The League

Gene Wang
Fantasy Guru

Gene Wang

A sports staff writer at The Washington Post

NFL Has It Backward


Darrell Royal, the former football coach at the University of Texas, was fond of saying, "Potential means you ain't done it yet." The NFL ought to listen because its salary structure needs an about face.

When Matthew Stafford in all likelihood becomes the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft on Saturday, he'll soon thereafter sign a contract that would make some CEOs blush. He'll probably get a signing bonus in the neighborhood of $45 million, considering Matt Ryan, last year's No. 3 overall pick and also a quarterback, got roughly $38.5 million guaranteed.

Now consider the contract of Tom Brady, a three-time Pro Bowl champion, two-time Super Bowl MVP and lock for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. You know what his signing bonus was when he completed his last deal in 2005? If you said $30 million, you'd be way off, as in not even half that. Brady got $14.5 million guaranteed.

Brady's total contract was worth $60 million over six years. That's virtually the same deal Darren McFadden, the No. 4 overall pick in last year's draft, got before his first carry as a professional. McFadden's signing bonus was a ridiculous $26 million, which is $5 more than LaDainian Tomlinson got when he became the league's highest paid running back in 2004.

Even adjusting for inflation, there's no justifying the absurd amounts of money the top rookies are making these days for having done absolutely nothing except perform at a high level as an amateur. Paying for potential is fine, but not at the expense of veterans who clearly deserve more.

In virtually ever other industry, pay increases are commensurate with performance and experience. A newspaper, for instance, wouldn't pay a fresh-out-of-college reporter the same as a columnist. In television, a first-year anchor at NBC isn't getting anywhere near the salary of Brian Williams.

You can't blame the rookies for taking the money though. Anyone else would do the same, and they should get all they can. Football is a brutal sport, and one hit can end a career, so it's understandable for rookies -- or any player for that matter -- to demand a hefty guarantee up front. There's just something unseemly about the process, and the fact that it's become accepted standard operating procedure.

In the NFL, lack of experience is essentially rewarded. Where's the equity in there? We can blame the salary cap for that, but that's another discussion altogether. Suffice it to say the rookie salary structure doesn't pass muster for most reasonable folks who have worked their entire lives to earn what some of these players make in one Sunday.

By Gene Wang  |  April 24, 2009; 12:14 PM ET  | Category:  Draft , Gene Wang Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Readers may recall that Glenn Robinson's 10-year, $68 million NBA rookie contract in 1994 turned out to be the straw that broke the rookie salary camel's back. The fan outrage and backlash resulted in the institution of a rookie cap as even the players recognized that things has passed some psychological threshold, beyond which they would alienate the paying customers.

Timing is everything. In the current economic climate, where the general population is disgusted by the unbridled greed they see in obscene CEO pay, the idea of paying an untested kid to play a game that, as any number of previous "sure thing" No. 1 busts have shown, he may not actually be able to play at the expected level, no longer passes the sniff test.

Those same fans do not begrudge the money paid to a Tom Brady or Peyton Manning, players who have inarguably produced consistent excellence for a sustained period. Same with actors such as Denzel Washington and others whose movies are reliably great.

Is sums up simply: If you've truly earned it, more power to you. Otherwise, show a little restraint.

Posted by: salescoach | April 25, 2009 4:18 PM

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