On August 20, 1991 Dan Marino became the highest paid player in NFL history.

Off the Beat: A Look Back 8/20/91

Figured we’d go a little off-topic for a moment and look back. On this date, back in 1991 Dan Marino became the highest paid player in the NFL, receiving a five year-25 million dollar contract. He surpassed Joe Montana for that distinction. The names Montana and Marino definitely beckon back to an era that evokes nostalgia from a number of people. That was two decades ago.

I thought it’d be interesting to quantify the leap in NFL money in the past 19 years. The first thing that came to mind was that Ryan Matthews, the player the San Diego Chargers took with the 14th overall pick the Dolphins traded them in this year’s draft, inked a deal for approximately 25 million dollars without ever having played an NFL down. A friend of mine from Melbourne, Florida was a high school teammate of Leonard Weaver at Satellite High School. Weaver recently signed a 3 year deal with the Philadelphia Eagles worth around 24 million dollars, and gifted though he is, he’s a fullback.

The deal made Marino the highest paid player in NFL history, As was mentioned, Joe Montana held the title before him. For the sake of comparison, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning fit nicely for a number of reasons. And both also happen to be vying for the distinction of being the highest paid player in the NFL, possibly in the league’s history. Peyton Manning first earned the title when he signed a seven year-98 million dollar pact (with a hefty 35.5 million dollar guaranteed bonus) back in 2004. That was six years ago. His contract, as well as Tom Brady’s (who has a “more economical” six year-60 million dollar deal) expire at the end of this season.

First of all, Peyton Manning’s bonus was 10 million dollars more than Marino made for five years of play. Just for signing on the dotted line, or being on a roster at such a date. Peyton was guaranteed to out earn five seasons worth of play from Marino. I’m not feeling sorry for Dan-O either, he’s doing just fine. I’m only attempting to show how much contracts have grown. I can’t even imagine how much Brady and Manning could earn with their next contracts. It will surely be the last big contract both sign and it’s also probably going to be contingent upon their production this year. But it could be around or over 20 million per season. One 2010 season with Brady and Manning could buy you four or possibly five years of Marino in 1991.

Sam Bradford will potentially make three times what Dan Marino made over his six year-78 million dollar deal. He’s guaranteed to make at at least twice that (50 million dollars guaranteed). He’s never played a snap. He was hurt most of last year.

(More after the jump)

When my father heard this he told me  he could remember when players were signing big 100,000 dollar contracts. I reminded him that he’s older, but it did also spark another amusing line of thought. The first player to even make one million dollars in an NFL season was Bruce Matthews in 1983. In the 70’s when the Dolphins went undefeated some of the players had to have second jobs during the offseason. The highest paid football player in 1970 was Boston Patriots QB Joe Kapp at an estimated 150,000 dollars per year. People were outraged Kapp had turned down 100k per season from Minnesota the season before. Now we’ve got a window of about 40 years from where the highest paid players were making 150k to where we are now with potentially up to 20 million dollars buying just a single season.

The NFL minimum is currently 450k, three times what the highest paid player made in 1970. I’d happily show up every day to Dolphins practice and let them absolutely kick the tar out of me for 100,000 dollars a year, I think that’d be a perfectly reasonable minimum, but who am I to say? 100k doesn’t buy much anymore in football.

I started thinking about people in football who potentially make 100,000 dollars or more at this point. For instance, I’ll bet trainers, some equipment managers and virtually every person in the front office makes more than that. Hell, I’ll bet some of the people who manage the stadium venues make those wages. You make more than that for just playing at USC.

I’m sure when Dan Marino became the highest paid player in the NFL there were a group of people saying “20 years ago you could buy an NFL team for 25 million dollars.” I wonder what we’ll be saying 20 years from now…

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