The League

Dan Levy
Sports Media Guru

Dan Levy

The host of On the DL with new episodes every weekday.

Rookie Salary Cap Needed


Nothing is guaranteed in the NFL except the signing bonus. After that, players are basically on a year-to-year contract. The only protection a player has against being cut is the 'cap hit' a team would take by cutting them.

I'm not going to pretend to know how the salary cap works in the NFL other than to say that if a guy like Jake Delhomme gets a five-year contract worth $42.5 million dollars and gets $20 million of that as a 'signing bonus' that money can be spread out over the length of the deal, but somehow doesn't affect the cap in the same way as paying him $8.5 million per year.

Yes, the Panthers just gave their quarterback $42.5 million bucks, including $20 million in guarantees and somehow SAVED money this year. Maybe this is the problem with our financial system right now.

See, the NFL only cares about the Cap Number. Teams don't care about making or losing money, just what amount of quality they can cram under their cap. So giving Delhomme way more money than he's worth as a quarterback -- and one who will be 39 years old if his contract is fulfilled to the end -- doesn't matter to the Panthers. They'll just renegotiate the deal at a later time, throw more upfront money at Delhomme and move on. Because in 2009, Delhomme was going to cost $11 million against the cap, and being able to spread out the $20 million in guarantees over five years (only $4 million per year) with a lower base salary for $2009, in theory, the Panthers are saving money.

Frankly, it's insane logic. I'll gladly pay you $20 million Tuesday for a hamburger today.

But that's how the NFL works the system. And new players fall into that system. If a team is willing to pick a player in the first round of the draft, they expect that player to be an immediate starter and an impact player. That's what we've been told, and for the most part, that seems to be the case.

A player drafted at the top of the board sets the trend of money given to every player below them in the draft. For example, if the first pick in this year's draft can negotiate $50 million dollars a year, that becomes the new standard. Player two would ask for $50 million minus X and so on. And next year, the first pick would ask for a 10% raise.

The entire structure needs to be re-evaluated. Rookies should indeed be capped at a certain level like the NBA does. But the NBA is able to continue that structure for all players. It's too hard in the NFL to do that because too much is based on the importance of a position and the longevity of a player based on the positions he plays. If raises were based on terms of service, the threshold for a running back to fully vest would have to be half that of someone on the offensive line blocking for him. It just wouldn't work.

So what would work? Separate the rookie contract from all other contracts. Have two separate salary caps for each team. Consider the rookie contract the baby teeth of football negotiations. Once they fall out, the new teeth -- or in this case the new contracts -- have room to grow.

Make the rookie salary limitations two years. If a team's 2009 salary cap is $120 million dollars, that spreads out to $2.26 million per player on the roster.

Take that number in half and multiply it by the number of rounds in the draft. Each team is given one pick in each round every year. Some teams trade for more picks. Some teams give away picks. But each team is given one pick. That would total seven picks each year. Add in two picks for compensation of free agency and other supplemental reasons and that rookie cap number would be somewhere around $10 million dollars. Ten million bucks to sign your draft picks. And the other $110 would be used for the rest of the roster.

Once a player finishes out their two year contract they become a restricted free agent, and teams will get a compensatory pick based on how much the player signs for with another team. If he's paid in the top 10 of his position in the league after just two years, the team losing that player would get the team signing the player's first round pick. And so on. If a team wants to re-sign a player before his two year contract is up, they can do so, but that money immediately comes from the veteran player cap. Immediately.

This way a player has to work hard his first two years to earn real money, like drafted players have to do in every other sport. The money will be there in two years. And teams won't be so upset to have a top five draft choice.

By Dan Levy  |  April 24, 2009; 12:57 PM ET  | Category:  Dan Levy , Draft Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

each year, the #1 salary goes up, and up, and some point, somebody is going to say "no" and go to plan b...its absurd to pay these guys this kind of money for ZERO experience simply because of the position in the draft. Stafford may be the greatest since Peyton Manning, but might not, and still is getting the same kind of money...doesn't make sense.

Posted by: outrbnksm | April 25, 2009 10:58 AM

Just wait until TARP gets its hands on the NFL - then all of the fat-cat NFL "player executives" will become the scourge of public ire and be forced to forfeit their bounties either voluntarily or through punitive excise taxes.

Posted by: Gauis | April 25, 2009 11:50 AM

Caps should be installed, drafted 1st should be set fee,Etc.Etc

Tired of seeing the premadones, never played a down in pro ball demanding and holding out for bigger & Bigger salaries & Bonuses. Make them-prove their worth before demanding bigger pay. If they are any good the sky is the limit

Posted by: myword | April 25, 2009 2:05 PM

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