|Thursday, October 4
Defense gaining on NFL payroll scale
By Len Pasquarelli
Even as the importance of the quarterback spot is being diminished by some teams, the performers at the game's most-visible position continue to lead the NFL in total compensation, averaging nearly 56 percent more than the leaguewide mean for 2001.
According to NFL Players Association salary documents obtained by ESPN.com, the 96 quarterbacks on rosters for opening day will average $1.713 million in pay for this season, while the average for all positions is $1.1 million.
The differential is even greater for starting quarterbacks, whose average of $3.919 million is more than double the leaguewide average of $1.785 million for starters at all positions. Quarterbacks also top the league in average base salary overall ($657,898) and in average base salary for starters ($1.136 million).
"It is still the position people watch on every play, it still carries the most pressure, and it isn't easy to win in the league without solid quarterback play," said Ralph Cindrich, who negotiated the contract that made Denver Broncos quarterback Brian Griese the NFL's highest-paid player for this season. "It's been the highest-paid position for a long time, and it will probably stay that way."
Indeed, that is probably the case, particularly with the new long-term contracts signed by a number of quarterbacks this spring. The deals not only will keep average compensation high at the quarterback position for several more seasons, but also carry salary cap charges that will precipitate restructuring many of the contracts, which could raise their average.
That said, the gains in average salary at other positions reflect the changing landscape of the game, with increased emphasis on the defensive side of the ball.
In terms of average compensation, both the defensive end and defensive tackle positions continue their upward spiral in 2001, as the players who make their living by chasing the quarterbacks are reaping big financial rewards. In fact, after quarterbacks, the next three highest-paid positions are on the defensive side: end, tackle and cornerback. Not too long ago, defensive linemen ranked among the league's salary bottom-feeders, but that is no longer the case.
For this year, at least, the average salary for defensive players ($1.135 million) is more than the average for their offensive counterparts ($1.105 million).
"The money pendulum has begun to swing our way," said Tampa Bay defensive tackle Warren Sapp. "It's about time."
Notable, too, is that linemen are the highest-paid players on offense after quarterbacks, with an average of $1.125 million. That demonstrates another change in emphasis, as teams are paying less now for so-called "skill position" players on offense. Take away the punter/kicker category, in fact, and running backs and tight ends rank among the three lowest-paid positions in the league.
Running back remains one of the most injury-prone positions in the game and the average compensation is less than $1 million.
Between signing bonuses for new and renegotiated contracts, teams invested about $164 million on offensive linemen this year, the highest amount of up-front money paid out at any position. That was roughly 64 percent more than franchises paid out this summer in signing bonuses for quarterbacks ($100 million). Cornerbacks ($102 million) and wide receivers ($101 million) also received more in signing bonuses than did quarterbacks.
No one is going to be passing the hat any time soon, however, for quarterbacks.
While the overall average for all quarterbacks and starters is down from some previous seasons, at least six passers pulled in signing bonuses of more than $5 million.
Leading the way among the quarterbacks in signing-bonus money were Griese ($12.6 million), Brett Favre of Green Bay ($11 million), Tenneesee's Steve McNair ($10 million), Jacksonville's Mark Brunell ($8 million), Brad Johnson of Tampa Bay ($6.5 million) and Baltimore's Elvis Grbac ($5 million).
Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.