In 2010, the NFL draft operated under the rules of the rookie salary pool, per the NFL collective bargaining agreement. The rookie salary pool allows a certain dollar amount each team can pay all its first-year players. The amounts change yearly for each of the 32 NFL teams.
The base salary for a drafted NFL rookie in 2010 was 325,000, according USA Today. This base salary does not include signing or other bonuses, and is typically paid to the lowest draft choices on each team. The base salary also does not include other sources of income for players, such as speaking engagements and product endorsements. The base salary is the pre-bonus average for NFL rookies.
Rookie Salary Pool
Three figures play into a rookie player's salary -- the base salary, a prorated signing bonus and "likely to be earned" bonuses, such as roster bonuses earned in the player's first season. Contract incentives and bonuses included at signing but received after a player's rookie season do not count toward the rookie salary pool figure. In 2010, the St. Louis Rams had the highest rookie salary pool and had $7.596 million to spend among all their draft choices.
When the St. Louis Rams signed rookie quarterback Sam Bradford in 2010, he became the highest-paid NFL rookie of all time. His contract is worth $50 million in guaranteed money (and worth $78 million overall for six years). In 2009, the top overall draft choice, quarterback Matthew Stafford, signed with the Detroit Lions for six years with a $72 million deal. These kinds of rookie salary packages though, are reserved only for top draft choices.
Lowest Paid Rookies
Quite a few NFL rookies bring home only the base salary. According to USA Today, players at each position made only the base salary in 2009 ($310,000) and did not earn bonuses. The lowest-paid rookies are typically low draft choices -- selected in the fifth through seventh rounds and play for teams with the lowest rookie salary pools.
Rookie Salary Payment
NFL rookies are paid just like other players -- they earn a paycheck every other week during the regular season. The payments are split into increments from the base salary. Additional bonuses, such as those based on performance, are paid separately.