The Risky Draft Declaration Debate… Reward Outweighs Risk

Read the opposing argument from Bleacher Fan.

Last Saturday was the deadline for underclassmen to declare for the NFL Draft. As usual, the list contains names of future stars in the NFL. While some decided to chase fortune and glory immediately, others – notably Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck – chose to return to college. What makes things interesting this year is the extremely unstable NFL labor situation that is quickly arising, and it certainly has all of us fretting over what our fall Sundays would be like without football. Nonetheless, it is a very real possibility, and that possibility is at the core of our debate today. What are the chances (or likelihood) of a lockout making it risky for all the underclassmen to go ahead and declare? But, you know what? I say it’s worth the risk.

It does appear that no single player is going to get guaranteed money like players of recent drafts. The translation is for the high draft picks not to expect to get Sam Bradford or Matthew Stafford money, with signing bonuses approaching $50M in guaranteed money. For the record, I think that’s a good thing and certainly hope that is a part of the new collective bargaining agreement. Who knows what a so-called rookie pay scale will be (similar to what the NBA currently has in place), but we do know it’ll be much more than what you’d make by playing another year in college. [Insert Cecil Newton jokes here]. Many are saying that it’s too risky financially. Please tell me why.

The NFL still plans on holding its draft on April 28 at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. That means we’ll still get to hear obnoxious Jets fans scream and yell when their team picks. These draft picks will eventually be able to sign their contracts. Underclassmen like Da’Quan Bowers and A.J. Green will be drafted and will eventually sign their rookie contracts. You can bet their agents will find a way to make sure they don’t go hungry, even through endorsements, autograph opportunities, or cash advances. These are all things that couldn’t be done if the kids were still lacing them up on Saturdays.

The same rookie pay scale that is likely going to be in place for the 2011 NFL season will be in place for next year’s crop of rookies also. So, the way I look at it is, this year’s guys are getting a head start. They are getting that rookie year out of the way, collecting that check, and perhaps more importantly, getting a year closer to that first free agent contract.

Then there’s always the risk that you either have an unproductive senior year or have an injury to curtail those NFL hopes and dreams. This time last year, it was almost a given that Jake Locker was going to be the top quarterback in this year’s draft, much the same way we are looking at Luck in regards to next year’s draft. Well, what happened? An up and down 2010 campaign for Locker cast serious doubt on his ability to play at the next level. Now he’s certain to be drafted behind underclassmen like Blaine Gabbert and Ryan Mallet. He essentially lost MILLIONS by returning to school and getting that degree.

It’s a cliché, but I am going to write it anyway. There’s risk in everything you do. But these guys have long had the dream of playing in the NFL and couldn’t pass up the opportunity. Many of the guys come from urban areas where they didn’t have much growing up and felt like they couldn’t pass up the big pay day. Now, they have to believe that the NFL labor situation will be resolved soon and they will become professional football players with bigger bank accounts. The reward certainly outweighs the risk in this situation.

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