead of 25.

  37. Oh please stop the madness right now!!! They volunteer to play a sport that has inherent dangers. Know who else volunteers the men and women in a military uniform! Imagine if they all asked for even $100,000 a year. Most of you on here would be outraged!!

  38. I never cease to be amazed at the ability of people to spend other people’s money with a straight face and in the guise of learned thought. Why do your job yourself when you can mandate that others do the job for you.

    Here is a thought…….reduce everyone’s potential salary to the current minimum and allow the player and agent to negotiate the best deal possible.

  39. It used to be that the highly drafted rookies were making more than the proven stars.

    That’s why they instituted the current rookie pay scale – reducing what the potential future stars would make on their first contract.

    That was a good idea.

    This new proposal makes no sense.

  40. I would not want that in my work place. The new guy walking in the door gets paid the same as the the guy that has been at the company for 10 years.

  41. This so called agent is not just thinking about the players, his 3% of a million will be a hell of a lot more than 3% of 450K don’t ya think????

  42. Thanks to the genius bar for pitching in cries of communism and marxism. The NFL isn’t a country, or a community, but a commodity. Players contribute to that product. To maintain a better product, these guys are suggesting that the payout system tilts back in favor of guys with experience at the highest level. You know, to make sure the 53 guys on each team are the best 53 guys, not the best 25 guys and a bunch of cheap guys.

    This has nothing to do with redistributing wealth, just adjusting the structure of income for employees of one company, to improve their overall product. The fact you think it is a political matter demonstrates one of the biggest problems in American politics.

  43. Imagine that, from an agent. Perhaps he should advocate for a balanced salary approach, every player should get paid the same, 2% of the salary cap, regardless of skill and experience. After all, that way it would be fair to the backup linemen who are getting less than the starting qbs. There is no place in sports for a highly skilled player to make more than a scrub. Every one deserves a trophy. /sarcasm/

  44. I don’t think it would make older players more valuable – and really, when you think of it, shouldn’t veteran players have saved their money? What about younger players that may not get opportunities at all if more vets are retained – it’s not like they can sit around and wait and the teams will want a 26 year old rookie.

  45. Although I certainly agree that our firefighters, policemen, military, etc. are underpaid vs. the risks they take, any comparison between NFL players and them is absurd. Also absurd is the notion that this is a liberal/socialism/communism issue.

    The reason these guys make so much money is because of capitalism, not socialism or communism. The NFL makes billions as a business, and it is paying its players 67% (or whatever the cap % is) of that money. That’s why they get paid so much. Period. End of story.

    The only way for our military and the like to get paid a comparable sum more would be to raise taxes, something that the Republican/fiscally conservatives on this board refuse to consider under any circumstances.

    Are all of you fiscal conservative small government types suggesting that the government force the NFL to take some of its legitimately earned money and pay government employees?

  46. A young man who is concerned about the toll playing football will take on his body should play another sport. It is a choice to play football. And the really young guys need parental permission to play. I think what the players make today is ridiculous, but it is what the market bears. I’ve often wondered if I’d been able to play a sport at a professional level, would I have been as greedy as some of these players are? Who knows? Female athletes become rich more through endorsements than winnings, however. And even so, I doubt Carli Lloyd makes what Peyton Manning does for her commercials. How many times do we see players have a good year and then bomb out after signing a huge contract? Too many times to count. I think players should be paid at the end of the season–every season, based on performance. Of course, how to do that has many possibilities. I can’t imagine making $100,000 a year, much less than $1 million.

  47. Now I get the angle (using an NFL agent). The problem isn’t that there’s income disparity between veterans and rookies (who’s lower pay pushes out many veterans who can still play). The problem is that there are so many rookies and young players making $450k, yet they consume an enormous amount of an agent’s time, bouncing from team to team, workout to workout, trying to find a home. Meanwhile, you have an established relationship with these veterans for a few years, and then they get bumped so the agent has to start recruiting new, younger talent every year.

    Now I understand the actual intent of the article.

  48. Definitely some issues for young players and for agents. It has also been Christmas every day at 345 Park Avenue too. For a more thorough review of the NFL, maybe some full disclosure would help. How many people in the NFL league office currently make more than the league minimum for players, and what are the responsibilities of these people? Compare that information with other professional sports. Then maybe figure out why the Commissioner of the NFL is making roughly 100 times the league minimum for players (while at the same time not being qualified to fulfill significant requirements of the position).

  49. Good luck getting the membership to ratify that deal Florio.

    The only people as greedy as the owners are the players. No one is going to take less so their co-workers can get more.

  50. The agents would hate this based on nothing to negotiate as a low end player. If the base salary is a mil then why give 3-5 % away if you are guaranteed that dollar amount.

  51. It is pretty easy to spend money that is not yours. Democrats entire political ideology revolves around that idea.

  52. If only there was some organization whose sole purpose was to work towards goals like these…

    oh wait..

    Can’t bash the NFLPA around here…

    An idea like this is a good one…but you’d have to get the big $$$ players to go along, and we all know the Union is built to support those guys, not the other 2000+ players who actually need it.

  53. “I’m confused…did these “players” willingly make the decision to “play” football? Hhhmmmm…”

    Congratulations. You have completely missed the point.

    Or did you not even read it?

  54. “It is pretty easy to spend money that is not yours. Democrats entire political ideology revolves around that idea.”

    There’s an insightful contribution to the conversation.

    Any conversation.

  55. I agree that firefighters, soldiers, police officers, etc. should all get a big raise. So let’s tax the NFL owners and all their friends at a fair rate, and use that money to pay government employees what they deserve, and to fund education and other programs to help kids who grow up in tough circumstances.

    …or we can keep buying stadiums for the .01 percent. Your call, America.

  56. this is not a fan issue but surprising that the players union, with all the pay data by seniority, doesn’t push for this concept. You would think non-starting older players would get behind this.

  57. Not taking a position on the actual proposal here, but I don’t understand the inherent good in making teams more likely to sign a ten year veteran as opposed to a rookie free agent. Other than for the ten year vet, of course.

  58. How about some perspective. Let’s look at another profession of “skilled labor” in a “high risk” environment for comparison. A good iron worker can make 100k per year, maybe 120k depending on work availability. The risks associated with that job are basically death/severe injury from falling, crushing, or being hit by falling objects. Granted the average career for an iron worker is about 30 years longer than an NFL player, but still, I’m thinking 450k, seems about right for an NFL rookie non starter. Maybe bump it up a little, but 1 million for a non starting rookie seems a little high.

  59. jonathankrobinson424 says:
    Mar 30, 2016 12:47 AM
    ……….who pays for these millionares?….certainly isn’t me….I gotta work for a living………

    Weeelll…You kinda do. You, the football fan, indirectly pay for these salaries through tickets, jerseys, players’ charities….

    Just kidding about that last one but, yeah, you pay.

  60. Why stop at $1,000,000? If someone is going to lobby for higher minimum wages, might as well go for at least twice that much. These guys gotta be able to eat and feed their kids. You expect them to do that on a measly million bucks per annum?

  61. Regardless of how you feel about rookie wages versus veteran wages, let’s just talk about how convenient it is that the new minimum wage for EVERYBODY is higher than the current minimum wage for ANYBODY. Can’t believe it was an agent of all people to come up with this!

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