Friday, April 15, 2011

The Daily Rant: Don't $ink Your Team

Despite all of the courtroom drama surrounding the NFL and the NFL Players Association regarding the lockout, there's one thing they seem to be in agreement upon: a rookie wage scale. When the last CBA was negotiated in 2006, there was talk of instituting a rookie wage scale similar to what the NBA has done with slotting a salary for each pick. Then commissioner Paul Tagliabue and Roger Goodell, then the chief negotiator, and the owners (Woody Johnson, Jerry Jones, and Robert Kraft) whose draft of the new document was essentially taken, didn't install that rookie wage scale.

In 2007 JaMarcus Russell was drafted by the Raiders and signed a $61M contract with $32M guaranteed. Russell, now 25, is out of the NFL. In fact, and I can't believe I'm revealing this, but the last time Russell was seen was last December when he worked out for the Miami Dolphins (yes, they're that desperate).

But Russell wasn't the only 1st overall pick to have a big contract. Jake Long, a left tackle, signed a $60M contract with $30M guaranteed...and here's the kicker. It was only over 5 years, as opposed to 6. This past year saw Sam Bradford get an $86M contract with $50M guaranteed. If all goes as expected, Auburn's Cam Newton should get a deal in the same neighborhood. Say what you want about Cam Newton, but if I were a GM, I'd have a hard time giving that much money to a player that only played one year of Division I football.

You'll notice I glossed over Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford and his contract, then the highest ever for a rookie in 2009. Stafford received $41.7M guaranteed on a 6-year $78M contract. No NFL team has been hurt by the lack of a rookie wage scale like Detroit who has sunk $213.1M into 14 1st round draft picks since 2000 (they've two 1st rounders in the past two years). I stumbled across Kevin Seifert's NFC North Blog and the totals were staggering. Here's what Detroit guaranteed to those 1st round picks:

2000 - Stockar McDougle - T - $3,993,000 (20th overall pick)
2001 - Jeff Backus - T - $5,020,000 (18th overall pick)
2002 - Joey Harrington - QB - $13,925,000 (3rd overall pick)
2003 - Charles Rogers - WR - $15,375,000 (2nd overall pick)
2004 - Kevin Jones - RB - $3,823,750 (30th overall pick)
2004 - Roy Williams - S - $13,462,500 (7th overall pick)
2005 - Mike Williams - WR - $10,730,000 (10th overall pick)
2006 - Ernie Sims - LB - $12,650,000 (9th overall pick)
2007 - Calvin Johnson - WR - $27,170,813 (2nd overall pick)
2008 - Gosder Cherlius - T - $8,775,000 (17th overall pick)
2009 - Brandon Pettigrew - TE - $9,396,500 (20th overall pick)
2009 - Matthew Stafford - QB - $41,700,000 (1st overall pick)
2010 - Jahvid Best - RB - $7,095,000 (30th overall pick)
2010 - Ndamukong Suh - DT - $40,000,000 (2nd overall pick)

The NFL Draft is designed to help the worst teams get better, and while you have to make the correct pick at the top of the draft, which you could argue the Lions have only done so with Calvin Johnson, Brandon Pettigrew, Matthew Stafford, and Ndamukong Suh (at least to this point with some of the younger players). It still shouldn't have to financially burden a team to this point.

Instead, money saved from giving guaranteed salary to rookies should be reserved for guys getting their 2nd contract and for the veterans pension program. It's the reason why some 200 players who would've been eligible for free agency this year will be forced into restricted free agency (in NFL circles, this is player purgatory as any team who wants a player must pay in the form of draft picks). It's the reason why Peyton Manning still hasn't re-signed with the Colts. It's why Patriots G Logan Mankins, one of the best in the game, has had several disputes with team management, including owner Robert Kraft. It's why DeAngelo Williams is stuck in Carolina even though he doesn't want to be there and the Panthers don't seemingly want to keep him.

So please, NFL owners, Player Reps, and DeMaurice Smith (yes, he's his own entity with his hat collection) help fix this problem. For the players, for the teams, for the fans, and most of all, for the Detroit Lions.

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