Top college football prospects won’t know their pro destination until the 2020 NFL Draft begins on Thursday night, the size of their first pro paychecks is already largely determined by the league’s rookie pay scale.
As set forth in the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement, rookies are paid on a sliding scale based on calculations tied to the upcoming season’s salary cap. The players selected earliest in the draft earn the most money.
The Cincinnati Bengals hold rights to make the first pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. The first overall pick is projected to sign a four-year contract worth about $36.2 million, including a $23.9 million signing bonus, according to calculations by Spotrac. The Bengals are widely expected to select star LSU quarterback Joe Burrow, college football’s reigning Heisman Trophy winner.
The second overall pick will sign a four-year deal worth about $34.6 million, including a $22.7 million signing bonus. Pay declines at a steep rate in the first round, with the 32nd and final pick set for a four-year deal worth a projected $10.8 million, including a $5.4 million signing bonus.
Aside from Burrow, top prospects in this year's draft include Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert, Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and Ohio State defensive end Chase Young.
All first-round picks receive full guaranteed signing bonuses. First-round contracts also include a fifth-year team option, meaning that teams can add another year to the term at a higher salary determined by player performance.
Players taken in round two through seven receive less guaranteed money. The final pick of the NFL draft’s seventh-round is known as “Mr. Irrelevant” in league circles. This year, the last player selected will sign a four-year deal worth $2.7 million.
This year’s first overall pick will sign a contract worth about $1 million more than the first pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. That player, quarterback Kyler Murray, signed a four-year deal worth $35.2 million.
The 2020 NFL Draft will run from Thursday through Saturday with a fully virtual format due to the coronavirus pandemic. Team executives will make their selections from home and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell will announce first-round picks from his basement.
This story has been updated.