Referees are absolutely crucial in any sport – not only do they maintain order in times when the action of the game can get a little hectic, but they are also the dividing forces that can either award a game to a team or cause them to lose it. A lot of pressure rides on referees to make the right call, so a lot of experience is needed. As a result, some of the highest-salaried referees in the NFL are the ones who have been around the longest.
In addition to experience and tenure being a determining factor for referees, there are also numerous positions for team. These positions include the umpire, who is responsible for viewing the offensive and defensive line for illegal blocks, the referee, who is responsible for essentially running the show and has the final say on any rulings, the head linesman, line judge, back judge, center judge and side judge. The final four positions each take a position to form a complete box around the action of the game, which ensures complete coverage from the entire squadron of referees. Each position has different salary rates, as well – the umpire and referee are the highest paid positions (and the most critical to maintaining a fair game), while the head linesman and center judge typically make a little more money than the remaining three positions.
Referees are not bound to any single home base, but are relocated around as needed – this ensures a different team of referees for each individual game, which gives the biggest impression of fairness. Each referee is paid a flat base salary, which is intended to help alleviate them through the other 40 or so weeks of the year when the NFL has no need for their services, on top of receiving a per-game salary. Outside of their refereeing jobs, referees are allowed to work other jobs but are not permitted to make more than 50% of their NFL income. Referees also receive large bonuses for officiating post-season games, which are more than double their per-game pay.
Typically, referees will receive their officiating schedules at the beginning of the season, which directs them where to go and what games to official. The referees travel and stay in hotels at the NFL’s expense, which lets them keep most of their money – I was unable to find if food was included in the referee’s’ travel packages, but for the most part, the referee squadrons do travel in some relative luxury, although their travel is not as luxurious and comfortable as the players’.
10. Walt Coleman
Walt Coleman is the most experienced NFL referee, with a whopping 28 years of experience in the NFL under his belt, 27 of which have been spent refereeing (since 1989). Walt Coleman serves as a referee official and because of this, is the head of his own team of officials. Walt has refereed more than 450 different games, which excludes the start of the 2016 season. As a referee, Walt Coleman is paid more than $3,000 per game and has one of the highest starting salaries. Walt makes around $205,000 per year, which is the veteran salary for referee – assuming that he referees an average of 16 games per year, Walt Coleman makes around $50,0000 during the NFL season. The other $155,000 is paid out in the other months of the year, netting him a monthly salary just shy of $13,0000.
Walt Coleman wears the #65 jersey, and graduated from Arkansas College prior to entering the NFL for just one year before becoming an official. His son, Walt Coleman IV, has just joined the NFL as a referee in 2015.
9. Ed Hochuli
Ed Hochuli is the second most-experienced NFL referee, although he has just one year shy of Walt Coleman’s expertise with 27 years as an official in the NFL. Ed Hochuli is also a referee and the head of his own team. Ed has refereed more than 430 different games, excluding the beginning of the 2016 NFL season. As a veteran, Ed Hochuli also receives the standard veteran rate of $205,000 salary, excluding the game bonuses. Since Ed Hochuli also officiates from the Referee position, he receives a bonus of $3,000 per game, which comes out to just under $50,000 for refereeing an average season of 16 games. Like Walt Coleman, Ed Hochuli also receives a salary of just under $13,000 per month from the NFL.
Ed Hochuli wears the #85 jersey, and graduated from Texas’s El Paso college. Ed Hochuli has been with the NFL since 1990.
8. Jeff Bergman
Jeff Bergman serves as a head linesman, which means he does not receive as much pay as the first two on the list. However, Jeff Bergman has 25 years of experience under his belt, which makes him the third senior of all the available NFL officials. Jeff Bergman also receives the veteran salary of $205,000 thanks to his quarter-century of experience, but receives much less per game due to his position. Jeff Bergman still brings in a cool $1,500 per game, which means that he makes a more meager $24,000 for an average 16-season game. This brings his entire salary to a $230,000 estimate. Since he is not a referee, he is a part of Jeff Triplette’s referee squadron.
Jeff Bergman graduated from Robert Morris college in Chicago, Illinois. He wears the #32 jersey.
7. Tony Veteri
Tony Veteri serves as a line judge, the first one on this list. He also has 25 years of experience coaching in the NFL. As a line judge, Tony Veteri makes the least amount of money out of the three available tiers, but also coordinates with two other judges to make official calls and decisions before eventually going to the referee. Tony Veteri is a part of Clete Blakeman’s refereeing squadron. Tony Veteri, as a veteran, receives $205,000 per year prior to his per-game bonus, which is around $1,250. Assuming an average season of 16 games, this means that Tony Veteri makes around $225,000, which $20,000 of that coming in during the NFL season.
Tony Veteri graduated from Manhattan College, and currently wears the #36 jersey.
6. Mark Steinkerchner
Mark Steinkerchner is also a line judge, being part of Ron Torbert’s squadron. Mark has 23 years of experience under his belt, which places him just shy of the veteran territory – he receives a yearly salary of about $190,000 before receiving his per-game bonuses. As a line judge, Mark Steinkerchner receives around $1,250 for games as well, which brings his seasonal pay up to $20,000. This means Mark Steinkerchner has an estimated salary of around $210,000, assuming no play-off games are refereed by his squadron.
Mark Steinkerchner graduated from the University of Akron college based out of Ohio, and currently wears the #84 jersey.
5. Byron Boston
Byron Boston, the third line judge on this list, serves under Walt Anderson’s officiating squad. Byron Boston has 22 years of experience officiating in the NFL, which also places him just shy of receiving the veteran’s pay. This means he has a salary of about $185,000, and assuming that he receives the veteran line judge’s pay of $1,250 per game, brings in an extra $20,000 during the NFL season. This means that Byron Boston makes an estimated amount of $205,000 per year, with a tenth of that coming in during the NFL season.
Byron Boston graduated from the University of Austin, Texas, and currently wears the #18 jersey.
4. Tony Corrente
Tony Corrente is a referee with 22 years of experience; as a referee, he enjoys being the head of his own squadron. Tony Corrente receives a bonus of $2,500 per game, the average pay-per-game for a referee, and has a salary of $190,0000. In a 16-game season, Tony Corrente brings in $40,000, which makes his pay somewhere in the range of $230,000 for the entire year.
Tony Corrente graduated from the University of California State – Fullerton’s campus, and currently wears the #99 jersey as a referee.
3. Craig Wrolstad
Craig Wrolstad wears uniform number 4 and has been with the NFL since 2003. He is perhaps best known for officiating Super Bowl XLVII in 2013.
Originally hired as a field judge, he was later promoted to referee at the beginning of 2014, following the retirements of Scott Green and Ron Winter. In 2020, he officiated the 2020 Pro Bowl, which took place at the Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Florida.
As far as his salary goes, it’s estimated that he earns $250,000 a year. This puts him at the top of our list alongside Brad Allen and Walt Anderson.
2. Brad Allen
Brad Allen has been officiating NFL games since 2014. Originally from Lumberton, North California, he got into football during high school and after graduating, began officiating at the ACC level.
And in 2014, he made his NFL officiating debut. While his original intention was to be an umpire, he was given the referee position instead after Mike Carey announced his retirement. That same year, he called the 2014 Sugar Bowl.
While his exact salary hasn’t been disclosed, it’s estimated that he earned $250,000 during the 2020-2021 season (including per-game bonuses).
1. Walt Anderson
Walt Anderson is the highest-paid NFL referee—or he was, anyway. His final game as a referee was the NFL Division Playoffs between the San Francisco 49ers and the Minnesota Vikings in 2019, which took place in Santa Clara, California. As of 2022, he has retired from officiating. He’s currently the senior vice president at the NFL front office.
Prior to his ‘retirement’, he was raking in $250,000 a year. Approximately $185,000 came from his yearly salary while the rest came from the games he officiated (he earned approximately $3,000 per game).
Given his experience on the field (he has been officiating for over two decades), however, it isn’t that surprising.