Players Deserve More
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Another NFL draft is upon us which brings forth another round of debating the issue of the alleged overpaying of rookies.
It is easy to throw the rookie under the bus and say that the "untested" players are making too much money and that a "cap" or some other type of restriction on their compensation is in order. This is an argument that teams take on with ease as well as most causal fans. The reality is that the draft by definition is already a restriction on the monies paid to rookies and the actual money paid to rookies in general is a veritable bargain for all NFL clubs and thus no cap or any other artificial restraint is needed.
OK, I am an agent and everyone will take what I have to say about this issue with a grain of salt as it will appear on its face to be self serving. I get that. But look at the facts. In reality the rookie draft system is anything but out of kilter for the vast majority of the 240 odd players selected each year by teams. The compensation packages they receive are incredible deals for teams.
The draft is a prima facie restraint of trade, violating any number of tenants of the Sherman Anti Trust Act. There is no free agency for the top 250 drafted players in the league each year. If there was no draft (imagine that?) and all entry level players were free agents and allowed to secure the best deals for themselves with the team of their choosing, the deals we see today would pale in comparison to what the players would actually receive. The apparent massive deals of Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan or Cleveland Browns offensive tackle Joe Thomas, would be peanuts compared to the dollars and contracts they would command on an open market.
Another argument commonly promulgated for a rookie compensation restriction system is that the worst teams should not be penalized by selecting at the top of the draft. Here's an idea: Don't finish last! The draft by definition was created to give the worst teams a leg up for the next year by allowing them to pick first. Teams argue that the benefit of selecting the cream of the college crop is now outweighed by the exorbitant contracts that these picks command. While the top three to four picks receive a windfall as compared to the other drafted player, their compensation packages have remained consistent with the packages that the top players receive in the league over the years.
Matt Ryan's six year $56 million deal, or $9.5 million per year in reality ranks him at about the average compensation for a starting QB in the league with the Peyton Manning's and Tom Brady's making upwards of $15 million per year now. Further who is to say where that $9.5 million per year in five years will rank Ryan in the league as the salaries continue to escalate. The same can be said for the large contract that Joe Thomas, the third pick in the 2005 draft. Thomas received five years and $34 million, or roughly $7 million per year. This number now pales in comparison to the Jason Peters, Jordon Gross tackle deals done this year at $10 million per.
The other reality is that the high price paid for the best talent is offset by the bargains associated with later picks. For example, Jaguars defensive end Derrick Harvey last year only netted $23 million over 5 years ($4.5 per year) despite his ill advised hold out. This is roughly the same amount at the Cardinals paid journeyman defensive end/linebacker Travis Laboy in free agency. 2008 12th pick Ryan Clady got $15 million over five years and he is the starting left tackle for the Broncos. Ravens starting quarterback Joe Flacco, picked 18th overall, received a contract that can pay him from $12 to $30 million dollars over five years, and Aqib Talib, the 20th pick, received $11 million over five years or just a hair over $2 million per year as a corner for the Buccaneers. This is a far cry from the $7 million that the Ravens pay Domonique Foxworth per year, or even the deals that other "nickel" cornerbacks received this year like the Joselio Hanson of the Eagles ($3 million per year and he is has no chance of starting).
Later rounds selections offer even better deals for teams as evidenced by the packages received by players in last year's draft like Eddie Royal of the Broncos, (2nd round at $800,000 per year for four years) or 3rd rounder Dan Connor who will start at linebacker for the Panthers making $623,000 per year for four years. Eagles safety Quinton Demps, got $540,000 per year in the 4th round while the Arizona Cardinals 5th round draft pick Tim Hightower is running for $428,000 per year.
At the end of the day, while it is popular to cry foul at the large deals that the top rookies receive, the overall numbers indicate that the system is broken in the favor of the teams. The system does need to be fixed but not for management but for the other players in the draft selected after the top five players.
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