The League

Doug Farrar
Writer

Doug Farrar

A FootballOutsiders.com staff writer

Wrong Year for First Pick

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The consensus seems to be that the 2009 draft class is stocked with talent that comes in just under the "elite" designation, but it's slim pickings when it comes to franchise-changing players. Every player in this draft, with the possible exception of Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry, has a question mark attached to his name. Georgia quarterback Matt Stafford has a cannon for an arm, but the accuracy is a concern. USC quarterback Mark Sanchez has only 16 college starts under his belt. Baylor tackle Jason Smith is a converted tight end with excellent agility but not quite enough bulk just yet. Virginia tackle Eugene Monroe's knee injuries may scare some teams off. Curry is the safest pick in this draft, but who wants to take a top-5 selection, and pay top-5 money, for a linebacker? That's how the thought process seems to go.

And that's the real problem with the number-one pick in years like this, when the talent pool is wide, but not necessarily tall. It doesn't matter whether Matt Stafford is the next Matt Ryan -- he'll get paid just like the Atlanta quarterback did. Teams get their draft picks in reverse order of prior season success -- it's supposed to be an equitable way to rebuild your team -- but it isn't equitable when you're guaranteed to get a bill for $30 million guaranteed when you make that pick. And when there isn't a Peyton Manning to lead the way, you're not going to be able to trade down and get out of the catbird seat.

The Lions have the first overall pick, needs just about everywhere (that's what happens when you post the first 0-16 record in NFL history), and a new front office eager to turn things around. Problem is, no matter who they pick, they're immediately anchored to an enormous financial commitment for a player who has done precisely nothing at the NFL level. The only possible way to make high picks as beneficial as they're supposed to be is to establish an NBA-style rookie salary cap. The first pick gets X dollars per year in his first contract, the second pick gets X, and so on. The salaries tend to cap off when you get to the bottom of the first round and beyond, which means that the teams with better records in the previous season have the advantage in years when the talent leans toward the middle.

Is it best to be first? Not in this case, and certainly not in this year.

By Doug Farrar  |  April 20, 2009; 9:19 AM ET  | Category:  Doug Farrar , Draft Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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