Of all the things that the NFL was arguing about with the players during the lockout, I figured the rookie pay scale was one of the least controversial. You wouldn’t know that to be the case the way it was reported so breathlessly yesterday throughout the sports media universe. Maybe that speaks more to the NFL media being extra desperate for anything meaningful to write about more than it does to the issue of the rookie pay scale. Regardless, though, I am ready to celebrate this one even if it comes far too late for the Cleveland Browns.
Can you imagine for just a second what the Browns could have gotten from the New York Jets when they traded the pick that turned out to be Mark Sanchez if the Jets didn’t have to fork over $28 million guaranteed and as much as about $50 million overall in contract dollars before he ever took his first NFL snap? Sure, all indications are that the Jets are more than satisfied, but you just never know when the next Jamarcus Russell ($32 million guaranteed for 31 career games) for will reveal himself.
The Browns demanded a pretty hefty ransom from Atlanta this year to trade down as well. Even that deal was made before it was known what kind of rookie pay system they would be working with to compensate Julio Jones. Had they known it would be this new system, maybe the pick would have been worth more than what they got.
Then again, maybe not. The new system will hopefully save teams from having to pay the next Jamarcus, but it also will keep them from reaping the benefits of those bargain players who drastically outperform their draft stock.
According to Doug Farrar at Yahoo! the new system could look something like this. Drafted players will probably be able to renegotiate their contracts based on performance after three seasons. Undrafted players would be allowed to do so after two seasons. This will help the Antonio Gates’ of the world who had to renegotiate under the threat of holdout after parlaying NCAA basketball success into a sensational tight end career in San Diego.
Let’s look at Peyton Hillis for example. Peyton Hillis was drafted in the 7th round 227th overall. Hillis is scheduled to make $555,000 this season in the fourth year of his rookie deal under the old rules. Assuming the new rules that Farrar reports come true, that means Hillis will be able to renegotiate before this season starts. Because it will be a part of the rules, it also won’t require him to “hold out” unless they just can’t finish negotiations on time.
Ultimately, that is where this deal works out best for everyone from the players, to the teams and fans. One of the most frustrating parts of the game for fans and owners is the process of hold outs with rookies and players who have outperformed their deals. The contracts in the NFL aren’t guaranteed, so owners can cut players when they underperform a deal. It is about time that the methods for a good player to get paid more are built into the game’s rules.
It all starts with the rookie wage scale. By slotting rookies and taking the guess work out of negotiations, it should drastically boost the efficiency of getting players on contracts. All the money that is saved on guys like Jamarcus Russell will be used on players like Antonio Gates, Peyton Hillis and Josh Cribbs who have shown on the actual field of play that they deserve it. As long as the players are guaranteed their “cut” of the overall pool, they should be all for boosting the efficiency and accuracy with how the money gets doled out.
We already know that it works out better for owners and fans who won’t have to deal with the controversy of holdouts while seeing gaudy cap numbers on players who aren’t helping the team.