Three years ago, the NFL removed the top-10 windfalls that previously lured college players for a shot at the NFL’s version of Powerball. And yet the number of players leaving college early continues to climb.
The NFL has announced that 102 players have been given early entrance to the draft. Of that amount, 98 have obtained “special eligibility” via being at least three years removed from high school. Another four (including former Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater) are eligible because they have graduated from college.
The league wisely has separated the two numbers in the press release announcing the move, creating the impression that the number of players abandoning the NFL’s free farm system early hasn’t crossed the century mark. In reality, it has.
The prior record, set one year ago, was 73. In only 12 months, the number has skyrocketed by 39.7 percent.
College coaches have remained largely silent in the face of the post-rookie wage scale trend, which has placed increased importance on getting to the NFL and putting in time toward a second contract. But they’re now losing quality players at an unprecedented pace, which in turn threatens to prematurely displace veteran players who have much higher minimum salaries.
While the current labor deal extends into the next decade, the NFL and NFLPA can decide at any time to modify the deal to make an early jump to pro football less enticing. It could be in the mutual interests of labor and management to find a solution, whatever it may be.