Even after LeBron makes his plans known tonight (maybe he’ll be joining the cast of Jersey Shore and from this point forward be known simply as “The Decision”), there’s still a far more important contract being negotiated in the sports world.
It’s the labor deal between the NFL and the players’ union.
Liz Mullen of SportsBusiness Journal reports that the NFLPA has proposed a maximum three-year limit on all rookie deals. Per Mullen (and not surprisingly), the league rejected that proposal.
But it’s dangerous to look at these issues in isolation. Surely, there’s a set of circumstances in which the league would agree to a three-year limit on rookie deals. If, for example, it gets the players to dial back their cut of the pie by 18 percent and a true rookie wage scale is adopted and each team would have three or four franchise tags based on the average of the 30 highest-paid players at the position, maybe three-year deals would be acceptable.
Currently, teams may sign the first 16 players picked to maximum deals of six years. Most of the top 16 players, however, sign five-year deals. For the balance of round one, five years is the limit.
After round one, the maximum length of all rookie deals is four years.
Prior to 2006, when the union successfully placed a four-year limit on non-first-round deals, plenty of players taken after round three signed three-year deals. Even now, a few teams (most notably the Steelers) will do three-year deals for players taken after round two.
So we could envision the league agreeing to a three-year limit for rounds three or four and onward — if restricted free agency still applies.
And speaking of free agency, the length of the rookie deals doesn’t matter if four or five (or, as in the uncapped year, six) years of service will be required before a player becomes an unrestricted free agent. That’s the far bigger issue right now. Completing a contract is fine, but if it doesn’t get the player to the open market, completing the contract really doesn’t matter.