A common debate about professional sports players is whether or not they make too much money. I would generally say that this is not the case, certainly not for players in the NFL.
To begin with, an NFL player’s career is much shorter than the average person’s due to the nature of the game. A player who retires at around 30 is lucky if he has played ten years in the NFL. This is about one-fourth as long as someone who retires around 60 and therefore works for upwards of 40 years. A person who makes $50,000 dollars a year for 40 years will make 2 million dollars over his or her lifetime. An NFL player who sustains a career-ending injury after four or five seasons will make about the same.
Next we have to look at the fact that the NFL is a business, and a very lucrative one at that. Teams rake in hundreds of millions of dollars a year; the players are only making a small percentage of this. Considering the risk/reward for the players in each game, they are not necessarily making too much. Coaches, along with other team staff, make a large amount of money, some much more than many of the players. However, these people do not have to worry about their career ending every Sunday. This also includes the team’s owners, who make by far the most from their investment.
We can also compare NFL players to other sports or high profile careers. Tom Brady, one of the highest paid quarterbacks in the league, only made one-third as much as his wife, supermodel Gisele Bundchen, last year. If we compare the NFL to the MLB, player salaries are not even close. The average salaries of players on the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox are between 5 and 6 million dollars; much more than the 2 million for an NFL team. This is mostly due to the salary cap in the NFL which does not exist in the MLB. The MLB 2013 salaries are here and a comparison of the NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL salaries is here.
Lastly, I would go as far to say that NFL players are underpaid during the playoffs. There is no financial advantage for an NFL player to make the playoffs. This is because they will make less per game than in the regular season. Consequently, they are risking career-ending injury for less pay in the playoffs. I would like to see team owners give larger bonuses to players for making the playoffs; this would be an incentive to get there, and also payment for increasing their seasonal chance of injury. The in-depth math behind this argument is here.