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NFL Salaries - No Two Football Positions Rank Equal

Updated on March 11, 2013

It All Comes At a Price

There is nothing like a good National Football League ballgame. The roar of the fans, the intensity of the coaches, the banter of the announcers and the show that the football players put on.

All of this comes at a price of course. Every Sunday sees millions of dollars poured into each football game. The figures are staggering.

A big chunk of the money goes toward player salaries. It is easy to forget as you are sitting there with your $20's in hot dogs and beer that the 22 guys crashing into one another are each earning six and seven figure salaries a year.

I did some research on average salaries and hope that you find it useful. I can't say I've come up with any grand revelations, but I put some comments below and hope you enjoy the article. Feel free to comment.

No Two Positions Are Equal

In professional football, different demands are placed on each position. Some positions, such as quarterback, are considered more cerebral, while others such as down-lineman are considered more workman-like.

Some positions require blazing speed, cornerback comes to mind, while others such as kicker and punter, require a considerable leg.

There is no doubt that Quarterback is considered the most important position on the field. The loss of a quarterback can mean the loss of the entire season. But what about the other positions?  Which positions in NFL football are the most difficult? Which are the least difficult?

Think of this for a minute. Come up with your own thoughts on toughest to easiest position. Then let's look at the salaries of each position and see how they compare.

NFL Average Salary of All Postions

I did some research on the NFL average salary by position. The average salary across all positions is about $1,191,510 a year. That is, the mean salary for an NFL player across all positions for 2010 is about $1,191,510.

$1,191,510 per year is a lot of money but this figure can go up or down considerably depending on which football position you are playing.

Salary by Position

Here are the average yearly salaries across the National Football League for all positions.

Rank - Position - Yearly Wages

1. Quarterback 1,970,982

2. Defensiv End 1,583,784

3. Offensive Line 1,267,402

4. Defensive Tackle 1,223,925

5. Cornerback 1,193,666

6. Linebacker 1,175,788

7. Wide Receiveer 1,054,437

8. Running Back 957,360

9. Safety 947,847

10. Punter / Kicker 868,005

11. Tight End 863,414

The Data is Skewed A Bit

The first thing that came to my mind was the incredible amount of money the players are making. The second thing that came to my mind, in a paradoxical way, how low the salaries are compared to my expectations.

My guess is that since the big, big pro football salaries make the headlines and the smaller salaries do not, I was already biased into believing most pro football players truly make 'millions and millions' per year.

Ladianian Tomlinson makes roughly $7,100,000 per year as the top paid running back, yet the yearly average salary at running back is a $957,360. The minimum salary of a NFL player in 2010 with no credited years in the league (year zero so-to-speak) is $320,000 per year. If the player has one credited year, he will earn a minimum of $395,000 per year in the National Football League. If you break it down, you can see the data is skewed a bit.

Let's stick with the running back example. The average salary earned at RB is 2-3 times more than the rookie league minimum, however the average average salary earned at RB is 7 (!) times less than the top paid running back.  Clearly there are players earning the 'millions and millions' per year, but strictly looking at the data, there are plenty of others making far less and keeping the average down.

Offense vs Defense

I remember years ago former Eagles head coach Buddy Ryan making the claim that offenses sell tickets and defenses win championships.

Is this true? Well, looking at the data, it would appear the guy writing the paychecks thinks it is true.

There is no doubt that the Quarterback is considered the essential, paramount, position in the game. Your season is virtually decided largely in part to the effectiveness and the health of your quarterback.  The quarterback is clearly ranked number one in the average salary study.

A lot of money is invested in the quarterback (ranked #1 in salary average) and the guys how are paid to protect him (the offensive line is ranked #2 in salary average). If you take the quarterback out of the equation though, clearly NFL general managers and owners favor the defense.

With the quarterback figures removed, the average salary of offensive players across the board comes down to roughly $1,002,124 per year versus the defense $1,225,002 per year. Essentially, defensive players are earning 20 - 25% more per year than the offense.

Did the Salary Rankings Surprise You? - Defense

After I digested the average National Football League salary by position, the only position on defense  that surprised me was how low linebacker ranked. Typically a lot is asked at the linebacker position and often the linebacker is called upon to be the 'quarterback' of the defense.

Linebackers are the stuff of legends. A guy named Dick Butkus comes to mind.

With that in mind, I think all of the statistics on defense fell into place well. What did you think?

NFL Paycheck Poll

Which Should be Paid Better.... Offense or Defense?

See results

Did the Salary Rankings Surprise You ? - Offense

Were you surprised by the ranking of the offensive salaries? Quarterback ranks high, (#1) and the guys on the offensive line paid to protect the quarterback ranks high (#3). I suppose this did not surprise me.

The overall ranking of the offense did open my eyes. Setting quarterback aside, by position, the offense gets beat up by the defense when it comes to average salary. Defense is the mantra in the NFL though, so in hindsight, this is no surprise either.

Did running back surprise anyone?  The running back ranks very low (#8). I have heard it considered to be one of easier positions to learn in the offensive system and one of the most inconsistent to draft (ie great running backs in college do not always make the cut in the NFL).

That said, he running back tends to have one of the shortest 'career life expectancy' in the National Football League. Simply put they don't last long. I would think their short career would put a premium on their salaries. For comparison the lowly #9 ranked defensive safety has one of the longest career life expectancies in the NFL which probably explains their lower yearly salary. More years = more money.  The running back does not last long. Then again, maybe this makes them more expendable.

The rest of the offense salary rankings looked logical to me.

What did you think?


I hope you found this article interesting. As I mentioned before, I can't claim any sort magical insight into the workings of NFL paychecks. This article was fun to write and I didn't put any demands on estabilishing some profound statistical vision beyond gathering the data, ranking it, pointing out some observations and commenting.

If you have anything to add. Feel free to comment. Thanks for reading!

How About Baseball Positions - How Much Are They Paid in MLB?

Like football, professional baseball players in the major leagues are paid extraordinarily well. These guys make some big bucks. Not all positions make the same money in pro baseball either. Some positions are paid, on average, millions of dollars more a year than other positions. It might surprise you which ones they are.

I wrote an article that details how much each position gets paid and how that relates to their batting statistics. Check out my post. I linked it below.

Batting Statistics and Salary By Position in Professional Baseball's MLB - Click Here

Looking For A Gift? Womens NFL Shirts

You may never draw a salary quite as large as NFL players draw. These guys make boat loads of money playing professional football and the league gives them some great uniforms too.

If you are like the rest of us, you have to buy your own team jerseys. If you are a woman and love your NFL team, there are definitely some great shirts out there at prices where you don't have to make the kind of money a pro football players makes to afford it.

The post I wrote below is actually for Philadelphia Eagles Tee Shirts and Jerseys for women. Even if you are not an Eagles fan, click on any product and you'll be taken to a great site where you can find your favorite NFL team and look like a pro making millions of dollars... well... sort of :-)

Great Ladies NFL Shirts, Tanks, Tees Here

Thanks again for checking out my National Football league salary post. I appreciate it!

How About Villanova University Football?

If you live in the Southeastern PA area you probably are not far from Villanova University. 'Nova has a respected football program and the games are fun to watch. Haven't been to a game? Check out my thoughts on watching a game at Villanova stadium


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    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 

      4 years ago from Oklahoma

      Very interesting. Something I noticed doing similar research, if you take out the anomalies, like the handful of players who have huge contracts, and you factor in downtime due to injury and the like, the average salary is even lower.

      I was very surprised by the average salary of a QB. Thought it would be higher than that. Wonderful read.

    • pmarinov profile image

      Blogger at Best 

      4 years ago from Detroit MI

      Great article! I want to note one thing that I feel is unfair in the nfl for example the Detroit lions: RB Reggie Bush makes 4.2 million a year and his back up which according to many people in Detroit Joique Bell is better than Bush and he only makes 500,000 a year! Hopefully the NFL can come up with some kind of regulation to control the salaries of two of the same players that make totally opposite salaries! I understand contracts but Bell should be compensated in some kind of way at the end of the year for his excellent performance.

      Great article anyway!! Voted up!

    • TurtleDog profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago

      Well said. There are a million ways of looking at statistics and it is easy to see how they can be skewed in one direction or the other.

      One interesting note about the running back is that their importance over the years has dwindled largely I think to evolving offensive patterns and, perhaps, how vulnerable they are to injury. These positions have much less impact on a game than they did 20 years ago. You used to always hear of the need for a "dominant" running back or the need to "control the running game" but these terms do not seem to come up as much these days. In the nineties you'd see 4 and 5 running backs being drafted in the top rounds. I think this year (2012) there was one RB taken in a top round (round 3).

    • profile image

      Delta 9 Starship Commander 

      6 years ago

      I'd be interested to see the average salary of each position's starters, not every single player that plays that position. At RB, the starter is usually extremely important to the success of the football team, and (i would think) very highly paid. But, it's a position where a lot of injuries occur. You need a lot of backups, and they are probably paid much lower salaries than the starter, but you need them on your roster.

      This way, it would measure the importance that a coach/owner puts on each position. The starters' salaries are how you should gage the importance of each position to the coach/owner, the backups are only there because the starters can't play 100% of the time. Some positions need more backups than others which might skew the averages if those backups are paid less because there are more of them.

    • thelyricwriter profile image

      Richard Ricky Hale 

      6 years ago from West Virginia

      Interesting article. I can see how much things have changed in the NFL since you wrote this. It is wild that they get paid what they do now. I follow the NFL closely, in a sense. Interesting article Rick!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I love linebacker are they important.

    • TurtleDog profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago

      Thanks Shawn!

    • Shawn Scarborough profile image

      Shawn Scarborough 

      6 years ago from The Lone Star State

      Great hub! I think it is very interesting that kickers are making more than tight ends.


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