One Graphic Shows the Top-Earning NFL Players at Every Position
In 1995, Philadelphia Eagles running back Ricky Watters let a pass drop rather than risk a hard tackle. When a reporter questioned his decision, Watters lashed back, asking “For who? For what?”. That didn’t sit well with blue collar Eagles fans, especially since Watters was guaranteed $3.6 million for the ‘95 season.
Fans have always been interested in how much professional athletes earn, but the fascination has grown significantly since the Ricky Watters days, as salaries have skyrocketed. If you want to know exactly how much top-earning players at each NFL position will make in 2017-18, check out this new graphic.
We gathered the data for this visualization over at Spotrac, who tracks spending in major sporting leagues.
Defense Wins Championships
It seems like NFL owners are really buying into that old mantra, defense wins championships.
The 11 top-earning defensive players out-earn the highest paid offensive players, $179.8M to $149.4M. That’s more than $30M!
Defensive linemen, who are often more recognizable than offensive lineman, seem to be getting more fame and money. The top-earning defensive linemen earn an average of $5M more than the top-earning linemen on offense.
It’s a Passing Game
Today, the NFL is a pure passing league. The spending impact is clear when you look at the fullback position. Kyle Juszczyk, the highest paid fullback in the league, will earn only $3.8M this year.
While that’s still $200,000 more than Ricky Watters earned in 1995, it’s more than 2.5x the next-highest paid fullback. NFL owners just don’t care about fullbacks anymore. (Even the top kicker and punter make more than Juszczyk!)
As the running game continues to take a backseat to passing, linebacker spending has also dropped. Middle linebackers used to be kings of the defense. Now, there’s a player in nearly every position who makes more than Luke Keuchly, the Carolina Panthers stud MLB.
Outside linebackers and cornerbacks, on the other hand, are raking it in, with the Chiefs’ Justin Houston pulling in $22.1M.
A Few Random Observations
The NFL is the highest-earning sports league in the world, but that doesn’t mean they spread their earnings around evenly. Spending inequalities can be seen all over the place. For example:
The top-earning long snapper (Charley Hughett) earns less than the average salary for an NFL player ($1.9M)
There are five pairs of teammates on this graphic. They belong to the Cowboys, Jaguars, Patriots, Browns, and Redskins
17 of the players on the list play on AFC teams
Only one division (NFC North) has zero players on the list
Are NFL players earning too much money? If you think so, definitely don’t read this Sports Illustrated article explaining why they’re underpaid. It’ll just make you mad.
Data: Table 1.1