NFL: How a Rookie Wage Scale Would Alter the Top of the NFL Draft

Nick SignorelliSenior Writer IOctober 1, 2010

18 Apr 1998:  Quarterback Peyton Manning displays an Indianapolis Colts jersey during the NFL draft at Madison Square Garden in New York City, New York. Mandatory Credit: Ezra O. Shaw  /Allsport
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The NFL Draft dates back to the beginning of the NFL, in 1930. It was not until TV and the Internet boomed in the 1990's, that the Draft became as much of an event as a regular season game. The NFL Draft, altered this year for the first time in history, went head to head with the NBA Playoffs, and the NFL Draft had higher ratings.

As the NFL Draft goes, the team with the worst record in football the previous season, would select the first player, the second worse would select the the second, and so on down the line.

In the early days of the TV coverage of the Draft, it was the first choices that would have the instant ability to upgrade their roster, by selecting the best player from college football.

It was in 1998, when the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), was restructured that the chips started falling. Since that time, they have been out of control.

The Indianapolis Colts selected Peyton Manning with the first pick in the 1998 NFL Draft. There was much debate over who the Colts would select, having to choose between Manning, and Ryan Leaf (I know looking back it is hard to imagine this being a tough decision, but at the time, it was).

After selecting Manning, the Colts made him the highest paid rookie ever, with a contract of $48 million, over six years. The first player selected in the 1997 NFL Draft was Orlando Pace, of the St. Louis Rams. His contract was for seven years, and $25.6 million.


The amazing jump between Manning over pace had something to do with the position that was being paid, but that would not stop the agents for the future players taken first (and subsequently in the top 10 afterwards) to demand more money, based on cost of living and inflation.

Over the course of the last 12 years, the contracts that have been paid to the players selected at the top of the draft, rivaled the contract that proved Super Stars were making.

Example, Sam Bradford, who was selected with the first pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, received a contract for six years, and $78 million, with $50 million guaranteed.

At the time, that was more money than Super Bowl MVP Drew Brees, legend in the making, Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, and even Peyton Manning had guaranteed in their contracts.

The biggest difference? Bradford had yet to take an NFL snap, while Brees, Brady, Roethlisberger, and Manning were the starters for the Super Bowl Champions for most of the last decade.

That has been the biggest issue with the NFL over the last few years. Teams with the worst record in football, who would receive the top pick in the Draft, would be saddled with the financial demands of the selection that they would have to make.

In the cases where a player was selected, and actually played well enough to become the full time starter, and lead his team out of selecting at the top of the Draft, it was not such a bad deal.


For other clubs, that selected players that became an instant bust, (Oakland Raiders - JaMarcus Russel), it would only hurt the team that much more. Having to pay a player that in some cases was no longer even on the roster, and having to draft at the top of the draft, would prevent the team from coming out of the top of the draft, and forcing them to be financially strapped, and not be able to improve their team.

In the 1990's, Jimmy Johnson, of the Dallas Cowboys at the time, devised a "Trade Chart", that many teams used to value each of the picks in the draft. It was used to base what the value of each pick was, from the first pick in the draft (3000), all the way thru the seventh round. Pick 15 was worth 1,050, and the last pick in the first round was valued at 550 points.

With the amount of money that was going to have to be paid to the top picks, other teams wanted to stay away from trading for those picks, realizing that they could take a comparable player in the middle of the draft, and be able to save themselves tens of millions of dollars.

With this being the final year of the current CBA, most people believed that the NFL will insist that there be a set rookie salary pool, and these insane amounts of money being paid to unproven rookies will come to a halt.

It is in the best interest of everyone involved, on the fact that proven veterans will be able to make some of that money that the rookies would have gotten in years past. Even though the NFL Players Association is acting as if they are not interested in a rookie salary cap, everyone believes that it is a ploy, simply to negotiate some other point they want.


What will happen with a rookie wage system, teams will again be interested in trading into the top ten of the NFL Draft to get those players that they believe will make their teams instantly better. Teams that are drafting in the middle and end of the first round, will be willing to trade numerous pick and players to be able to select the better players in that years draft.

Teams that finish as the worst teams in football, will have the option to trade out of those early selections, and acquire multiple players and picks, so that they can rebuild their team, and become competitive.

Which is really what the NFL wants, parity. The better all of the clubs do as a whole, the better it will be for the league.

They say that a chain is only as strong as it's weakest link. This way, the weak links will have a chance to strengthen themselves, without having to risk the financial future of the team.