If you want to know how much the NFL has changed since 1990, all you need to do is look at Ben Roethlisberger's salary. Under his current contract, the Steelers quarterback makes an average of $14.7 million per year, that's $1.6 million more than Pittsburgh's entire team made in 1990.
Twenty-four years ago, the Steelers had the lowest team salary in the NFL at $13.1 million, according to the Baltimore Sun. Pittsburgh was one of five teams with a team payroll under $16 million that year. The other teams were the Saints ($14.1 million), Chargers ($15.0 million), Cardinals ($15.4 million) and Cowboys ($15.8 million).
Being cheap almost paid off for the Steelers as they went 9-7 and finished in a first place tie in the AFC Central. However, Pittsburgh would miss the playoffs after losing tiebreakers to the Bengals and Houston Oilers. The 1990 season was the first year the NFL expanded the playoffs to 12 teams.
Although there were several players who made over a million dollars that year, neither the Saints or the Cowboys had a player who made over $900,000, according to the Seattle Times. Troy Aikman was the Cowboys highest paid player ($865,000) while Steve Walsh earned the most in New Orleans ($800,000).
The player with the highest average salary in 1990 was 49ers quarterback Joe Montana, who was pulling in an average of $3.25 million per year. Thanks to Montana's pay, the 49ers had the highest team salary in 1990, paying out a total of $26.8 million.
That $26.8 million didn't buy the 49ers a Super Bowl title though. The team with the sixth-highest total salary ($20.52 million) beat the team with the seventh-highest total salary ($20.46 million) in 1990 when the Giants beat the Bills in Super Bowl XXV.
Here are the five highest team salaries from 1990 (The salary cap wasn't instituted until 1994 when the league had a $34.6 million cap. The 2014 salary cap is $133 million)
1. 49ers: $26.8 million
2. Jets: $22.5 million
3. Raiders: $21.5 million
4. Redskins: $21.5 million
5. Browns: $20.8 million
Here are the five highest paid players in the NFL in 1990 by average salary
1. 49ers QB Joe Montana: $3.25 million
2. Bills QB Jim Kelly: $2.6 million
3. Eagles QB Randall Cunningham: $2.56 million
4. Colts RB Eric Dickerson: $2.51 million
5. Browns QB Bernie Kosar: $2.33 million