NFL Salaries: Getting Paid Ain't What It Used To Be

The most annoying expression in the NFL is “getting paid.’’ To an NFL player, that doesn’t mean that you got your check and can now go grab a cold one on the way home. 

No, last week the Dallas Cowboys gave quarterback Dak Prescott a four-year contract at roughly $40 million per year. Did Prescott get paid? Hell yes. He is roughly the 10th-15th best QB in the NFL, but now has the second highest salary.

Meanwhile, the Chicago Bears put the franchise tag on No. 1 receiver Allen Robinson, forcing him to take $17.9 million this coming year. Is he getting paid? Hell no. A top receiver like him should be getting $22 million.

It’s all relative, I guess. But it’s annoying to hear out-of-touch athletes complain that they aren’t getting paid. If you divide Robinson’s salary by 52, that’s about $344,000 a week. In a 40-hour week, that would be about $8,600 an hour. The national hourly minimum wage is $7.25.

Anyway, the NFL is in a period it calls “legal tampering,’’ which means that unrestricted free agents can now work out deals even though they can’t sign until tomorrow, when things become official.

And I’ll explain this in a minute, but there are a number of things adding up to chaos in the NFL, starting tomorrow: 1) The NFL salary cap was slashed. 2) Prescott drove up the market for QBs. 3) Some teams are already way over their max budget and have to dump good players onto the market, while 4) other teams are tens of millions beneath the cap.

The numbers don’t add up. And there will be an immediate seismic shift in the quality of several teams. The New England Patriots, who are $68 million under the salary cap, have already started signing a bunch of players.

I hope you enjoyed Bill Belichick’s season of failure. It might be the last one in a while. . .if he can find a quarterback. But that will be expensive.

The salary cap has been reduced from $198 million to $182.5, theoretically because of revenue losses from COVID this past season.

Jacksonville is reportedly $73 million under the salary cap. The New York Jets are $69 million. The Indianapolis Colts $46 million. They can all go on spending sprees. Eight teams are $30 million or more under the cap.

Meanwhile, nine teams are already over the cap. The Los Angeles Rams are $33 million over. The New Orleans Saints are $25 million over. The Chicago Bears, whose general manager and coach were warned to improve this year or go away, are $17 million over the cap.

The market is flooded with free agents, but everyone is desperate for a quarterback and will overpay for one. 

OutKick founder Clay Travis predicted on his radio show, OutKick the Coverage, that top quarterbacks might make $100 million a year within a decade.

“I don’t think this is an exaggeration at all,’’ he said. “We are going to have quarterbacks in the NFL who become billionaires off of playing football.’’

Travis also predicted that with upcoming TV deals, the salary cap will reach $250 million or more.

I’m sure he’s right, but think about that: If a quarterback makes $100 million and a team can spend only $250 million, then that means the QB will get 40 percent of the team’s payroll. One player, 40 percent. Add a top receiver, and you have two players taking half the budget.

So while it might take a while to hit those numbers, the direction toward them is clear. And teams have to start moving that way now. 

You’re going to hear about a lot of players having to take an insulting reduction in the number of millions they are offered and complaining about not getting paid.

I’m not begrudging anyone getting as much as they can. Good for them. I just don’t really like hearing multimillionaires whining about not getting paid.

Players think they are worth a certain amount, and if they don’t get that amount, they aren’t actually getting paid. It’s a respect thing to them, not a bills-paying thing. It’s actually a respect thing to me too. If you make $18 million and complain that you aren’t getting paid, then you’re showing a lack of respect for normal human wages.

So, while the cost of a QB is going up and the total budget is going down, guess what that means. We’re going to hear a lot of whining about not getting paid.

It’s hard to make a lot of predictions about what will emerge from this mess. Jacksonville has it made. The Bears will give more than $20 million to Nick Foles, who might turn out to be the backup quarterback. If they can swing a deal for Seattle’s Russell Wilson, as they think they can, will they end up paying a third of their payroll to the quarterback position?

The numbers are not going to add up right. There are too many people circling too few chairs in this game of musical chairs in the NFL.

Written by
Greg earned the 2007 Peter Lisagor Award as the best sports columnist in the Chicagoland area for his work with the Chicago Sun-Times, where he started as a college football writer in 1997 before becoming a general columnist in 2003. He also won a Lisagor in 2016 for his commentary in and The Guardian. Couch penned articles and columns for Report, AOL Fanhouse, and The Sporting News and contributed as a writer and on-air analyst for and Fox Sports 1 TV. In his journalistic roles, Couch has covered the grandest stages of tennis from Wimbledon to the Olympics, among numerous national and international sporting spectacles. He also won first place awards from the U.S. Tennis Writers Association for his event coverage and column writing on the sport in 2010.