How do NFL rookie contracts work?

NFL Combine - Portraits
NFL Combine - Portraits / Todd Rosenberg/GettyImages

It's common knowledge that NFL rookies make less money than the veterans in the league but what does the pay scale look like?

In the last decade, rookies haven't made as much money as they once did. During the 2011 offseason, it was agreed that no longer would rookies be paid a tremendous sum of money that sometimes led to them holding out.

Nowadays, first-round rookies have to prove themselves not just for one season but for three seasons to get their fifth-round option picked up. If the option is picked up, they're under contract for five years total before they can hit the open market. If their fifth-year option isn't picked up, they hit free agency after four years.

How much do NFL rookies make?

According to Jeffrey May of Diario AS, first-overall pick Bryce Young, is set to make roughly $41.2 million, receiving the most money for being the top pick. May mentions that the pay scale declines from the first overall pick to the final pick of the draft, who is set to make roughly $769,444.

The CBA lays out a set amount for each draft position, and while the details of the breakdown will vary according to each team’s salary cap space, in broad terms it is a descending slide from one to 259.

Bryce Young, as our example, will end up with a capped salary of $6.9 million and a signing bonus of somewhere in the region of $24 million. The details are yet to be worked out and the amount that is guaranteed is to be confirmed later.

This will slide slowly downward until 2023′s Mr Irrelevant will see a salary of $769,444 and a signing bonus of around $78,000."

Jeffrey May

According to Over the Cap, Myles Murphy, who the Cincinnati Bengals selected with the 28th pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, signed a four-year deal worth $6.4 million and is set to earn $750,000 as a rookie. The Bengals will have to make a decision on Murphy's fifth-year option following the 2025 season, his third in the league.

Before the CBA was changed in 2011, first-round rookies got huge contracts right off the bat before they had even proved themselves. It's fairer now, as players have to prove themselves before they get a massive payday.

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