Generally when people begin discussing improved contracts for players the talk immediately turns to rules that benefit the star players. That type of talk misses the bigger point. 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.
|4 to 6||17.5%|
|7 to 9||14.8%|
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:
|Credited Seasons||Current||Cap Growth||Gain|
|4 to 6||$805,000||$1,071,000||$266,000|
|7 to 9||$930,000||$1,266,000||$336,000|
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.