Jacksonville Jaguars Among NFL Franchises Longing for Rookie Salary Cap

Tim McClellanCorrespondent IJune 30, 2009

It is the season where young men coming from the college ranks will discover new wealth at the professional level. 

With nine draft picks to sign, the Jacksonville Jaguars are going to be making a significant impact on the lives of many families.

This is the culmination of a lifetime of hard work and dedication to a sport that can both financially reward players heavily and destroy them physically. 

With news that the Jaguars closed a deal yesterday with their sixth-round draft pick, Zach Miller, discussions should start to heat up with the remaining players waiting for their moment in the sun.

The contract signifies their arrival as a professional athlete.

Realistically, not every player is going to put pen to paper on a blockbuster deal that will give them life-changing financial freedom or generational wealth.

In fact, the average NFL salary in 2009 is a little more than $750,000, and the average for rookies entering the league hovers around $400,000 annually.

It is not bad coin if you can make it, and for the late-round draft picks like Miller, these deals amount to significantly more than they would probably make leaving college with their degrees in basket weaving or physical education.

The NFL has become a gravy train for many athletes with enough skills to latch on with a team. Each year it seems as if rookies coming into the league are setting new standards for compensation, while veterans who have been producing sit back and watch these unproven entities cash in.

As the league and the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) attempt to hammer out a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) to avoid sheer chaos for a league that has enjoyed relative calm on the labor front over the past two decades, one of the major issues of contention is a rookie salary cap similar to what the National Basketball Association currently employs.

Equitable distribution of the salary cap would normally dictate that established players in the league would be more highly compensated than rookies just entering the NFL.

This scenario does eventually play itself out as veterans renegotiate their deals, but not before rookies get the advantage and establish the new bar.

Salaries border on the ridiculous, but under the current CBA, the league owners are obligated to designate 60 percent of league profits to the current salary cap.

Agents and players have taken this as an opportunity to cash in on the influx of cash, starting with the rookies and then trickling down to the veteran players.

Each year the salary cap expands significantly. Because there is currently no rookie salary, teams are annually raked over the coals by agents leveraging their draft picks to squeeze every penny possible out of the owners.

Something has to give.

Small market franchises are being pressured to keep up with big market teams. Rookie contracts continue to skyrocket, and with them the guaranteed money associated with these deals rises to the point where a $30 million signing bonus is not unheard of for rookies taken in the first round.

The lack of a rookie salary cap forces teams to spend an inordinate amount of energy negotiating these contracts.

In many instances, the negotiations drag on for weeks or even months. Players wind up missing valuable development time by holding out until a deal is reached. 

The Jaguars dealt with this last season with their first-round draft pick. Derrick Harvey held out and missed training camp completely as he waited for finalization of his contract.

In the end, the Jaguars got the deal that they were sticking with, but Harvey missed training camp entirely and consequentially struggled to get up to speed. By the end of the season, he was starting to catch up.

In a league where expectations are almost instantaneous, having a player miss weeks of preparation for the upcoming season can be catastrophic to a team.

By implementing a rookie salary cap, the parties would be able to slot the draft picks and establish the compensation level for each spot. No negotiation would be necessary.

Players would know exactly what they were going to receive contractually the moment they were selected.

In turn, teams would be better equipped to deal with veteran contract discussions, and players would be in a position to fully participate in all training camp activities.

The NFLPA has resisted the suggestion of putting a rookie cap in place for obvious reasons. As they market themselves, they can use the ever-increasing salaries of rookies coming into the league to show that they are serving the better interest of the players.

In reality, they are driving the league into a crisis situation as teams struggle to keep up with the salary demands.

With the prospect of an uncapped season in 2010, the league, the owners, and the NFLPA should all be working together to develop a new CBA. Any new agreement must take into account that untested rookies should have their salaries predetermined based upon where they are selected in the draft.

It would take away some of the power that agents have over the league currently, and it will diminish the influence that the NFLPA has as well. However, it will assure that the league can survive fiscally for the long haul.

All parties will need to make concessions in order to assure the viability of the NFL.


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