Jay Berwanger never sat in the green room at the NFL Draft. Chosen first overall and signed by the Philadelphia Eagles in the inaugural draft of 1936, Berwanger's rights quickly became property of the Chicago Bears. He asked Coach George Halas for a contract of $25,000 over two years. When Halas declined, Berwanger went on to work as a foam-rubber salesman. Somehow I don't see JaMarcus Russell selling vacuum cleaners door-to-door anytime soon.
Since its inception as the American Professional Football Association in 1920, the NFL has grown from a fledgling band of 11 teams (founded initially so they wouldn't steal each others players) to a stout 32-team league. Teams around that time were filled with semi-pro athletes, who had to work other jobs to make ends meet.
By the time 1980 rolled around, Walter Payton, the highest-paid player in the league, made around half a million dollars. Former Patriot QB Drew Bledsoe made the most in 2000, maxing out at $8,542,700. Peyton Manning's salary of $35,037,700 in 2004 was the spike in the graph. This mega-pay day was due to the $34.5 million dollar signing bonus, tacked onto his base salary. And most recently in 2006, New England DT Richard Seymour took in the most cash, totaling $24,691,160. Don't let the numbers fool you, though. Even though the top salaries have improved since the days of the Providence Steamroller and the Chicago Staleys, NFL players on average make less than players in the other major sports.
This increase of pay, mostly since the 1990s, is due in large part to the stability and growth of the game. All of this could not have been possible without the Collective Bargaining Agreement that was signed into effect in 1993. This new CBA brought an end to strikes, lockouts and the resulting replacement players that plagued the league since the late 1960s.
The significance of the CBA was that the owners and the players were now on the same page as far as money is concerned. The owners could regulate how much they had to spend on their roster each season based on a salary cap. This ensured that individual player salaries wouldn't escalate, making it impossible for certain teams to compete, much like baseball. Just ask any KC Royals fan how that's working out. It also aids the owners by not paying anyone who isn't playing anymore by implementing non-guaranteed contracts.
Here are some numbers for average 2006 salaries:
NFL - $1.4 million.
MLB - $2.7 million.
NBA - $5.215 million.
NHL - $1.46
On the player's side, the CBA has provided them with free agency, which has been argued over for years. This means that a player can now take his skills and talents to market and go after more money if another team is willing to pay. If you're good, you'll make money. It's all based on performance and production.
How has the CBA worked out? Well, for one it has put an end to work stoppages. No more Sundays without Terry Bradshaw…well, maybe that isn't such a good thing. Seriously though, the CBA has transformed the NFL into a league where its players' salaries can grow at a rate with the revenue the league generates. Other leagues can't say that.
The NFL also has the biggest hold on the attention of Americans, since these non-guaranteed contracts result in a better product for the fan. It's like dangling a cheesesteak in front of Andy Reid. Only motivated, skilled players who are still playing will get big paychecks. Carl Pavano wouldn't make it here. The more players push themselves and the harder they play, the better the game becomes. This makes their wallets fatter, the owners happy and leaves us entertained.
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Here's the proof in Nielsen TV ratings for 2006 events:
Super Bowl - 41.6
World Series - 10.1
NBA Finals - 8.5
Stanley Cup Finals - 2.3
Here's what the CBA boils down to: players get paid more when the league gets paid. The league gets paid when people are interested and fans stay in the seats for competitive games.
For the 2006 NFL season, here were the top 10 highest NFL salaries according to USA Today:
|1. Richard Seymour||NE||$24,691,160|
|2. Drew Brees||NO||$22,000,000|
|3. Bryant McKinnie||MIN||$17,500,000|
|4. Steve Hutchinson||MIN||$16,588,080|
|5. Jeff Backus||DET||$16,252,310|
|6. Tom Brady||NE||$16,004,840|
|7. Carson Palmer||CIN||$15,750,000|
|8. John Abraham||ATL||$15,503,300|
|9. Shaun Alexander||SEA||$15,125,000|
|10. Reggie Wayne||IND||$15,100,440|
And, by the way, with today's inflation rate, Berwanger's proposed contract would have been worth about $180,000 per year. He may have been better off with his foam-rubber.