In a recent ranking of the 50 highest paid American athletes by Sport Illustrated, it appears that NFL players are neither in the majority nor well ranked.
While the NFL is by far the most popular league in the United States where the market is almost saturated. Proof of this is the fact that the latest draft was followed by more than 30 million viewers.
Yet NFL players earn much less than their NBA or MLB colleagues.
Of the 50 highest paid athletes in the USA, including income excluding salaries, i.e. resources derived mainly from their image, only 9 players come from the NFL, compared to 22 NBA players and 14 from Major League Baseball. There are also two golfers, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, and 3 NASCAR drivers, who are in first place in this ranking.
The first NFL player to appear in this ranking is Peyton manning, the Colts’ QB, in tenth place with a fixed salary of 14.5 million plus 13 million related to these advertising contracts. Tom Brady, the second highest paid NFL player, only appears in 28th position, behind Celtics player Ray Allen. Brady has a salary almost half as low as Manning’s, $8 million, but he earns most of his income from these various advertising contracts. Also worth noting is the presence of Antonio Smith, the Texan limen, and the Rams centre, Jason Brown. These two players have recently signed a large contract, over several seasons, but they receive, in the form of a guarantee, a significant part of the contract (sometimes almost half). Hence their unexpected presence in this ranking.
Several explanations can be provided.
The salary cap makes it difficult to offer a contract at 30 million per season as can be seen in MLB where there is no salary cap. In the NBA, non-compliance with the salary cap is less penalised than in the NFL. There are a large number of NBA franchises that do not respect this limit (New York, Dallas, Portland a few years ago…) The only risk is to be imposed almonds. In the NFL, if a team does not respect the salary cap, it risks heavy sanctions, such as being deprived of a draft round.
The size of the workforce. In the NFL, a roster consists of 53 players, while in the NBA, for example, it does not exceed 14 players. You understand that it is difficult to offer a 20 or 30 million contract to a single player, at the risk of having a low quality workforce afterwards. In recent years, many NFL players have had to lower their contracts to keep their deductibles within salary limits. This is also one of the reasons why the Patriots have been successful at the expense of the Colts in recent years. In Indianapolis, players such as Manning or Marvin Harrison received a high salary, which prevented the Colts from recruiting other good players for other positions. On the other hand, the Patriots have never hesitated to let go a player claiming a contract too high for their taste (Asante Samuel, Adam Vinateri, Ty Law…)
The length of the season. Unlike the NBA where the season is 82 games or the MLB where the season consists of 161 games, the NFL has a 16 game schedule. Thus, these extended seasons in baseball or basketball allow players to receive more match bonuses.