N.F.L. Salaries: Believe in the Blind Side
I just recently got around to reading Michael Lewis‘s immensely entertaining book The Blind Side, even though it has been out for a few years now.
The book highlights how N.F.L. teams only slowly became aware of the immensely important role that offensive left tackles play in protecting the quarterback from blind-side hits. Although there is brief mention in the book that left tackle is the second highest-paid position after quarterback, it is a popular book and thus light on formal statistics.
Curious about the numbers, I put one of my loyal assistants Trevor Gallen on the problem, and here is what he reports back after crunching the numbers for every player in the starting lineup for the first game of the 2007-8 season:
1) As Michael Lewis argued, starting left tackles are indeed paid more on average than any other position on the field except for quarterbacks. The average starting quarterback makes about $5 million a year. The average starting left tackle gets $4 million. Defensive linemen and wide receivers also do pretty well.
2) There aren’t enough left-handed quarterbacks to do a rigorous analysis, but the blind-side theory is supported by the sparse data that exist on lefty quarterbacks. On those teams, right tackles tend to get paid much more than left tackles. Overall, the median blind-side tackles get paid over twice as much as the median non-blind-side tackles.
3) Punters and kickers make the least money — then safeties.
4) Perhaps the biggest surprise to me is how little running backs make. They are down toward the bottom of the list; I would guess that the wear and tear they face tends to shorten their careers, so they have fewer years over which to earn.
(Note: there are various ways to tally up N.F.L. salaries; Trevor used as the salary how much a player counts against the salary cap.)