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.