Now more than ever, rookies in the National Football League are overpaid.
Times have certainly changed over the past few decades, as athletes in all sports have been earning more and more dollars, but this is especially true for first-year players.
Players highly touted out of college seek agents to help get them the most money possible, and if a certain offer isn’t thrown out on the table, then a player may have a strong intention to hold out, a la Michael Crabtree or JaMarcus Russell.
Every player wants to “get their money’s worth,” and rookie salaries in the NFL have skyrocketed to copious amounts in the past few years especially. As Yahoo! Sports columnist Dan Wetzel pointed out before the 2007 NFL Draft, NFL rookies differ from those in other leagues because they get to negotiate their initial contracts, whereas rookies in other leagues, like the NBA for example, are offered salaries in predetermined ranges.
A couple of examples of this being true occurred in the past two years.
Jake Long, the first overall pick of the 2008 NFL Draft, received a five-year deal worth $57.5 million ($30 million guaranteed) from the Miami Dolphins, immediately making him the highest paid offensive lineman in the league before playing a single professional snap.
Matthew Stafford was taken first overall by the Detroit Lions in the 2009 draft, receiving a six-year, $41.7 million (guaranteed) deal that could be worth $78 million if he achieves all of his playing incentives.
The NFL has become notorious for shelling out more and more money for the higher draft picks, making it almost inconceivable that the salary for the first overall pick will hit jaw-dropping numbers five to 10 years down the line. Stafford topped Long’s monster contract a year later, and it will most likely continue.
While current NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is on record as saying rookie salaries are “ridiculous,” it is most shocking because these players are earning more than seasoned veterans, and yet haven’t played a single down.
Economists Cade Massey and Richard H. Thaler conducted a 2005 study called "The Loser’s Curse," in which they compared salaries of NFL rookies as opposed to six-year veterans. The study found that teams usually end up paying too much for draft picks because of overconfidence and reasoning, which leads them to believe that such players have higher potential to be successful than players who have had tenure in the league.
For veteran players, this type of treatment seems unfair, and in most cases it is. Many football players have to play numerous years to achieve the type of salaries that some first-round draft picks achieve before even playing a game.
“As a guy who has been in the league for 14, now going on 15, years and being around other veteran guys, for a young guy to get paid that kind of money and never steps foot on a NFL football field, it’s a little disheartening to think of,” said Kevin Mawae, center for the Tennessee Titans and president of the NFL Players Association.
Something needs to be done about these unnecessarily high salaries. It’s possible for some rookies to come in and make a difference in their first year and eventually become a Hall of Fame-caliber player, just as Peyton Manning has done, but the odds of most players achieving such status are not in their or their franchise’s favor. Veterans have put in years of time and have proven their contributions on the field.
The NFL needs to examine rookie finances and stop setting a precedent in which it is alright to award players just for high draft status and potential achievements.
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