The NFL Rookie Pay Scale Debate – “Tell Them What You Are Going To Do In The Future”

Read the debate intro and Loyal Homer’s argument that there should be a structured system which dictates an NFL Rookie’s contract.

“The first principle of contract negotiation is don’t remind them of what you did in the past; tell them what you are going to do in the future.”
Stan Musial

If Roger Goodell and the NFL move toward a program of structuring rookie salaries, it would accomplish nothing more than to punish both the teams AND the players.

First, it punishes the team because it restricts their ability to dictate how they can administer their salaries.

The NFL Salary Cap already exists to govern and restrict the amount of money that a team can spend on player salaries. In the simplest of explanations, each team is given an allotted dollar amount that they can distribute among their players as they see fit. It is up to each team to determine for itself how to spend the money.

If, for example, Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis wants to spend $61M on quarterback JaMarcus Russell before he even takes a snap in professional play, shouldn’t that be his prerogative? While you or I may believe that it is foolish to offer that kind of money to an unproven player, it is ultimately Al Davis’ team. If he is okay with spending his money in that manner, then I say let him! There is no rule forcing the NFL team to sign these players. Ultimately, the team has to make the decision as to whether or not they feel the player is worth the value they are assigning him, not the other way around.

Consider Cleveland Browns quarterback Brady Quinn as a perfect example of this. Following the drama around his selection in the draft, Quinn decided to hold out from training camp his rookie season. Although he was selected as the 22nd pick, he (or should I say his agent, Tom Condon) felt that he was still deserving of the salary of a top ten pick. The Browns, however, disagreed. In the end, Quinn ended up missing the first 12 days of his rookie training camp before finally signing an agreement with the Browns. What did he gain from this holdout? He earned only an additional $250K in guaranteed money, and many feel the holdout cost him the opportunity at being named the Browns starter since he was so delayed in joining the team. The current system allows each team the autonomy to assign their own value to the players they draft, rather than have the value dictated to them.

Second, this policy punishes the players. Sure, there will be some “busts” in the draft who prosper from negotiated contracts, but the alternative is to strip away the earning power of a rookie who DOES perform exceedingly well.

It is true that teams cannot predict the future, and for every Peyton Manning (viewed as one of the ten best number one picks in history) there is also a Tim Couch (viewed as one of the ten worst picks). Rather than look at individual examples we can examine ALL of the top ten draft picks since 2000 to provide us with a better overall picture of the type of talent which comes from those players.

In 2008, Jake Long and the Miami Dolphins were criticized because of the high dollar amount he received as an “untested” player. Long, however, went on to be named to a Pro Bowl. Another top ten draft pick from 2008 who I feel was DESERVING of a Pro Bowl bid last year (he at a minimum earned his salary) was quarterback Matt Ryan, selected by the Atlanta Falcons.

For the remaining top ten picks still under the terms of their “rookie” contract (2005, 2006, 2007), 20% of those players have been named to at least one Pro Bowl. Players like running back Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings and left tackle Joe Thomas of the Cleveland Browns come to mind as other players named to the Pro Bowl as rookies.

For the years of 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, and 2004, that number increases dramatically. Of the 50 players selected in the top ten positions of their respective drafts during that timeframe, 28 of them (56%) have gone on to be named Pro Bowlers. That means that more than half of the players selected as top ten picks have developed into being considered the best players in their position.

Talent does not know age. Since 2000, approximately 40% of all the players selected as top ten picks have been named to the Pro Bowl (and that number INCLUDES the 2008 rookie class), which is proof of the very high caliber of talent coming from those selections. Since those players have a very strong likelihood of being classified as ‘best in position’ they deserve the same right to negotiate contracts as any “tenured” player in the league. Any move by the league to restrict a rookie’s salary would essentially classify them as sub-standard players until they “prove” themselves, DESPITE historical evidence which indicates otherwise.

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One Response to The NFL Rookie Pay Scale Debate – “Tell Them What You Are Going To Do In The Future”

  1. Loyal Homer says:

    JaMarcus Russell and Brady Quinn are examples of why there should be a pay scale…for different reasons. At this point, can we call Russell a bust? Maybe not yet, but the time is approaching. Either way, he’s going to make more in his first contract than some accomplished NFL players have made in their ENTIRE careers. Quinn held out for financial reasons, and thus he has been behind the eight ball ever since. If Quinn had made it to camp on time with his contract settled, maybe he is named the starter and maybe the Browns perform better and maybe Romeo Crennel still is the head coach and so on and so on

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