Contract Growth in 2024

With the main part of free agency and the main wave of cuts and retirements now over I wanted to look to see what positions have shown growth in 2024 especially in light of the salary cap growing over 13% this past year.

Growth at the Top of the Market

When looking at the top five contracts at every position there was not a ton of movement at the top. This was to be expected as often the largest contracts are contract extensions and those contracts are the ones that are signed between May and September so there is plenty of time left to see the impact at the top. However, a few positions did stand out this year.

Guard saw the average of the top five players increase by 8.1% going from just under 18.5 million per year and nearly reaching $20 million per year. Number 2 was the interior defensive line which grew by 5.7% despite the retirement of Aaron Donald. The position is now averaging $26.25 million per year. Number 3 on the list was kicker which grew by 3.4%.

Not all was good at the top. The retirement of Jason Kelce saw the center market shrink by 4.2%. This will likely not recover during extensions as center has been devalued over the last few years. Left tackle fell by 3.7%. Health has been an issue which has led to cuts and more often renegotiations where the players are accepting pay cuts. This has a chance to bounce back during the summer. Linebacker also dropped by over 3% and that is similar to center with the de-valuation.

Growth in Players 6 Through 10

Seven positions grew by at least 3% during the free agency period. No surprise this was led by guard which is up 13% over 2023. This is a combination of new players in the top 5 along with few releases plus some new signings creating a new top 10. The interior d-line is up 7.4% for similar reasons to the guard position. Kicker was still number 3. This was the area for new wide receiver contracts with 5% growth while right tackle, edge, and punter all had growth over 3%.

Running back fell off a cliff and players were cut with the average annual salary falling 10.6%. Center dropped 9.2% as teams continue to cut back across the board. Safety ended up being a dud in free agency and we had some players cut so we saw a drop here of 7%.

Players 11 through 20

I usually feel that the salary cap changes often initially have a much bigger impact outside the top 10 and here we had seven positions with 8% or more growth. This was led by kicker which is up 29.1%. I think this is just slowly becoming no haggle negotiating where kickers ask for a salary around $3.5-$4 million a year and the teams just say fine. Not sure if this is good or not for teams given how many kickers in the NFL are good, but it’s terrific for kickers.

Guards are up 20.1% with the average salary of players 11 through 20 now over $11 million a year. Next up is punters though they are coming from a much lower starting salary. This makes little sense to me as punters should be like long snappers given the changes to the game. Edge rushers jumped 13% as teams are looking for value signings here rather than jumping straight into big contracts. Linebacker is up 11.3% as teams fought back against the bloated salaries we have seen in the past but are more than willing to work in the $8 million a year range. That is probably a fair tradeoff.

Left tackles dropped a whopping 33% falling to $8.5 million a year. In my opinion this is tied to all of those injuries I mentioned above and the lack of good left tackle play from higher priced backups. I think we are seeing more teams looking for low cost stop gaps and loading up with cheap draft picks rather than over-relying on the veteran players. Center is down 23.5% while safety is down 19%. The other position with a double digit drop is QB which is down 10% to $28 million a year.

Players 21 to 32

We finish our list with the last group of veteran “starters” with players 21 to 32. Guard just exploded off the board up 54% from $4 million to $6.2 million a year. It is a good time to be a guard and given these salaries I could see why some veterans may still get paid a decent number if they wait until after the draft to sign as a free agent. Linebacker is up 15% with long snapper up 7.7%.

We had five positions with a 10% or more decline. The center position continues its obliteration for 2024 as it is down 31.2% from last year. Left tackle is down 28.5% while corner is down 19.7%. Safety and Tight end are the other two.

All of the contracts here could see a boost over the summer. There are a handful of draft picks whose contracts will boost the averages at these positions and as extensions come in some of the existing contracts will slide down a level.

Still I was surprised that we did not see more of a boost in this contract range. I think the league is looking at a top 20 and then not seeing the value at many positions especially with the draft providing cheaper options with more upside.

The following two tables are the averages for each position in 2024 and the growth we saw from 2023. Clicking the header should let you sort each column.

PositionTop 5Players 6 to 10Players 11 to 20Players 21 to 32
PositionTop 5Players 6 to 10Players 11 to 20Players 21 to 32