Joe Montana

Joe Montana’s Final 49ers Contract Illustrates Just How Far The NFL Has Come Since 1990

The sports world is still buzzing about the half-billion dollar contract signed by Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes on Monday. The Chiefs potentially dishing out $503 million over 10 years to a 24-year-old Super Bowl-winning quarterback seems somewhat wild but the economics of football at the moment dictate such a situation.

That was definitely not the situation in 1990.

Fresh off of winning back to back Super Bowls in the ’88 and ’89 seasons, the 49ers gave their all-world quarterback Joe Montana a new four-year contract worth $13 million.

Montana made an NFL-high $4 million in 1990. The contract was set to pay out as follows:

1990: $4 million

1991: $3.5 million

1992: $3 million

1993: $2.5 million

The $4 million dollar plateau was significant. The 34-year-old Montana became the first player in league history to hit a $4 million annual salary. Buffalo’s Jim Kelly was the second-highest paid player in 1990 by raking in an annual salary of $2.6 million.

Despite the salary’s annual decrease linked to Montana’s age and injury history perhaps, it was still a deal befitting of the NFL’s best player.

Montana’s salary comprised 15% of San Francisco’s NFL-high payroll in ’90…a whopping (by the day’s standards) $26.8 million. Back then, the salary cap was just a gleam in the eyes of NFL owners. The salary cap was not instituted until the 1994 season.

To put that $26.8 million payroll in perspective versus today’s numbers, consider the following:

  • The salary cap for the 2020 season will be $198,200,000.
  • The NFL’s highest payroll – for the moment before trimming the fat to $198 million – belongs to the Indianapolis Colts at $231 million.
  • Current 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo has a cap hit this season of $26.6 million – just $200k less than San Francisco’s entire payroll in 1990.
  • Meanwhile, Kansas City’s current cap space stands at just over $3.5 million, which was roughly Montana’s 1991 salary.

Of course, the sad tale of this is Montana only played one full season on the four-year deal. While the 49ers got their money’s worth in ’90 by Montana winning his second straight league MVP, the three-time Super Bowl MVP got hurt in the ’90 NFC Championship game against the Giants and didn’t play again until December 1992. He was traded to Kansas City in 1993.

Nonetheless, in a similar fashion to Mahomes, Montana ruled the roost on the field and in the financial books in 1990.

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