How Much Do Free Agents Get Paid In The NFL?

The NFL free agency period is a time when many players can see their paychecks increase dramatically. Here’s a look at how much money some of the top free agents have been able to command in recent years.

Minimum Salaries

All players in the NFL have a minimum salary that is set by the league. For the 2020 season, the minimum salary is $610,000 for rookies and $1.04 million for veteran players. Players on the practice squad also have a minimum salary of $8,000 per week.


Rookies in the NFL typically earn a minimum salary of $495,000. However, first-year players drafted in the first round of the NFL Draft earn a significantly higher salary. The NFL’s minimum salary is set to increase to $510,000 for the 2021 season.

First-year players who were drafted in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft are scheduled to earn a base salary of $1.04 million for the 2021 season. This is an increase of almost $100,000 from the base salaries that these same players earned during their rookie seasons in 2020. The base salaries for second-year players drafted in the first round are also set to increase by almost $100,000, from $1.145 million in 2020 to $1.247 million in 2021.

Players selected in later rounds of the NFL Draft or who enter the league as undrafted free agents typically earn much less than first-rounders. However, all rookies are eligible for a significantly larger signing bonus than veterans due to the NFL’s rookie wage scale. This system was put into place in order to help teams manage their payrolls and stay under the league’s salary cap.


In order to qualify for veteran status, a player must have accrued at least four seasons of NFL service. Once a player has achieved veteran status, he is eligible to sign a contract with any team in the league.

There is no salary minimum for veterans in the NFL. However, the league does have a salary cap that all teams must abide by. For the 2020 season, the salary cap is set at $198.2 million. This means that each team can spend no more than this amount on player salaries for the season.

Salaries Based on Experience

2-3 years

The minimum salary for a player in their second or third NFL season is $810,000, regardless of how long they have been in the league. This salary is known as the “Reserve/Futures” salary, and is paid to players who are either on a team’s reserve list or under contract for the following season.

The minimum salary for a player with two years of NFL experience is $1.02 million. This figure includes a base salary of $765,000, as well as a signing bonus and other fringe benefits. Players with three years of NFL experience are eligible for a minimum salary of $1.13 million, which includes a base salary of $805,000 and other benefits.

Players with more than three years of NFL experience are not subject to the league’s minimum salary requirements and can negotiate their salaries freely with teams.

4-6 years

The average veteran free agent with 4-6 years of experience will earn a salary of $2.6 million per year. This is a significant raise over the $1.9 million average salary of veterans with less than 4 years of experience. Veterans with 7-9 years of experience earn an even higher average salary of $3.1 million per year.

7-9 years

Matt Ryan: $30 million/year
Drew Brees: $25 million/year
Philip Rivers: $20 million/year

Running Backs:
LeSean McCoy: $8 million/year
Frank Gore: $7.5 million/year
Chris Johnson: $3 million/year

10+ years

The minimum salary for a player in their 10th or more NFL season is $910,000 for the 2020 season. This is an increase of $100,000 from the 2019 minimum salary of $810,000. Players who have accrued 10 or more seasons in the NFL are referred to as “vested veterans” and are not subject to the league’s waiver system.

Salaries Based on Performance

Free agency in the NFL generally begins in March when teams are allowed to start signing players to contracts. Prior to free agency, players who are about to become free agents are allowed to negotiate with their current team to try to reach a new contract agreement. If the two sides cannot reach an agreement, the player then becomes a free agent and is free to sign with any team.

Pro Bowl appearances

Players who are selected for the Pro Bowl receive $61,000, whereas those who are named first-team All-Pro receive $52,000. In recent years, there has been a growing trend of players skipping the Pro Bowl in order to avoid injury before the playoffs.

All-Pro appearances

In the NFL, free agents are classified as either restricted or unrestricted. A restricted free agent is an NFL player whose contract has expired and is free to sign with another team, but his current team can retain him by offering him a “qualifying” offer. An unrestricted free agent is free to sign with any team in the league.

In order to be classified as a restricted free agent, a player must have completed three accrued seasons (an accrued season is defined as six or more regular-season games on a team’s active/inactive, reserve/physically unable to perform or reserve/non-football injury or illness list). If a player has completed fewer than three accrued seasons, he is classified as an unrestricted free agent.

All-Pro appearances are generally considered the most prestigious individual honor that a football player can receive. Players who are named to the All-Pro team are typically among the league leaders in several statistical categories.

Salaries Based on Position

Quarterbacks are always at the top of the list when it comes to NFL salaries. But, there are other positions that get paid quite well too. Thisarticle will take a look at the average salaries of different positions in the NFL.


Quarterbacks are the highest-paid position in the NFL by a wide margin. In 2019, the average salary for a quarterback was $4 million. The next highest-paid position was running back, with an average salary of $2.7 million.

The salaries of quarterbacks vary wildly, depending on their experience, skill level, and success. The highest-paid quarterback in the NFL is Seattle Seahawks’ Russell Wilson, who makes an astounding $35 million per year. The lowest-paid quarterbacks in the NFL make just $480,000 per year.

running backs

Running backs are some of the most important players on an NFL team, but their salaries don’t always reflect their value. In 2019, the average salary for a running back was $2.7 million, but some of the top running backs in the league were earning much more than that. The highest-paid running back in 2019 was Le’Veon Bell, who signed a four-year, $52.5 million contract with the Jets. However, not all running backs are able to command such high salaries. Many free agents are only able to sign one-year contracts worth around $1 million or less.

wide receivers

The average NFL career lasts about 3.3 years, and free agents usually sign one-year contracts, so their annual earnings can vary greatly from year to year.

In 2019, the average salary for a wide receiver was $2.7 million, but the top receivers in the league earned significantly more. The highest-paid wide receiver in 2019 was Antonio Brown, who signed a contract extension with the Raiders worth $50 million over three years.

Other top-paid wide receivers include Keenan Allen of the Los Angeles Chargers ($24.6 million per year), Brandin Cooks of the Los Angeles Rams ($16.2 million), and DeAndre Hopkins of the Houston Texans ($16.2 million).

tight ends

The average salary for a tight end in the NFL is $2,746,000 per year. This number can vary depending on a player’s experience, performance, and other factors.

offensive linemen

Offensive linemen make some of the highest salaries in football and are often among the game’s biggest and most physically imposing players. These athletes protect their quarterback’s “blind side” (the side the quarterback can’t see when looking downfield) and open up rushing lanes for their team’s running backs.

The average salary for an offensive lineman in the NFL is $2.85 million, but salaries can range from $700,000 to $17 million per year, depending on a player’s experience, position, and performance. The best offensive linemen in the league can earn annual salaries that exceed $10 million.

defensive linemen

The average salary for a defensive lineman in the NFL is $2.6 million, according to That’s the highest average salary of any position on the defensive side of the ball and the fourth-highest average salary overall, behind only quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers.


Linebackers are one of the most essential positions in football, and their salaries reflect that. The average salary for linebackers in the NFL is $2.5 million per year, with the top earners making upwards of $10 million per year.

The highest-paid linebacker in the NFL is Von Miller of the Denver Broncos, who makes an annual salary of $19 million. Other top-earning linebackers include Justin Houston of the Kansas City Chiefs ($16.8 million), Luke Kuechly of the Carolina Panthers ($12.3 million), and Bobby Wagner of the Seattle Seahawks ($10.6 million).

defensive backs

Defensive backs are the players on an American football team who take positions somewhat back from the line of scrimmage. They include the cornerbacks and safeties. These positions are reserved for the faster and more agile athletes on the field, since their jobs include covering wide receivers and intercepting passes, respectively. As a result, their salaries tend to reflect their value to NFL teams.

In 2019, the average salary for defensive backs was $2.71 million. However, this number is skewed by a few very highly-paid players. The median salary for this position was $2.13 million, meaning that half of all defensive backs in the NFL made less than this amount and half made more.

The minimum salary for an NFL player in 2019 was $495,000, so even players at the bottom of the pay scale are making a good living. However, it’s worth noting that most players don’t stay in the league long enough to reach free agency, where they would be able to command a higher salary. In fact, the average career length for an NFL player is just 3.3 years.

Other Factors That Affect Salary

It’s no secret that some of the biggest names in the NFL get paid the most money. However, there are other factors that affect how much free agents get paid. Things like the position they play, their previous team’s salary cap, and the demand for their services can all play a role in how much money they ultimately make. Let’s take a look at some of these factors in more detail.

market size

In general, the size of the market for a player’s services will affect their salary. All else being equal, a player in a larger market (including international markets) will be able to command a higher salary than a player in a smaller market. Players in more popular sports also tend to make more money than those in less popular sports due to the increased revenue and visibility that comes with being in a more popular sport. Other factors affecting salary include the player’s position, age, and experience.

team success

Team success can also play a role in how much a free agent receives. For example, a player may have a great season and help his team make it to the playoffs or even the Super Bowl. If the team is successful, the player’s agent may be able to negotiate a larger contract.

individual success

It’s not just about being the best player on the team, it’s about being one of the best players in the league. In addition to individual success, NFL contracts are also heavily influenced by supply and demand.

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