Last Friday, around 1200 men lost their jobs in an annual ritual layoff. They did nothing wrong. Instead, the organizations they worked for realized that they had better people doing the same jobs, and they were required to fire 37 of them in the space of two days.
Of course, they call it something nicer.
Instead of being “fired,” they were “cut.”
And, those organizations were NFL teams, so everyone involved knew that they were only looking for the best of the best. These teams are allowed to have 90 players on their roster when they start their summer workouts, and then they have about a two-day window after the end of their fourth preseason game in which they have to go from having 90 players on their roster to only having 53.
It always sucks to lose your job, but as I’m sitting here doing freelance writing for a living, I got to wondering exactly how much these players made between the time they were signed and the day they were let go.
Let’s be honest here, it might be more worth my time to write nothing next year and spend the time trying to get into football shape, and get into someone’s summer camp as an undrafted free agent.
A quick bit of research reveals that the minimum amount that a team can pay a rookie is $465,000. However, that’s the minimum amount they can be paid if they make the team and play during the regular season.
I’m nobody’s dream athlete, and I’m going to be lucky to make it all the way to the final roster cut from 90 to 53. How much would I make if I was only around for that period of time?
The answer: it varies.
When an undrafted free agent, or a player that registered for the Draft, but went unselected, signs with a team, the team can pay him a bonus drawn from a $92,021 pool. Each team has one of these pools, and they can’t pay bonuses in excess of this pool. They’re also not required to spend all of it, though they lose it if they don’t spend it.
So, how much you make from bonuses is going to depend on how many undrafted free agents the team you’re on signs. Some years, some teams sign as few as 5-10 UDFAs, while in other years they sign around 20 or 25.
The variation in this number depends on how many of their own players are already under contract going into the new year, how many with expiring contracts they’re able to resign, how many veteran free agents they sign, and how many draft picks they have.
While each team receives 7 draft picks1 from the NFL each year, trades with other teams and penalties imposed by the league can raise or lower this number.
So, I’ll be competing with as few as 5 or as many as 25 players for money from that $92,021 pool. The typical bonus ends up being just $3,000 to $5,000. If I were an exceptional talent, which I’m not, it could go as high as $15,000.
However, the teams have one more trick up their sleeve an undrafted free agent they think will make the final 53-man roster, and whom they want to lure to their teams.
That’s guaranteed money. Teams give the players a contract for one or more years and guarantee the money so that if the player is injured or it cut from the team they still make the money. The amount of money varies like the bonus does—the more you’re potentially worth, the more you will get.
In recent years, the Dallas Cowboys, for instance, have offered between $55,000 and $1,599,500 over three years. That’s a lot of money, but there’s no way that teams will offer it to you if you’re not very talented.
That, however, is all contract-related. Rookies get paid for some workouts they attend during the offseason. For instance, teams can pay up to $1,500 in ticket reimbursement for travel to team facilities, “room and board or its equivalent of up to $145 per day, up to a maximum of sixty days,” which works out to $8,700, if the teams choose to pay instead of just providing room and board.
However, rookies do not receive any compensation for any other training program. Keep in mind that if the player is getting the per-diem payment instead of room and board, then they have to pay for housing for the duration, which can really cut into the amount they get to keep.
Additionally, how much work I will be expected to do affects how much I earn.
There are four phases of the offseason, three of which are voluntary.
Phase One lasts for two weeks and includes up to eight workouts of up to four hours a day, for 32 hours total.
Phase Two lasts for three weeks and includes up to 12 workouts of up to four hours a day or 48 hours in total.
Phase Three is a jumbled mess and is conflated with the minicamp, but essentially, you have 10 6-hour workouts over the course of three weeks, followed by the Minicamp, which lasts for 4 10-hour days. Phase Three has a total of 100 hours.
However, only the Minicamp is mandatory. So, only 40 hours out of the 180 hours are mandatory, though my odds of making the team and getting a contract probably go up if I attend the whole thing.
There’s also training camp, which lasts for two weeks, and for which free agent rookies are given $1075 per week, as well as free room and board. This appears to require 32 hours total.
So, not counting the costs for room and board during voluntary workouts, the most a player that’s not going to make the team could expect to make is $15,350.2
Not counting travel time, or time spent training or playing during the preseason, players work for 212 hours. That means free agent rookies’ hourly wage is about $72.41.
That’s not bad at all, though it’s not all that mind-blowing, either. There are certainly other skilled positions in which you can make more money, or nearly as much, without having to subject your body to the daily beating that is football.