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One more suggestion from OTC: raise the minimum wage for NFL players

Another idea I agree with

NFL: Oakland Raiders at Denver Broncos Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Prior to the draft, I published an article that discussed, among other things, nine recommendations from OverTheCap regarding changes that should be included in the next Collective Bargaining Agreement.

Since that time, OTC has published one more suggestion: increasing minimum salaries.

The majority of the NFL are not star players. At the end of last season, roughly 60% of the players under contract were playing on minimum salaries with minor bonuses. If the players ever want to potentially stage a strike or play hardball with the owners there has to be something for the small guy who constitutes the majority of the league and the biggest thing that can be given to them is a major pay raise with their base salaries.

The NFL has done an exceptional job at holding minimum salaries down and this dates back to at least 2002 when the NFL and players union agreed to have minimum salaries set in stone based on the CBA rather than tying the salaries to revenue or salary cap growth. By only allowing for small raises each year (the salary in the current CBA grows by $15,000 a year for a given level of experience) player base salaries for a majority of the NFL continue to get smaller relative to the cap.

Since 2011, the NFL salary cap has grown by 56.3%. Minimum salaries have lagged far behind and it is a reason why the cheap rookie/minimum salary player are so desirable to a team over a veteran who likely won’t play on a minimum deal. Here is the growth rate in minimum salaries over that same time period.

If the union had pegged the growth in salaries to the salary cap using a similar formula as the restricted free agent (RFA) tag the majority of players would be in a far better position. The RFA tag has grown by about 69% over that same time frame because it was pegged to growth in the cap with a floor of 5% and a ceiling of 10% per year. Part of the reason this would up being higher than the cap was because of the early seasons in which cap growth lagged badly, but even just pegging the amount to the rise in the cap would see minimum salaries at the following levels:

Those numbers are pretty significant. The league can certainly afford it. Teams carried over an average of $10.6 million in cap room in 2019. If teams carried over half of that number that would be enough for about a $140,000 raise for all those minimum salaried players. Considering most of the minimum players fall in the zero or one credited season category it would not put any real constraint on teams and even if it did, the purpose of the salary cap is to make teams find creative ways to work within the cap by deferring cap dollars.

As a one time fix salaries should be increased to the numbers in the chart above plus an additional $50,000. From there they should be calculated using the same formula as the RFA tag meaning an increase every year of at least 5%. Such a new system would be a big win for the “little guy” who has no ability to really change his earning power without a major change in the CBA’s minimum salary calculation.

I don’t have a lot to add. I think the OTC argument is concise and compelling.

Once again, the money to fund this increase would simply come from the pool available to pay top-tier players. If I correctly read what OTC wrote, this proposal would shift around $5m per season from the highest paid players to the lowest paid players - an amount that is easily managed by teams and hardly noticeable in terms of the effect on the top-ten salaries per team. This basically takes away about $0.5m per year from the each of the top-ten players on a roster and redistributes the money to the lowest paid players on the roster.

The most consistent criticism I would have of the 2011 CBA is that it set up a number of different factors that combine toward the same result. That is, the bucket of money that is the salary cap, and which owners must, by agreement, pay out to the players, keeps getting bigger, but the cups used to scoop money out for drafted rookies and minimum-salary players don’t grow as fast. This actually forces teams, who are bound by contract to pay out the agreed salary cap money to players, to give more and more dollars every year to the stars at the top of the roster.

That needs to change; a greater degree of equity should be restored by giving more money to minimum salary players, and providing earlier opportunities for drafted rookies to participate in upside earning potential.

By ‘pegging’ the minimum rate to the salary cap, all players on the roster will enjoy the benefits of salary cap growth - not just the top-tier players who have benefited since the adoption of the 2002 and 2011 CBAs.

This set of proposals from OTC would, absolutely, change the paradigm we’ve seen in the league, where, in 2015, a $20m quarterback salary was the top of the market, but, by 2019, the $35m Seattle deal was pretty much expected, and a $20m contract for a quarterback is seen as nothing out of the ordinary.

The new CBA, due in less than 2 years, is a good opportunity to change a lot of the rules so that player salaries, in all their forms (draft slotting, minimum salaries, franchise tenders, RFA tenders, ERFA tenders, etc) are all indexed to the overall salary cap number. Until that happens, the NFL will see more and more tens of millions of dollars in increased salaries going to just a handful of big name stars, while the lunch-bucket guys see bracket raises of $15,000 per year.

This is a very good proposal that should be on the NFLPA agenda, and I can think of no reason at all for the owners to oppose it. This doesn’t cost owners any real money — it simply redistributes the salary cap a bit more equitably.


What do you think of the OTC suggestion to raise minimum salaries for veteran players?

This poll is closed

  • 77%
    Great idea!
    (137 votes)
  • 11%
    Special teams players and backups? I figure they’re getting paid enough already.
    (21 votes)
  • 10%
    This is wrongheaded.
    (18 votes)
176 votes total Vote Now