How Long Are NFL Rookie Contracts?

How long are NFL Rookie Contracts? We take a look at the average NFL Rookie Contract and how it has changed over the years.


The following collective bargaining agreement between the National Football League and the National Football League Players Association runs from 2011 to 2020. It outlines the terms of player contracts, including how long NFL rookie contracts can be.

Rookie contracts are for four years, with a team option for a fifth year. The option must be exercised by the end of the player’s third regular season. If it is not exercised, the player becomes an unrestricted free agent at the end of his fourth year.

The Collective Bargaining Agreement also outlines salary cap rules and minimum salary levels. For example, in 2014, the minimum base salary for NFL rookies was $420,000. Salaries are paid over 17 weeks during the regular season (there are bye weeks). So, a player on a minimum contract would make $24,706 per week during the season (17 x $1,400).

Length of Contracts

NFL rookies sign four-year contracts as a matter of course, with a team option for a fifth. The NFLPA collective bargaining agreement stipulates that all first-year player contracts are for four years, with a team option for a fifth.

Four-year contracts

The vast majority of incoming NFL rookies will sign four-year contracts. This was not always the case, as rookies used to sign three-year deals, but the new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) that was negotiated in 2011 changed things.

The four-year contract is now the standard for all first-round picks, and those taken in the second round will also generally sign four-year deals. Any player selected in rounds three through seven will usually sign a three-year deal.

One of the major reasons why rookies sign four-year contracts is because they are not eligible for free agency until after their fourth season. If a player signs a three-year deal, they would be able to hit the open market after their third season and potentially command a larger contract.

Another reason why rookies sign four-year deals is because it gives them more time to develop and prove themselves at the NFL level. A lot can happen over the course of four years, and some players who might not have been ready to contribute early on in their careers can develop into key contributors by the time their rookie deal expires.

Five-year contracts

According to the NFL Players Association, the average length of an NFL player’s career is just over three years. However, rookies who are drafted into the league are typically given five-year contracts. This gives teams a chance to see how a player develops and if they are worth keeping around for the long term.

The downside of these five-year deals is that they often come with very little guaranteed money. So, if a player doesn’t pan out, they can be cut without the team having to suffer any financial consequences. This can be tough on players, especially those who have been drafted in the first round and are expected to perform at a high level from day one.

Signing Bonuses

All NFL players sign four-year contracts, but only the first year is fully guaranteed. What about the other three years? In order to understand that, we must first look at signing bonuses. A signing bonus is a lump sum of cash that a team pays to a player as an initial signing incentive.

Four-year contracts

Most NFL contracts are four-year deals signed by rookies coming out of college. The base value of these contracts is determined by where the player is selected in the NFL Draft. In recent years, the NFL has implemented a salary cap that puts a maximum value on each team’s total payroll. This means that each team has a limited amount of money to spend on all of their players, including rookies.

As a result, most rookies do not receive large signing bonuses. In fact, many late-round draft picks or undrafted free agents may not receive any bonus at all. Instead, they are given the league minimum salary for their first year and their salaries increase incrementally each year until they reach the veteran minimum salary in their fourth and final year.

While most rookies sign four-year contracts, there are some exceptions. First-round draft picks often sign four or five-year contracts with team options for a fifth year. These option years give teams an extra year to evaluate a player before deciding whether to sign them to a long-term extension. Second-round draft picks may also sign four-year deals with team options for a third year.

Five-year contracts

The vast majority of NFL contracts are four-year deals with team option for a fifth. This gives the team control over the player for the first four years of his career, and an extra season to decide if they want to keep him around long-term. If the team does exercise their fifth-year option, it is usually at a pre-determined (and relatively high) salary.

Salary Cap

Rookie contracts are more straight forward now with the implementation of a salary cap, which puts a limit on the amount of money that a team can spend on its players in a given season. This makes it easier to determine how much each player will get paid and for how many years, as the team’s total spending is taken into account. The NFL’s current salary cap is $155 million per team.

NFL rookies can sign for four years with their respective teams, with salaries escalating each year. The league minimum salary for rookies in 2020 is $610,000, but most players drafted in the first round will make significantly more than that. The salaries of first-round picks are determined by their draft slot and are set forth in the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement (CBA).


In conclusion, NFL rookie contracts are typically four-year deals, with a team option for a fifth year. The majority of the contract is guaranteed, meaning the player will receive his signing bonus and base salary regardless of whether he is cut or traded. However, performance-based incentives can increase the value of the contract.

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