The NFLPA—or the artist formerly known as the NFLPA—recently organized "The Business of Football: Rookie Edition" for the incoming class of players. Both Roger Goodell and DeMaurice Smith, dressed like dutiful sideline dads, showed up to make the affair bipartisan. Plaxico Burress spoke candidly about his time in jail; most of the sessions focused on personal responsibility and how best to capitalize on their “money-maker,” their bodies.
The program is a great idea. Especially when you consider rising veteran voices like DeSean Jackson are setting suspect examples by advertising insane $10,000 bar tabs on Twitter.
More importantly, these rookies are also treading on unsure territory with respect to their salaries. The NFL and NFLPA are still negotiating how exactly the pay scale for new players is going to work out.
It should go completely.
Analogize with me. Think of a major business like McKinsey or Morgan Stanley. Would they institute a framework that sets an unbreakable scale of salaries for their top hiring choices out of college? Not a chance. Sure, they have “starting salaries” like most companies do, but if someone is clearly a top-flight candidate, they’ll bump that up; if someone has some asterisks but they still want to give them a chance, they may pay a little less. Essentially, they compensate people what they think they’ll be worth to their business. End of story.
The NFL should work the same way. Regardless of their performance the last two years, that Sam Bradford and Matt Stafford were guaranteed $91 million before they ever took an NFL snap is completely insane.
A rookie pay scale operates under two incorrect and illogical assumptions:
1. That the same “level” of talent is coming out of college each year.
Super-duper agent Tom Condon was recently quoted as putting the blame for big contracts for bad players on the teams (not the way he props his clients up by distorting their media coverage).
"At the top of the draft," he said. "You're not supposed to miss on those picks."
Saying a team “missed” on a pick implies that there was gold to be found elsewhere. Anyone paying attention knows that each draft has variable levels of talent. The Raiders desperately needed a quarterback in 2007. They took JaMarcus Russell (a Condon client). Did they “miss”?
In a sense, sure. Russell is a terrible quarterback. But Oakland's other options were Brady Quinn, Kevin Kolb, John Beck, Drew Stanton, Trent Edwards, Isaiah Stanback, Jeff Rowe, Troy Smith, Jordan Palmer and Tyler Thigpen. The 2007 draft was a bad year for quarterbacks. Why should the Raiders have been obligated to pay the “least bad” option a huge sum of money ($32 million guaranteed)?
2. Because you were picked at a higher slot in the draft, you deserve more money than the next guy.
Players should only be paid based on the value they bring to their team, not the order in which they were selected.
Cam Newton doesn’t deserve a bigger payday just because the Panthers needed a quarterback more than outside linebacker (Von Miller, No. 2 pick), defensive tackle (Marcell Dareus, No. 3), wide receiver (AJ Green, No. 4) and defensive back (my man crush, Patrick Peterson, No. 5). That Carolina happened to be the most terrible team last year shouldn’t guarantee Newton any money because he fit into their biggest need.
At first pass, one might wonder why veteran players would support a rookie pay scale; the newcomers are taking more slices of their pie. Some players have switched sides on the issue, but outlandish rookie contracts boost their own bargaining positions. Free agents can come back to the negotiating table, point at these youngsters making all this money and stick their hand out for a serious multiplier.
The NFLPA has already conceded that they’re will to pare back, but this is a system that needs to go completely. Teams should pay a rookie exactly what they think he’s worth to their team—nothing more, nothing less. Proponents then may cry, “Well then teams would just pay them fifty cents because they own their draft rights!”
This wouldn’t happen.
For one, that player would just wait a year until the draft rights expire and another team could offer him a better contract. Any decent college talent could easily find a job with the UFL or EFL for a season. Secondly, if that player did take that lowly contract, he’d be on the first train out of town when he became a free agent. No one likes being disrespected. Teams would pay rookies what they’re worth to them—nothing more, nothing less. Exactly as the system should work.
The Players Union has fought for a lot of worthy causes in this battle: better health care, a better cut of the massive advertising pie that they generate. But the rookie pay scale is not one of them. It needs to go completely.