NFL

NFL Analysis: ProFootballTalk Gets it Wrong on Rookie Salary Caps

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There is one point in the upcoming NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement that both sides (almost) agree with--that top flight rookies make too much in guaranteed money.

Owners hate the way the top rookies sign because they are often investing in players who end up not being worth anywhere near what they paid for them.  One may look no further than 2007's #1 pick, JaMarcus Russell, who could, in theory, live pretty well on just the interest generated by the $32 million guaranteed of his rookie contract, despite the fact that he was, even in a historical context, an awful bust of a player.

Veteran players hate the fact that they see young kids who haven't played a snap taking dozens of millions of dollars out of the pool that could be paying for their next contract.  Two years ago, the late Gene Upshaw said that rookie contracts were great for veteran players, because they set a benchmark for what a veteran was worth.  Upshaw was wrong on that point, and I think a lot of players knew it was BS, but toed the line for the sake of uniformity.

Here's the thing that all sides know, that doesn't get talked about much--yeah, the top 10 or so picks get huge deals, but that scale slides down real fast (relatively).  Consider in 2010--#1 pick Sam Bradford got $60 million guaranteed;  #10 Tyson Alualu got $17.5 million guaranteed; #25 Tim Tebow got $8.7 million guaranteed; Charles Brown, the last pick of the second round, or the 64th best player available that year (in theory) got a 4-year deal worth $3.1 deal with $1.3 guaranteed.  If you graphed rookie's pay, it would look like a plateau that suddenly turns into an avalanche prone ski slope.

But that's kind of an aside--the main point is that both sides agree the rookie pay scale is out of whack.  It's easy to find examples of both sides complaining about it, and the necessity to change it.

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Here's NFL reporter Jason La Cafona, after last year's deals started rolling in:  "There is no doubt a tight rookie wage scale will be a component of the next CBA, one that redistributes more money to current veterans and former players than what is now funneled into first-round picks. It's one of very few areas where there is sustained common ground between the NFL and NFLPA. They can't yet agree on the precise mechanism to accomplish it, but there's a tacit feeling it will be done."

One of the biggest sticking points is that the NFLPA says, "Sure, smaller rookie contracts; less guaranteed money.  In return, how about shorter rookie contracts?"  Seems reasonable.  But the NFL Owners are not too pleased by that idea, as it sometimes takes a few years to realize what you have in a player.  And what if, they hypothesize, a guy starts showing something in that third year, and they have to decide whether to re-sign him before he's become totally proven, but after he's done well enough to garner interest from other teams?  "Tethered Swimming, owners," is what I would say, but you know, I'm not an owner.

But one of the biggest fights is where the money made available by not giving guys like JaMarcus Russell $32 million dollars to buy cheeseburgers stuffed with french fries (or so I imagine) should go.  Players think it should go to giving veterans a raise (probably middle of the road veterans--no one is worried that Bill Polian won't find the money to re-sign Peyton Manning).  And let's be reasonable here--most NFL veterans are middle of the road veterans.  For every Peyton Manning or Tom Brady, there's about a dozen Patrick Cobbses.  Owners think all that money saved on rookie contracts should go (get ready for a shock) back to them!  It could be part of that whole deal they say they need, that gives them an additional $1 billion dollars, per year, to absorb the costliness of making money one has to deal with owning an NFL franchise.

So, to sum up:  high pick rookies make too much money--everyone agrees on that.  The agreement is taken for gospel, and examples of that can be found here, here, and here.
Now that this story has been sufficiently set-up, what to make of this ProFootballTalk headline?:

Pro Bowl stats tend to support league's position on rookie wage scale

Writes author Mike Florio, "The league’s unspoken message (but for the presence of the phrase “money players” in the title to the blurb) is that the best players in the league are the proven, experienced players, and thus that they’re the ones who should be getting the money, not the first-year players who, despite the hype they generate, rarely become impact players in the first year of their careers."

Combining that paragraph with that headline would suggest that the NFLPA doesn't agree with that assertion.  Funny thing is--I've proven that they do.  And Mike Florio surely knows that.  Yes, the NFLPA's job is to look after both veterans and rookies, which is why before they would ever agree to a rookie salary cap, they'd also want Free Agency to start after three years, instead of four or five or six years.  That's reasonable.  That's a difference of opinion on how to get things done, not a rejection of the thesis.  It is an easy difference to delineate.

Rookies are overvalued.  Everyone knows that.  To claim that realization is the sole intellectual property of the owners is at best ignorant, and at worst, pretty damn dishonest.  And I don't think Mike Florio is ignorant.