Time For a Rookie Cap?
Roger Goodell (AP Photo)
Roger Goodell (AP Photo)
Editor-in-Chief
Posted Jul 29, 2009
Charlie Bernstein


Five teams have already opened their training camps and as of today, just four first-round draft picks out of 32 have been signed to contracts. Last season, the Jacksonville Jaguars were the last team to ink its draft class, as eighth overall pick Derrick Harvey couldn’t agree to terms with the team until camp was nearly over.

The reason Harvey and Jacksonville were at an impasse for so long was because the Jaguars felt that teams that selected in front of them paid “too much” to their top draft picks, which forced Harvey and his agent’s price to be higher than the team expected, due to the slotting system that every franchise uses. In the current system, teams simply wait until seemingly the final moments prior to the start of camp to begin negotiations, and then craft their deals around what the teams directly above and below them in the draft order paid. This system has not only led to holdouts, but the top pick in the draft to get more guaranteed money than proven stars in their prime.

"There's something wrong about the system," Commissioner Roger Goodell said. "The money should go to people who perform."

Last season, former Boston College and current Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan signed a rookie record six-year, $72 million deal, with roughly $27.3 million guaranteed. Those numbers pale in comparison to 2009 first overall pick Matt Stafford’s guaranteed money which totals nearly $42 million.

"He doesn't have to play a down in the NFL and he already has his money," Goodell exclaimed. "Now, with the economics where they are, the consequences if you don't evaluate that player, you can lose a significant amount of money.

"And that money is not going to players that are performing. It's going to a player that never makes it in the NFL. And I think that's ridiculous."

What makes the rising rookie salaries a problem throughout the league is the fact that unproven players are not only earning more than proven veterans, but they are effectively pushing these older players out of league as teams have to stay within their salary cap. A few other issues with these astronomical first-year contracts are the weighted expectations that are on the young players and the inevitable contract holdouts during the summer, which tend to cause rifts between fans and the athletes.

With so much of team’s salary caps going toward their rookie classes, namely their early, first day draft picks, it is that much more important for these young players to make immediate impacts and that becomes nearly impossible with contract holdouts. A rookie salary cap would end holdouts and players would be able to get into camp in time and be in the best position to succeed. In addition, players would be able to prove their worth to teams to justify the enormous contracts they have been receiving.

If there was a rookie salary structure or scale, it is likely that there wouldn’t be 84 draft picks unsigned just days before the entire league went to camp. If a rookie pay scale existed, perhaps teams wouldn’t treat the idea of owning the top pick in the draft like it was a curse?



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