NFL Rookie Salary Cap 2014: Explaining Pay Scale, Rules and Minimum Contracts

R. Cory Smith@@RCorySmithSenior Writer IMay 9, 2014

Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel reacts after being selected by the Cleveland Browns as the 22nd pick in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft, Thursday, May 8, 2014, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

While the 2014 NFL draft has been one of the most intriguing in years, it is extremely similar to the last few years in one respect—the pay for prospects in the first round.

Years ago, NFL rookies had a wide-open pay scale to work with, making the first-overall pick more coveted than it is now. Under the new rules in the NFL draft, players at the top of the board earn contracts for four years, estimated at just over $24 million, per Over the Cap estimates.

That number has changed drastically from years prior.

Here's a look at the last three players taken before the pay scale was implemented:

First Overall Picks (2008-2010)
2008Jake LongMiami DolphinsFive years, $57.75 million
2009Matthew StaffordDetroit LionsSix years, $72 million
2010Sam BradfordSt. Louis RamsSix years, $78 million

Outside of the numbers, the rookie salary cap also changed the way the rules work for prospects in the class.

Every player in the draft is awarded a four-year contract, but that changes slightly in the opening round. For every first-round selection, the player is also given a fifth-year option, making the pick more valuable for the franchise.

Let's use Jake Locker as an example. After the Tennessee Titans selected the signal-caller at eighth overall in the 2011 draft, the team had the option of keeping him around for a fifth-year if he was successful.

The Titans chose not to pick up the option on Locker, according to Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean, putting pressure on him to perform this coming season. Locker spoke about the pressure placed on players in the fifth year to earn a new contract, per Wyatt:

It is probably fair to say that every year for most guys. This league is so much, 'What have you done for me lately?' If you don't have that approach going into the season, it is not going to work out the way you want it to. You are always competing for your job and I am not going to change that.

This also explains another situation late in this year's draft. By trading up into the first round to pick Teddy Bridgewater, the Minnesota Vikings can evaluate him potentially for five years, as Ian Rapoport of notes:

Though players that drop to the late rounds might seem like charity cases to fans, they are far from it. The minimum pay scale for a player in the seventh round is set at $2,270,496 over four years.

Of course, the player has to stay with the team to earn that money, as the first-year salary is set at $50,496. Given the fact that the last player is named "Mr. Irrelevant," simply sticking with the team can pay off in a huge way.

While the rookie salary cap can be confusing, it has cut back on things like rookie holdouts. It has also made players earn contracts through play in the NFL, rather than off merits in college football.


Follow R. Cory Smith on Twitter: