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When signing players at the top of the draft, NFL is in a no-win situation

To date, only one first-round pick has agreed to terms, the 24th overall selection in the draft.  Amid reports that the Rams and quarterback Sam Bradford continue to work toward a contract at the top of the selection process, the gigantic dollars to be paid out to Bradford and his fellow Powerball winners in the top ten puts the NFL in a precarious position, as it relates to the eventual collusion case that the NFLPA has all but said it will file.

Before going any farther on this one, I need to point out that the inspiration came during a recent radio appearance with our good friends Scott Kaplan and Billy Ray Smith of XX 1090 in San Diego.  While I was rambling on about something or other, Kaplan interrupted me with an observation that became the guts of this article.  (So, basically, he can interrupt me any time he wants.) 

If the teams drag their feet and/or refuse to follow the windfall model that has been applied in past years — and some league insiders still believe the Rams should take a stand — the collusion case will be bolstered via additional circumstantial evidence to support an argument that the league consciously, and collectively, has decided to keep dollars in the owners’ coffers, and out of the players’ pockets. 

If, as expected, the teams at the top of the draft fork over big money based on a continuation of the past round-one negotiations, with Bradford getting $45 million or more guaranteed and the rest following in a loose sort of lockstep, the league also will be making the collusion case stronger.

How, you ask?  At a time when multiple teams have publicly declared a reluctance to sign players to long-term, big-money deals until the current labor situation is resolved, how in the hell can the teams at the top of the draft justify signing players to long-term, big-money deals?

The same uncertainties that supposedly are keeping the Colts and Pats from signing Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, respectively, to new extensions should be making the Rams think twice about plunking down $80 million on a guy who has yet to take a snap in the NFL — and whose shoulder snapped on a hit last September from a 230-pound linebacker.

The millions that will be paid to Bradford, Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, Redskins tackle Trent Williams and so on will constitute proof positive that teams can sign players to long-term, big-money deals, despite the labor situation, and that, when it comes to veteran players or restricted free agents, the teams largely have chosen not to do so.

Though the Chargers, who are hiding in plain sight behind the supposed CBA uncertainties, don’t own a top-ten pick, they traded all the way up to No. 12 to land running back Ryan Mathews.  And they’ll make him a healthy multi-year offer at a time when they’ve applied the screws to receiver Vincent Jackson and tackle Marcus McNeill, offering them only the minimum, one-year, six-figure tender that the CBA allows.

Why?  Because under the CBA they can.

So why aren’t the Chargers doing the same thing to Mathews?  The labor deal doesn’t require teams to sign rookies to multi-year contracts.  The labor deal mandates that only a one-year contract worth the first-year minimum salary of $320,000 be tendered to each draft pick. 

Why, then, aren’t the Chargers saying that they don’t want to sign Mathews to a long-term deal given the CBA uncertainties, offering him instead a one-year contract worth $320,000?

The inconsistency tends to prove that more than a few teams simply have decided not to spend money on veteran players or free agents.  Every dollar not spent on a veteran player or a free agent is one more dollar that the owners will have in their pockets if/when a lockout comes — and one less dollar that the players will have to withstand it. 

The logic falls apart as applied to rookies, especially in round one.

Apply the same strategy, and the approach would be too obvious.  Pay the first-round picks big money, and the approach becomes obvious in a more subtle way.

Either way, Bradford will be getting paid.  Manning and Brady won’t.  In San Diego, Mathews will be getting paid.  Jackson and McNeill won’t.

Though it may not ultimately rise to the level of provable collusion, it’s doesn’t take a genius to realize that there’s something wrong with this picture.

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17 Responses to “When signing players at the top of the draft, NFL is in a no-win situation”
  1. SlimEagan says: Jul 25, 2010 10:26 AM

    Except even without signing Brady or Manning to new contracts, they will still be playing for their teams this year. If teams don’t sign their top draft picks, they don’t get into camp at all and won’t be playing a single snap. If the teams intend to get better next year, signing their rookies is necessary. Signing Manning or Brady to Gazillion dollar contracts without labor certainty makes sense given the labor issues. It isn’t necessarily collusion.

  2. LT2_3 says: Jul 25, 2010 10:41 AM

    This is ridiculous. You are equating signing guys not under contract to teams choosing to not to extend players already under contract, or on a tender, in an unstable business environment. Does the Julius Peppers contract prove collusion too?
    Can you tell me what the cap is going to be next year? Can you tell me what devices will be available for teams to collect bonuses in case a player gets arrested? Can you tell me where the loopholes will be in the new CBA so teams can write contracts to their advantage?
    If you are so sure fired positive that the NFLPA is going to bring collusion charges, when are they going to do it? Before the playoffs? After the playoffs are done?
    If they stop football before the end of the season, they might win in court, but they will lose in the court of public opinion either way.

  3. Tinbender says: Jul 25, 2010 10:43 AM

    Offering Jackson and McNeill peanuts makes the least sense here. Not only will these two players remember this, but every NFL player will remember this. Who will want to go to SD and play for egotistical Assholes? How’s the locker room doing now? Worst off season move of the year by far.

  4. GRpatriot says: Jul 25, 2010 10:51 AM

    Would any Agents representing 1st round prospects allow their player to sign a 1 year minimum deal? This could be the Agents last year to gouge the NFL?
    Remember, Upshaw wouldn’t budge on the Rookie wage scale. He said that Rookie wages made up 1% of total salaries. He also said it gave veterans more leverage, so Vets could get big money deals? How can it be collusion, when this has been the policy in place?
    I thought collusion is when ie…Irsay and Kraft get together and say let’s not pay Manning or Brady more than 20 mil a year, deal? Another example, lets not give any signing bonus more than 1 mil. for 2010? We don’t know what the cap will be so, let’s not do any deals for RFA’s other than their tender?
    Is it inferred collusion? Unspoken collusion? Did they agree that if their backs are against the wall and they have to do a deal, say to avoid a holdout, that no garunteed money in 2011? I’m not a lawyer but, seems like a stretch?

  5. steelerfan9598 says: Jul 25, 2010 11:03 AM

    “Either way, Bradford will be getting paid. Manning and Brady won’t. In San Diego, Mathews will be getting paid. Jackson and McNeill won’t.”

  6. moth025 says: Jul 25, 2010 11:22 AM

    First, this makes a good case for the owners to get the rookie wage scale in place.
    Second, enough of this collusion talk. Is it collusion when just about all businesses are tightening their financial belts, and have been for the last 1-2 years? The owners are BUSINESS MEN, that is how they made their money (or inherited from their business men families).

  7. downwithdansnyder says: Jul 25, 2010 11:40 AM

    “The millions that will be paid to Bradford, Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, Redskins tackle Trent Williams and so one will constitute proof positive that teams can sign players to long-term, big-money deals, despite the labor situation, and that, when it comes to veteran players or restricted free agents, the teams largely have chosen not to do so.”
    They HAVE to sign these draft picks. They do not HAVE to give same mega extensions to players already under contract. That’s the difference. They have no choice, but to expose rookie contracts to the uncertainty of the new deal, but they don’t have to do the same to existing players. What’s the teams choice? To not sign a very top pick and give up on his rookie season?

  8. Harm City Homer says: Jul 25, 2010 12:40 PM

    They do not want rookies for 1 year. they want the #1 pick for 7 years.
    Compare Stausburg or LeBron, only in the NFL you are not drafting a HS player #1 and only the signing bonus is gauranteed.
    If they only gave top 10 picks 1 year deals, they would have to pay even more in year 2 and in the case of a QB they still may not have even shown anything in the NFL yet.

  9. Brad Miller says: Jul 25, 2010 12:42 PM

    Dezzy B! So much for being one of the top candidates for a hold-out. Good luck to the rest of the NFL teams haha.

  10. chgolaw says: Jul 25, 2010 12:45 PM

    I wish Florio would turn in his union card and stop making up this crap. Last time I checked, most teams have signed those free agents they wanted. The union wanted an uncapped year because they thought that it would be a windfall for their members. It was not. So whose fault is that? Why can’t a team say that I do not want to give multimillions to a player whose next DUI means a year suspension.
    So a week before training camps and one team has signed their No. 1. What does this say about the teams showing they will spend anything?

  11. FinFan68 says: Jul 25, 2010 12:51 PM

    Seems more players than usual have been demanding to renegotiate their contracts this year…by the logic stated in the article, that would constitute “collusion” or some other form of conspiracy to extort more money from NFL owners.

  12. edgy says: Jul 25, 2010 12:53 PM

    I love the generalities that people deal in when talking about rookies. First off, most rookies don’t get manna from heaven and the biggest amounts are concentrated at the top. Take the top picks out of the equation and the money isn’t nearly as big as you think but fans want a rookie pay scale because of a few picks and the really funny one is that they want it because the veterans want it — yeah, the STUPID ONES. Goodell said that he had several veterans supporting a scale but they haven’t come forward publicly because most of the ones that have are against it because they know that it’s the place to start when negotiating your contract and the money isn’t going back to them when it happens.

  13. Hail2ThaRedskins says: Jul 25, 2010 1:31 PM

    are you completely out of touch?
    First of all, although only a few draft picks get really big deals, those few deals are larger than the rest of the rest of draft combined and the majority of veteran deals in the league! It is the fact that so much money is spent on so few players (and unproven players that usually wash out before even completing their contracts but still keeping the money) that is the problem!
    Second, in what world do you live in that veteran players have not come out in support of a rookie wage scale??? There have been so many veteran players on record in support of a rookie wage scale I won’t even bother to name them. In fact the only veteran players that have spoken out against a rookie wage scale are those who are connected to the NFLPA in an administrative role and are reciting the company line. (And in case you really have your head in the sand, the NFLPA doesn’t really want to prevent a rookie wage scale they just want to get some other CBA concessions in the negotiations before they agree to it. How do I know this? Besides just plain common sense since the NFLPA represents the interest of its members (veteran players) and not those of undrafted rookies, the NFLPA has already said they have no problem with a rookie wage scale as long as the owners give them concessions in other areas)

  14. edgy says: Jul 25, 2010 2:22 PM

    Hail2ThaRedskins says: July 25, 2010 1:31 PM
    are you completely out of touch?
    First of all, although only a few draft picks get really big deals, those few deals are larger than the rest of the rest of draft combined and the majority of veteran deals in the league!
    The only one who is out of touch here. The bottom rung of the ladder are rookies. Throw them out the window and start looking at the lower paid “veterans” and you’ll find guys who barely play and others who earned the big bucks years ago but didn’t live up to their promise and the only way to stay in the league is to play for the veteran minimum. After that, you’re talking 12 players or so that ONLY get that kind of money, if they actually play (Complain all you want about the signing bonus but it’s prorated over the course of the contract so it doesn’t impact the team like you might think). JaMarcus Russell earned his bonuses by playing while Brady Quinn, didn’t meet most of his because he was on the bench, either due to injury or his performance. Oakland screwed up by not signing Russell before the draft and they ended up giving him more money in his first year than they would have under normal circumstances. An owner will point to ONE salary and say it’s the reason why they need a wage scale and they’ll ignore the other 31 in the first round.
    If they earn their money then who gives a rat’s ass how much they cost and if they don’t, it’s NO WHERE NEAR what a VETERAN bust costs (Quick, who cost more: JaMarcus Russell or Albert Haynesworth). NO ROOKIE has ever signed the biggest deal in NFL history — EVER. Not Bradford, not Stafford, not Russell. Their deals are DWARFED by what veterans get and the veterans love their deals because they can point to the dollars and say “I’m worth more than that” and really mean it.

  15. edgy says: Jul 25, 2010 2:34 PM

    Hail2ThaRedskins says: July 25, 2010 1:31 PM
    There have been so many veteran players on record in support of a rookie wage scale I won’t even bother to name them.
    So, these mythical players – are they making $8 million per year? Thought so….
    The NFLPA isn’t giving in because the players want one but because it can be used to get concessions and if they don’t get concessions, they won’t give in because it takes another bullet out of the chamber. Whether your unable to understand this or NOT, the system as is, is great for the players. Now, it may not be great for Joe Blow, 53rd man on the roster but you’d be a damn fool to believe that his plight is going to get any better with a rookie wage scale. When Darrius Heyward-Bey signed his contract and did so badly, every WR in the NFL that caught 10 or more passes nearly passed out from the orgasm that they got after they realized that it was going to mean more money. Every time that Russell went bad, Brady and Manning were adding up the extra money that they were going to demand. The ones that want a wage scale are at the bottom of the salary run but they will NEVER get that money. When it’s all said and done, whatever money that does make it back to the players, will end up moving to the top and NOT the bottom.

  16. ganggreenguido says: Jul 25, 2010 4:55 PM

    the only way i can see this makes sense from a teams perspective like the chargers is that if a worst case scenario occurs in which a RFA or vet holds out, the team will retain their rights regardless. if a rookie refuses to sign he may reenter the draft the next year and the team doesnt get any compensation from losing him.

  17. granadafan says: Jul 25, 2010 11:32 PM

    It’s absolutely ridiculous that a young guy will be set up for life in his FIRST job out of school. If he fails, then he’ll have to find another job like anyone else. Prove yourself first, THEN get paid.

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