Hearing their name called during the NFL Draft instantly changes a football player's life, but being selected during the seven-round event held at the end of each April doesn't mean the type of astronomical contract that was commonplace as recently as 2010. Newly drafted players earn at least seven-figure contracts and six-figure annual salaries, but the numbers decline steadily through the rounds. Draftees once had the option of holding out for more money before their inaugural pro season, but that no longer pays.
First Round Cashes in
Players chosen in the first round earn the most lucrative contracts; those picked in the later rounds don't earn nearly as much. Rookies who play in 2015 will earn minimum salaries of $435,000, according to the sports salary-tracking website Spotrac, but their contracts can be worth more with signing bonuses. This base salary has increased annually by $15,000; rookies made a minimum of $420,000 in 2014 and $405,000 in 2013, notes Sports Illustrated's MMQB. In addition to their salary, players also sign bonuses that are hefty, but pale in comparison to those doled out up to 2010.
Locked in for Four Years
The NFL has a rookie salary cap that limits the amount a team can give a player during his first season and over the course of the first four years with the team -- the length of a rookie contract -- and all first-round contracts come with a team option for a fifth year. Since 2011, that figure has landed around the $22-million mark for No. 1-overall picks; the top picks from 2011 through 2014, Cam Newton, Andrew Luck, Eric Fisher and Jadeveon Clowney, each signed four-year deals worth between $22 and $22.2 million. The number declines throughout the first round. Teddy Bridgewater, the last player chosen in the first round of the 2014 draft, signed a four-year deal worth $6.8 million. Players drafted in the fifth through seventh rounds signed deals worth less than $3 million, according to Spotrac.
Bradford Hits the Jackpot
Before 2011, NFL teams didn't have a cap that restricted the contracts for first-round picks. The largest, and last uncapped rookie contract was given to University of Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford in 2010, who the St. Louis Rams made the first overall pick. Bradford signed a six-year, $78 million contract, including a signing bonus of $17.9 million, which easily dwarfed the $320,000 he earned as his rookie base salary. Bradford is often cited as the poster child for NFL draft pick bonuses gone wild, given that he's largely failed to live up to his potential as a professional.
Bradford's name might be synonymous with underperforming after signing an enormous rookie contract, but he's hardly the only one who's failed to deliver. In 2007, the Oakland Raiders drafted Louisiana State University quarterback JaMarcus Russell first overall and signed him to a six-year, $61 million contract. Russell struggled through just 31 games in his pro career before the Raiders cut him in 2010. Other notable draft busts include St. Louis left tackle Jason Smith ($61 million, including $33 million in guaranteed money) and Seattle Seahawks linebacker Aaron Curry ($60 million, including $34 million guaranteed).