Examining the disparity between Joey Porter Jr.'s and Rod Woodson's rookie contracts

Pittsburgh Steelers, Rod Woodson
Pittsburgh Steelers, Rod Woodson / George Gojkovich/GettyImages

The Steelers narrowly avoided a minor disaster at the start of their 2023 season by signing their 2nd round draft choice Joey Porter Jr. While it seemed unlikely that Porter would hold out, it was in the back of the minds of Steelers fans. If you recall, it happened once before with another cornerback when the Steelers drafted Rod Woodson in 1987.

While Joey Porter Jr. is just beginning his NFL career, Rod Woodson, in contrast, became easily one of the top 10 cornerbacks of all time. In time perhaps we will remember Porter in the same way. A more interesting point, though, is how much Joey Porter Jr. received in his contract as opposed to the deal Woodson finally signed in his rookie season.

If you compared both players on their contract, not on stats, one could easily conclude Porter might be the Hall of Fame cornerback, not Rod Woodson. Yet that could not be further from the truth. Even more interesting is that Woodson held out for 95 days when he signed his deal. He had threatened to quit football and run track in the 1988 Summer Olympics.

Steelers contract with Joey Porter Jr.

First, let's look at Porter's deal. Porter signed a four-year contract worth $9,618,348. Of that, $8,999,870 is fully guaranteed. He gets a base salary of $5,623,188, of which $5,004,710 is guaranteed, and his signing bonus of $3,995,160. If he plays all four seasons, he averages $2,404,587 a year. By the NFL’s 2023 standards, it’s not a huge contract.

Broderick Jones, on the other hand, as the Steelers first-round selection (14th overall), signed a fully guaranteed contract of $16,626,364 and will average just less than double per season than what Porter will make in his four seasons. That’s the difference between first and second-round money for NFL draft selections in 2023. Still, hefty salaries for unproven players headed into their first season.

Steelers Contract with Rod Woodson

Here is where hindsight is 20/20 and how far NFL contracts have come since 1987. Rod Woodson, after holding out for 95 days, the Steelers eventually signed him to a contract worth a whopping $1.8 million, and that included a $750,000 signing bonus. Thus one of the greatest cornerbacks of all time played for an average salary of $450,000 a season. That’s a lot less than Porter’s $2.4 million per season average.

Keep in mind his deal predated guaranteed contracts, so there was a chance he could not have gotten his entire rookie contract. The first fully guaranteed contract went to Ricky Dudley in 1996. In today’s NFL, rookies get guaranteed contracts due to the limits on rookie contracts. After their 4th season, they can possibly get a guaranteed contract, typically not, though that list of NFL veterans is slowly expanding.

So yes, in his first four seasons, Woodson was paid a mere pittance compared to what Porter will make. Although just ahead of the start of the 1993 season, the Steelers inked a new four-year deal with Woodson paying him $12 million over four seasons. Still, in 1993 that was only $3 million a season, but at the time, the contract made him the highest-paid defensive back in the NFL.

It's not that Woodson was underpaid comparatively to Joey Porter Jr.’s deal, it’s just that the NFL players earned a lot less. The NFL didn’t pull in as much from tv contracts, they didn’t have NFL Sunday ticket, and you couldn’t stream the games on NFL.com. The NFL just makes lots more in revenue 36 years ago, and thanks to collective bargaining, more of it must go to players.

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Still, when you look at what Woodson made compared to today's rookie salaries, and knowing how good he was and looking back in hindsight, it’s natural to think he was vastly underpaid in his first contract. For 1987, though, his contract may have seemed like a king's ransom.