Pro Football Salaries vs. Surgeon Salaries: The Salary Super Bowl

As Super Bowl start time nears, this seems like an opportune moment to examine pro football salaries. Of course, the big question is, “Who is the highest-paid player?” The often-disappointing Atlanta Falcons failed to make the playoffs, but their quarterback, Michael Vick had a great season. He topped all pro football salaries with an annual salary of $23.1 million.

In the world of pro football salaries, is he worth 23.1 million? Well, in 2006, Michael Vick became the only quarterback in NFL history to rush for over 1,000 yards. But what if we compare this football player salary to a cardiothoracic surgeon salary in the Atlanta area?  How does a football player measure up to someone who saves lives? With 5-9 years of experience, a cardiothoracic surgeon salary averages out to $329,229, less than 2% of Vick’s salary!

How does your salary score against pro football salaries (as reported on Find out with our salary survey.

Comparing Quarterbacks to Surgeons

Obviously, more people (millions) would rather watch football than surgery. The national TV audience accounts for the enormous pro football salaries, but the salary disparity between playing a game and practicing life-saving medicine often raises eyebrows. Get yours ready as we take a look at the next 4 highest pro football salaries and compare them with average surgeon salaries.

A caveat: the salaries we quote are for surgeons who earn a salary, in other words, who are employees. These doctors may work on staff at a hospital or large HMO. All football players are similarly employees: they have a boss, a contract, and are not paid based on the profitability of the business.

However, most doctors are actually small business people. As such, each owns a practice, hustles for business, negotiates rates with insurance companies, manages employees, and decides how much income he or she can draw from the practice. With that risk, comes reward: the annual incomes of doctors who own their own practices are significantly higher. Similarly, if football players want to earn more, they can buy the team 🙂

Plastic Surgeon Salaries & NFL Football Salary by Position

Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck of the Seattle Seahawks comes in at number 2 with an annual salary of $19,005,280. Let’s compare the Seahawks’ all-time highest-rated passer to a Seattle plastic surgeon with 10-19 years of experience. A Seattle plastic surgeon salary averages out to $234,089, with a high-end of $322,161; that is less than 2% of Hasselbeck’s annual salary. If the Seattle QB takes a nasty hit to the face, at least we know he can afford treatment.

While a plastic surgeon salary doesn’t compare to Hasselbeck’s salary, plastic surgeons are in demand. According to, CEOs on trial for corporate crime actually believe they can improve their chances for acquittal with surgery before going on trial.

Pro Football Salaries and Surgeon Salary Comparisons

At number 3, we find St. Louis Rams offensive tackle Orlando Pace, with an annual salary of $18 million. Orlando has seven Pro Bowls and a Super Bowl win on his resume. Let’s compare him to orthopedic surgeons, who treat with chronic, acute and traumatic injuries. With 5-9 years of experience, the average orthopedic surgeon salary in St. Louis is $144,421, that’s less than 1% of Pace’s annual salary. Apparently, it pays better to block (and break) people, than to fix them.

At number 4 in pro football salaries is offensive tackle Walter Jones of the Seattle Seahawks, who earns an annual salary of $17,701,320. The 7-time Pro Bowler is one of eight kids raised by a mom who made an hourly wage of $3.75 (as mentioned on Jones works out in the off-season by pushing an SUV around a parking lot, but can he topple a Seattle trauma surgeon salary?

What Football Salary Caps?

In hospitals, trauma surgeons make life and death choices everyday. They work in emergency rooms to save lives and/or stabilize patients. With that in mind, the average trauma surgeon salary in Seattle (with 20 or more years of experience) is $161,840, topping out at $227,797. That’s far more than Jones’ mom making $3.75 an hour, but less than 2% of his eight-figure salary. Still, if I had an emergency, I think I’d want the low wage earner taking care of me.

Clocking in at number 5 in pro football salaries is New England Patriot Quarterback Tom Brady with an annual salary of $15.6 million. One of the best quarterbacks ever, Brady has three Super Bowl wins, two Super Bowl MVP awards and three Pro Bowl appearances to his credit, but how does his annual salary compare to a Boston cardiac surgeon salary?

Heart Surgeon Salary

Cardiac surgeons, also known as heart surgeons, perform a variety of life-saving surgeries. For all their amazing expertise, a Boston-based heart surgeon salary averages $284,340 and has a high salary range of $400,050 (for a practitioner with 10-19 years of experience). Let’s take the high-end number, $400,050, and compare it to Tom Brady’s annual salary. I’m am pleased to report that a heart surgeon salary breaks the 2% glass ceiling, but is still less than 3% of Brady’s salary.

Call me a crazy dreamer, but hopefully, someday, surgeons will make at least half of what the top football players earn, but it doesn’t seem likely.

For the parents out there, you may not what to show this article to your kids, lest they forgo school books for dreams of massive pro football salaries. However, is that the conclusion they should draw?

This is a great place to consider the difference between top, median, and mean (average) pay. The median professional football salary of the ~50 graduating NCAA division I-A quarterbacks last year was $0/year, since only 12 QBs were even drafted by the NFL. Sure, perhaps another dozen or so went to the CFL or elsewhere, but is that “making it” in pro football?

In contrast, about 16,000 people become doctors each year in the US, and all of them are paid. Yes, the pay-off is huge for the handful of people who become pro quarterbacks, leading to a high top earner pay, but the odds are not good. Betting on being a pro quarterback for your lifetime income is like betting on winning the lottery.

Actually, I take that back: far more people win millions in the lottery each year than become professional football quarterbacks 🙂

How does your salary play in the big leagues? Find out with our salary survey.


Dr. Al Lee