How Long Is the Average Career of an NFL Player?

A football player
Close-up of a football player with hand on ball. (Image: Design Pics/Design Pics/Getty Images)

The career of the average NFL player tends to be short. The National Football League is extremely competitive, so players must compete hard to keep their jobs against new players entering the league every year. The injury rate among NFL players is also extremely high. Careers often end suddenly when players can no longer perform at a high level.

Overall Average

According the the NFL Players Association, the average career of an NFL player is 3.3 years. The players left the NFL for a variety of reasons. These include injury, retirement and being cut by their team.

Shortest Careers

The shortest careers among NFL players tends to be those who hit and get hit the most during games and practice. Running backs have the shortest average careers of just 2.57 years. Wide receivers have average careers of 2.81 years. The average career for cornerbacks is 2.94 years.

Longest Careers

The longest careers among NFL players tends to be those who are hit the least. Kickers and punters have the longest careers, averaging 4.87 years. Quarterbacks are next with an average career of 4.44 years.

Salary

It is no coincidence that the highest salaries tend to go to NFL players with the shortest careers. Many players hold out for larger payouts arguing that they have only a short amount of time to make money in the NFL. The exception to this is quarterbacks. They tend to make among the highest salaries while still having longer careers. One reason for this is that quarterbacks require the longest training period of any position in football--many spend the first few years of their careers on the bench.

Education and Career

According to the NFL Players Association, NFL players with college degrees make between 20% and 30% more than players who left school early to enter the NFL. The NFLPA also reports that players with degrees have careers that last about 50% longer than those without degrees. This is because most NFL players need the time in college to mature.

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