Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence and LSU wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase
Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence (left) and LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase
PLAYERS & TEAM EARNINGS

2021 NFL Draft: Projecting the Salaries of the Top 10 Picks

They may not have signed their deals yet, but we already have a good idea of how much money the next NFL rookie class will earn.

In the months leading into the NFL Draft, it’s a ritual among football fans to read way, WAY too many mock drafts. Eventually, the whole thing starts to feel so abstract that it’s hard to imagine that going No. 5 versus No. 6 overall even makes much of a difference.

Well, it does—a difference of nearly an extra one million dollars per year, in fact.

Each year, NFL rookie contracts are determined by a complex formula agreed upon in the league’s 2011 collective bargaining agreement. The CBA actually limited rookie salaries pretty significantly compared to the previous rules, which created a ton of disparity between haves and have-nots within the top 10 picks alone.

But even now, with every player signing a four-year deal worth an average of seven figures per season, dropping just one spot in the 2021 NFL Draft can still mean missing out on the equivalent of a mansion’s worth of cash.

With Thursday’s opening round in the books, we turned to Spotrac, an industry leader in athlete salary and team spending data, to get a sense of the projected contract sizes for each draft slot in the top 10, right down to the dollar. Their numbers are based on a combination of previous seasons’ figures, estimated league revenues, and each team’s “salary pool” for all of a given year’s rookie signings.

Notably, the largest financial disparity between consecutive picks is between No. 5 and No. 6, per Spotrac.

And for No. 1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence, a total payday of $34.7 million over four years is in the cards.

Projected Total Contract Values of 2021’s Top 10 NFL Draft Picks

Estimates via Spotrac

  1. Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence (Jaguars): $34,746,325
  2. BYU QB Zach Wilson (Jets): $33,204,927
  3. North Dakota State QB Trey Lance (49ers): $33,224,055
  4. Florida TE Kyle Pitts (Falcons): $31,103,027
  5. LSU WR Ja’Marr Chase (Bengals): $29,141,241
  6. Alabama WR Jaylen Waddle (Dolphins): $25,638,066
  7. Oregon OL Penei Sewell (Lions): $22,835,524
  8. South Carolina CB Jaycee Horn (Panthers): $20,032,983
  9. Alabama CB Patrick Surtain II (Broncos): $19,892,696
  10. Alabama WR DeVonta Smith (Eagles): $19,122,152

In previous years, Lawrence probably would have been a candidate for a six-year deal in the neighborhood of $75 million; 2009 No. 1 overall pick Matthew Stafford was a less-heralded prospect by comparison and managed to secure six years at $72 million from the Lions. With the current CBA limiting the economic top-heaviness of the draft, however, the days of a player like Stafford signing for nearly triple the amount that offensive lineman Andre Smith earned five picks later are over.

This year, the estimated difference in total contract value between pick No. 1 and No. 6 is just over $9 million.

An interesting side note, however? The current decade-old draft structure amounts to a better deal for just about every player that’s not a quarterback. Josh Freeman, who went 17th in 2009, landed five years and $36 million — more than double that of the very next pick, defensive end Robert Ayers. Today, signal-callers losses have become everyone else’s gain.

So, with that in mind, what can each top-10 player expect to make in their very first year in the league? To estimate those figures, we turned to the expert number-crunchers at Over the Cap.

Projected Rookie Year Salaries of 2021’s Top 10 NFL Draft Picks

Estimates via Over the Cap

  1. Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence (Jaguars): $6,689,744
  2. BYU QB Zach Wilson (Jets): $6,391,050
  3. North Dakota State QB Trey Lance (49ers): $6,200,973
  4. Florida TE Kyle Pitts (Falcons): $5,983,743
  5. LSU WR Ja’Marr Chase (Bengals): $5,603,586
  6. Alabama WR Jaylen Waddle (Dolphins): $4,924,740
  7. Oregon OL Penei Sewell (Lions): $4,381,660
  8. South Carolina CB Jaycee Horn (Panthers): $3,838,581
  9. Alabama CB Patrick Surtain II (Broncos): $3,811,428
  10. Alabama WR DeVonta Smith (Eagles): $3,662,081
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It’s worth noting that Trevor Lawrence isn’t exactly cash-poor as he awaits his first piece of that $6.69 million, of course. He has already signed endorsement deals with companies like Gatorade, Bose, Adidas, and Blockfolio. Topps also partnered with Lawrence back in March for a special set of trading cards.

His base salary may not be as hefty as it would have been a dozen years ago, but Lawrence is a prime example of how it still pays to be No. 1.