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Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman is armed with a new contract that pays him $40 million guaranteed, but he and fellow NFL players aren’t close to being the highest-paid athletes on average.

Elaine Thompson • Associated Press,

Rand: Want the big bucks? Try cricket, not NFL

  • May 13, 2014 - 8:09 PM

Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson recently said he thinks he deserves to make more than Seahawks corner Richard Sherman, who signed a new deal that includes $40 million in guaranteed money.

This is how pro sports salaries escalate, of course. One great player takes it up a level, then another, until things skyrocket. Huge TV deals and free agency also play a role; the average NFL salary has jumped from around $80,000 per year in 1980 to around $2 million now.

It is my theory that many U.S. sports fans are under the impression that this is a phenomenon limited to pro leagues in this country. They also are under the impression that NFL players seeking more money are greedy.

An interesting report from sportingintelligence.com, however, reveals that not only is this an international phenomenon, but the NFL — despite being perhaps the most popular league in the world — lags behind when it comes to player salaries.

Per the most recent salary data available, the league with the highest-paid players is the NBA. Players in that league make $4.5 million per year on average.

The next highest is somewhat shocking: the Indian Premier League, the highest-level cricket league in India, at $4.2 million. It should be noted that salary is pro-rated because the season is so short, but it’s still notable that the figure Sporting Intelligence arrives at is more than twice what NFL players make.

Major League Baseball is next at $3.9 million, followed by soccer’s English Premier League at $3.5 million and the NHL at $2.4 million. You have to get through another two European soccer leagues before arriving at the NFL, which sits at No. 8 at $2 million.

Locally, the Timberwolves were consistent with the list, topping all Minnesota teams with an average salary of $4.5 million per player. The Twins were next at $3.4 million, followed by the Wild at $2.8 million and Vikings at $2.3 million.

Now, some of this can be explained by the vast roster sizes in the NFL as compared with other leagues. With a 53-player active roster, NFL teams are paying two to four times as many players as teams in other leagues. And at those numbers, of course, nobody is going to worry about players in any of the top leagues feeding their families.

But it still is interesting to see how far down on the list the NFL is, particularly when the league dominates attendance (average of 68,401 per game last season, according to the report, when no other league worldwide was above 42,000).

Michael Rand

© 2014 Star Tribune