In the 2009 offseason, Albert Haynesworth and Nnamdi Asomugha, the top defensive tackle and cornerback in football, were set to become free agents.
Being the very best at their respective positions naturally meant they were about to be paid.
Asomugha walked away with a new 3-year, $45 million deal, with over $30 million guaranteed, while Haynesworth scored a 6-year deal worth over $100 million and more than $40 million guaranteed.
Asomugha's teammate JaMarcus Russell, received a six-year deal with $30 million guaranteed just two years earlier after being drafted number one overall. Russell went on to become perhaps one of the biggest busts in NFL history and still pocketed $39 million along the way.
In this year's draft, quarterback Sam Bradford was chosen first overall by the Rams. The NFL world held its breath, waiting to see what kind of deal Bradford was going to land. Rumors had Bradford's deal approaching the $45 million guaranteed range.
A player who had yet to step onto an NFL field was about to sign a contract worth more money than the contract signed by an All-Pro veteran like Haynesworth.
On July 30th, Bradford inked a deal worth a maximum of $86 million with over $50 million guaranteed. He's averaging almost as much as Asomugha is per year.
Asomugha has been an All-Pro three times. He is a two time Pro Bowler, one time alternate Pro Bowler, and has been considered the premiere cornerback in the league for nearly three years. Asomugha, 28, is one of only two true shutdown corners in the league (the other being the Jets' Darrelle Revis) and is the top paid corner in history. He's earning every penny with his play on the field and charitable work off it.
The Rams' Bradford is now about to make as much money as Asomugha, simply because he was the best quarterback in the draft and the Rams needed one. Fortunately for Bradford, they picked at the top of the draft.
When will these outrageous rookie contracts stop?
A player who has never been a in a professional locker room, or on a professional field, does not deserve to be paid solely on potential. Nor should an unproven NFL player be the recipient of a big rookie contract because of the desperation of a losing franchise forced to pick at the top of the draft.
Agents have driven the prices of these players up, demanding an increase over the previous year's top pick. They have driven the contracts to the point of absurdity.
The teams making the selection have no leverage either because, as the reasoning goes, the player they are picking is supposed to hep turn around their fortunes. The agents know this and use it to raise their players' salaries.
For perspective, Peyton Manning has made close to $150 million in his twelve-year career through contracts and endorsement deals. Manning is considered a shoo-in for the NFL Hall of Fame and there is talk that he will go down as the greatest quarterback of all time when he retires.
Bradford, now at his first NFL training camp, will make more than half of that in half of the time.
But Bradford's career has just started and he may live up to his lofty contract. It's unlikely he will be another Peyton Manning. But if he's only moderately successful, he will be viewed as a worthy pick.
Rookies no older than 23 years old are given tens of millions of dollars but proven NFL veterans are forced to negotiate. For proof that the NFL needs to come up with some sort of rookie wage scale, look no further than the Raiders' Russell.
Russell has had a horrific career with rumors of uncontrollable weight problems, poor work ethic, lack of leadership and dedication, drug problems and his obvious terrible play on the field. Russell may be the one to have finally climbed ahead of Ryan Leaf to take his place as the biggest bust in history. Russell was paid nearly $40 million for his efforts. All because Russell was the first pick in the draft.
Instead of guaranteeing millions of dollars to a college player, rookie contracts should be incentive-laden.
These rookies should have to work for their money. Once they receive that big pay day, what is their motivation?
If they don't have the drive to become the best, there is nothing to play for and the team and fans pay the price.
The fans are the ones that have to pay these ridiculous salaries by going to the games and paying outrageous prices for parking and concessions. Why should their hard-earned money go into the pockets of a young man who has yet to do anything?
Until the practice of paying a kid who has yet to prove himself on the field is reversed, it will only get worse. It was only six years ago that Eli Manning, Peyton's brother, was chosen first overall. He received a six-year $35 million deal with $20 million guaranteed. Now Bradford is set to make more than twice that.
If the NFL doesn't realize that something must change, someone needs to speak up. Fans and NFL veterans need to take a stand against this broken system.
Something has to be done to ensure that players such as Asomugha, Manning, and other lesser-known players are compensated for the work they have already done, and for ability they have already proven, not potential and draft status.
For every Peyton Manning, there are five JaMarcus Russells.
Why should the compensation be the same?