Salary expectations continue to rise in the NFL year in and year out and it seems like each quarterback who offers starting-caliber play continues to top the market in pay. Sometimes it doesn’t even matter what they have accomplished in their career. While NFL players aren’t the highest-paid athletes in the world, it still led me to wonder, how do these salaries compare to the payouts of people winning the lottery? Do you need to win the Mega Millions jackpot to be as wealthy as some of these guys?
So, this, of course, leads us down a rabbit hole of some fun research and comparisons to see how current NFL player’s salaries compare to these lucky jackpot winners. We will be looking a lot at the details listed over at Spotrac for salary references.
How Much Can I Win in the Lottery?
The first thing we need to look into is how much can you really expect to win while playing the lottery. This varies greatly based on the differences in state-to-state lotto games, but for the best general reference, we can look at the nationwide Mega Millions lotto game for a reliable reference. The Mega Millions is well known for producing the largest jackpot win ever that came in at $656 million USD that was claimed by and split between three individual ticket holders back in March of 2012 (roughly $218.6 million each). The biggest single-winner jackpot came in March of 2011 where one lucky soul cashed in on a cool $319 million. So, for a point of reference, we will be looking somewhere between $218-$319 million as the best-case scenario for a big lottery winner to compare to NFL salaries.
Something else to consider with lotto payouts though, the Mega Millions pays out over 30 years in yearly installments that increase by 5% per year or you get a lump sum of cash that will be taxed heavily. When looking at a recent example where the jackpot was $340 million, when all was said and done after taxes you would have taken home somewhere between $228-$258 million over 30 years depending on your state or $155-$175 million for a lump-sum.
To get a feel for the current state of the league’s pay scale, we will first look at the largest current contracts. Four of the top-five highest-paid players in the league are QBs. It is important to remember though that with NFL contract structuring, these numbers are not fully guaranteed and can rely on incentives in some cases to reach maximum value.
Atlanta Falcons QB Matt Ryan is currently the highest-paid player in the league with a current contract valuation of $150 million. He was the first player in the league to get an average of $30 million per year. He was also given $94.5 million guaranteed at signing. So while this one contract wouldn’t match that of a lotto winner, his career earnings of $223,457,925 million match the low-end of the largest split jackpot ever.
Here is a breakdown of the rest of the top-5 highest current contracts:
- Khalil Mack: $141 million ($90 million guaranteed, $23.5 million avg. annual)
- Russell Wilson: $140 million ($107 million guaranteed, $35 million avg. annual)
- Jimmy Garoppolo: $137.5 million ($74.1 million guaranteed, $27.5 million avg. annual)
- Matthew Stafford: $135 million ($92 million guaranteed, $27 million avg. annual)
- Aaron Donald: $135 million (~$86.9 million guaranteed, $22.5 million avg. annual)
Something to think about as well in the cases with these players is that this is just their salaries and doesn’t include the brand they’re building around themselves as professional athletes and investors. Russell Wilson is a great example of that. As Forbes noted, he has endorsement deals with Nike, Mercedes, General Mills, Alaska Airlines, Bose, and Wilson Sporting Goods to name a few. He also has his hand in a series of businesses including Limitless Minds, West2East (a production company), and a live-event prediction app named Tally that is also backed by Amazon cult leader Jeff Bezos.
Looking at single contracts doesn’t really get us close to the money that lotto winners are getting, but the career earnings do. Amongst active NFL players, Eli Manning leads the pack with $252,280,004 in reported career earnings. The other thing to consider though is that the lotto winners’ payout structure is much different and prolonged compared to an NFL player’s contract as we mentioned above if you take the 30-year plan. Eli made that money as he is in his 16th season in the league in 2019.
If you want to know where the big money really is in the NFL, look towards the owners. The average value of an NFL team in 2019 is around $2.9 billion according to Forbes. The Cowboys are the most valuable franchise in the league reportedly being worth $5.5 billion alone.
What this all boils down to is that NFL players are elite athletes who can do what the average Joe cannot. That is why they are paid the way they are. If you are a quarterback in the NFL with an average- or above-average success level that you can spread out over the course of a decade, you will probably make more money than a lotto winner, especially in this day and age. If you are an owner, you will easily make more. But this doesn’t include all players across the league. Adrian Peterson is the highest-paid running back of all time with career earnings of ~$101.7 million and is in his 13th season in the league. Russell Wilson got more than that in his guarantees alone for his recent contract. Larry Fitzgerald has earned ~$174.5 million as the highest-paid WR of all time and is in his 16th season in the league. Both of these guys have sustained relevance at their respective positions for an abnormally long duration and still can’t hold their own against the QBs of the league today. So, unless you’re the next Eli Manning, good luck winning that lotto! You have a 1 in 302,575,350 chance of hitting the jackpot. You got this!