It's Just Bad Business - NFL Rookie Contracts

The Ace ReportCorrespondent IMay 15, 2008

NFL Draft - Jake Long, originally uploaded by Form Digital.

Imagine the following scene:

A top corporation with billions of dollars in revenue, a significantly bright future in terms of market stability, and a well-known brand name is in need of an entry level manager for one of their sub-brands. The position would guarantee an influence on the overall vision for the corporation, and a solid position for upward mobility.

The hiring committee settles on a candidate, one with a great upside, and mold-able talent. Before the candidate sets foot in his/her new office, he is offered an executive salary, comprehensive benefits better than those of his superiors, and stock options outnumbering all but those on the board-of-directors.

In the normal business world, a scenario like this would be met with government inquiries, accusation of insider treatment, and numerous front pages in the Wall Street Journal. It would be taboo, and as such, it is never seen.

Yet, take a look at the National Football League (NFL), and one is met with a school of economics that would make John Stuart Mill roll over in his grave. Last month, Jake Long signed with the Miami Dolphins as the first pick in the 2008 NFL Draft. His contract covered five years and $57.5 million, making him the highest paid offensive lineman in the league.

Jake Long has yet to play a single snap of official NFL football.

The structure for rookie contracts in the NFL is that of an upward spiral. Last year, JaMarcus Russell signed with the Oakland Raiders under a six-year $61 million deal, with $29 million guaranteed. This would suggest that if Russell turned out to be a bust, like Ryan Leaf a few years back, and was released, he would still be paid that $29 million.

Every year, the top picks in the draft expect to be paid more than those of the previous year. To this point, their demands have been met, despite being paid these grand sums on the ’science’ of speculation. Collegiate success is no true barometer for professional success. There are many cases where the two coalesce, but most of the time, the two are mutually exclusive.

This has veterans in the NFL more than a little discouraged. While NFL owners are shelling out supersized checks to unproven rookies, star veterans are up a creek without a paddle for no other reason than they started playing a few years prior. There have been numerous cases where rookies were required, as an act of initiation into their new squad, to purchase gifts from a veteran’s wish list.

Clearly, there is a significant disparity in wages of players in the NFL. In any other business, there would be an outcry for egalitarian measures, where salaries would become more appropriate to some calculation of talent, production, and value.

This is certainly the case in the NBA, where David Stern fought a long battle in the 1990s to obtain a rookie-contract limit. This means that although Chris Paul has been a force throughout the playoffs, he is still earning less than nearly every name on the backs of the jerseys he faces. If he continues to produce in this manner, he will certainly sign a superstar deal when his current contract ends. But not a minute sooner…

This is the path the NFL and Roger Goodell must take. NFL team owners have the cash to throw around, but the main issue is the disparity between those players who have proven to their teams and fans their value and the rookies who are simply paid on hype and speculation.

Fairness is lauded throughout all of sport, and this is a case that deserves a series of discussions, meetings, and inquiries until such equality is achieved. It’s necessitated everywhere else, so why does the NFLPA think it’s exempt?


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