A window quietly opened upon the conclusion of the 2013 regular season. Eventually, that open window will be creating plenty of racket.
Once each team completed its Week 17 game, any players drafted in 2011 became instantly eligible for new contracts.
The list includes players like Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (first overall), Bengals receiver A.J. Green (fourth overall), Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson (fifth overall), Texans defensive end J.J. Watt (11th overall), Rams defensive end Robert Quinn (14th overall), Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan (24th overall), and Jets defensive tackle Muhammad Wilkerson (30th overall).
Other players who are eligible but who have made it hard to gauge their value based on off-field issues are Broncos linebacker Von Miller (third overall) and 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith (seventh overall).
For players taken in the top ten, a strong argument can be made for an immediate restructuring. The rookie wage scale arose from a desire to ensure that busts like JaMarcus Russell and Ryan Leaf don’t abscond from the league with many millions of unearned dollars. The guys who have earned the money that they didn’t get arguably should get it now.
Under that reasoning, any player taken in the top 10 who hasn’t been a bust should be busting down the door now in search of that which he didn’t get in 2011.
The teams who currently hold the rights to 2011 first rounders for at least two more seasons (if the fifth-year option is exercised) may not feel the same way. And with daily fines of $30,000 and the potential loss of signing bonus money paid — and possibly spent — three or more years ago, the players don’t have many options if their teams aren’t inclined to pay them now the windfall they didn’t get then, regardless of whether they have earned it.