With free-agency windfall looming, NFL salaries up 19.6 percent in '92 Modest hike doesn't alter top of scale

December 29, 1992|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,Staff Writer

In the last year before unrestricted free agency comes to th NFL, player salaries rose 19.6 percent in 1992, but didn't have a dramatic change on the top of the salary chart.

According to a confidential NFL Players Association salary survey, the average salary jumped from $414,900 to $496,300 this year even though quarterback Dan Marino of the Miami Dolphins remained the highest-paid player at an average of $4,433,000 per year.

The 25th highest-paid player a year ago, Reggie White of the Philadelphia Eagles, earned an average $1,513,000 while this year, the 25th highest-paid player, Neal Anderson of the Chicago Bears, got $1,650,000. Anderson was 19th in 1991.

What drove the salary increases this year was the 53 percent increase the 167 players who switched teams on Plan B received. Those players were at the bottom of the rosters after the top 37 players on each roster were protected.

That plan, though, was declared illegal in federal court in September and will be replaced by a new system as soon as the labor deal is finalized in which the players with five years of experience will be free agents. That system is expected to lead ** to big increases for players at the top of the salary chart.

There were only two new players in this year's top 10 -- Mark Rypien of the Washington Redskins, who got a new $3,000,000 deal and Jerry Rice of the San Francisco 49ers, who got a contract for $2,550,00.

Rypien, who tied Boomer Esiason of the Cincinnati Bengals for fifth place, replaced Eric Dickerson, who was sixth last year at an average $2,650,000. Dickerson had been scheduled to earn $3 million this year and $3.2 million in 1993 in Indianapolis, but took a pay cut to $1.1 million to join the Los Angeles Raiders because he was tired of losing with the Colts. It turned out the Colts finished at 9-7 this year while the Raiders were 7-9. Rice replaced teammate Steve Young, who dropped from 10th to 13th while remaining at $2,240,000.

Warren Moon of the Houston Oiles jumped from $2,883,000 to $3,563,000 to take second place while Joe Montana of the 49ers remained at $3,250,000 and dropped to third.

Randall Cunningham of the Philadelphia Eagles moved up from $2,563,000 to $3,100,000 to jump from seventh to fourth, although there have been no reports his contract was changed recently.

John Elway of the Denver Broncos, who is 18th with an average of $1,957,000, may actually be much higher because there have been persistent reports he has signed a new deal that hasn't been announced.

The top player whose contract expires this year is Young, but the 49ers certainly will use one of their free agency exemptions on him.

One player who'll definitely move into the top 10 next year is

White, who'll become a free agent. He dropped out of the top 25 this year at $1,513,000, but will likely surpass Steve Emtman of Indianapolis ($2,291,000) as the highest-paid defensive player in the league.

With free agency coming, the most ill-advised move may have been made by wide receiver Sterling Sharpe of the Green Bay Packers. He signed a deal last year that makes him the second highest-paid wide receiver at $1,510,000. But he tied himself up to 1999 when he'll be 34 and his contract will likely be obsolete. He'll now never get a chance to test the free-agent market while he's in his prime.

The average team player payroll jumped from $22,740,000 to $26,800,000. The San Francisco 49ers were on top at $34,350,000 to $17,570,000 for the Pittsburgh Steelers at the bottom. The strange thing is those two teams have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs in the NFC and AFC so payrolls don't necessarily translate into winning.

With the salary cap coming in the new labor deal at 67 percent of gross revenues, San Francisco won't be able to spend much more money than it does now while Pittsburgh will be forced to spend more because each team pays 50 percent of its gross to the players.

Highest paid

The top-paid players in the NFL, according to an NFL Players Association survey:

Name .. .. .. .. .. .. .. P .. .. .. .. .. Team .. .. .. .. Salary

1. Dan Marino .. .. .. ..QB .. .. .. .. .. Miami .. .. .. $4,433,000

2. Warren Moon .. .. .. QB .. .. .. .. .. Houston .. .. $3,563,000

3. Joe Montana .. .. .. QB .. .. .. .. .. San Francisco .. $3,250,000

4. Randall Cunningham .. QB .. .. .. .. .. Philadelphia .. .$3,100,000

5. Mark Rypien .. .. .. QB .. .. .. .. .. Wash. .. .. .. .$3,000,000

5. Boomer Esiason .. .. QB .. .. .. .. .. Cin. .. .. .. ..$3,000,000

7. Jim Kelly .. .. .. .. QB .. .. .. .. .. Buffalo .. .. .. $2,864,000

8. Jerry Rice .. .. .. ..S.F. .. .. .. .. .. WR .. .. .. .. $2,550,000

9. Jeff George .. .. .. QB .. .. .. .. .. Indianapolis .. $2,500,000

10. Jim Everett .. .. .. QB .. .. .. .. .. L.A. Rams .. .. $2,483,000

11. Bernie Kosar .. .. ..QB .. .. .. .. .. Cleveland .. .. $2,329,000

12. Steve Emtman .. .. ..DL .. .. .. .. .. Indianapolis .. $2,291,000

13. Steve Young .. .. .. QB .. .. .. .. .. San Francisco .. $2,240,000

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