By Daniel Bukszpan

For many people, a first job is an entry-level position whose greatest form of payment is experience. People taking these jobs have to slowly climb the ladder and prove themselves before they can earn better money. They have to pay their dues.

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Slideshow: Highest paid rookies

For professional athletes, there is no entry-level job -- they're put on the field on Day 1 and are expected to deliver the goods. Rookie athletes are well-compensated for this, and for many sports fans, the players' salaries and contracts are almost as fascinating as their yards passed or runs batted in.

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Rookie athletes receive paydays with no equal in any other field, based solely on the hope that they'll play as well as they did in college. There is no guarantee this will happen, and some teams pick the wrong rookies and pay dearly for it. But on the off chance they may be signing the next great Hall of Famer, teams keep handing over the money and hoping for the best.

Who are some of the rookie athletes who received huge paydays to play for major league teams? Here are ten.

Ten Highly Paid Rookies Slideshow


Sam Bradford

In his first season in the NFL, the Rams quarterback earned the Offensive Rookie of the Year Award. Despite his outstanding rookie-year performance, it remains to be seen whether the team will get its money's worth: The six-year deal Bradford signed in July 2010 was valued at $78 million, $50 million of which is guaranteed. This was, without exception, the most lucrative contract ever paid to an NFL rookie.


Matthew Stafford

Detroit secured Stafford's services one day before the 2009 draft was held, and he didn't come cheap. Stafford was awarded a six-year contract worth $72 million, almost $42 million of which was guaranteed. In fact, until Sam Bradford came along, it was the most lucrative contract ever awarded to an NFL rookie.


Larry Bird

When Bird was signed to the Celtics in 1979, he was awarded a contract worth $650,000 a year. This made him the most highly paid rookie in NBA history. It was considered an obscene amount of money and caused a major furor, which is a mark of how much things have changed since then.


JaMarcus Russell

JaMarcus Russell is a free agent professional football player, but he wasn't always. In 2007, the Oakland Raiders signed him to a $61 million contract, with $32 million guaranteed. Hopes were high. Sadly, Russell proved to be a bust. By 2009, a combination of poor play and alarming weight gain made him a clear liability for the team. He was released in 2009, after gaining the dubious distinction of having the least passing touchdowns or passing yards of any qualifying quarterback in the NFL.


Cam Newton

Cam Newton is the son of former Dallas Cowboys player Cecil Newton and the brother of the New Orleans Saints' Cecil Newton, Jr. He signed with the Carolina Panthers in July 2011, in a deal that was good for four years and guaranteed a $22 million payday. This relatively lower salary reflects the rookie wage scale of the recent collective bargaining agreement, which limits how much money a rookie can earn. Newton's compensation would likely have been much higher had the agreement not been in place. Newton made his NFL debut on Sept. 11, 2011, but his team lost to the Arizona Cardinals. Still, he distinguished himself by throwing for more than 400 yards, becoming the first rookie to do so in his first career game. He also broke the rookie record set by Peyton Manning for the most passing yards on opening day.

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For complete slideshow of high rookie salaries, click here.

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