The NFL has a problem. The new rookie wage scale, while eliminating the Powerball prizes at the top of the draft, has placed a premium on getting to the NFL and putting in years toward the all-important second contract.
The number of early entries has been going up each year since 2011, and this year it spiked from a record high of 73 in 2013 to 102. (Four of the early entries have graduated from college.)
“I think the two words I would use to describe the amount of juniors coming out early this year are surprising and disappointing,” Falcons president and CEO Rich McKay, the chairman of the league’s Competition Committee, told PFT via email. “The lifetime value to a collegiate athlete of completing his education and his college career should never be underestimated. Our College Advisory Committee has worked extremely well in giving potential entrants a very accurate prediction of where they may be drafted. Hopefully, this will be a one-year anomaly.”
The last sentence implies that the NFL currently has no plans to tweak the system that was launched in 2011, with rookie pay flattened out and teams unable to renegotiate contracts of draft picks for three years.
If it’s not an anomaly, the NFL will have to do something in order to keep the curators of the league’s free farm system happy. If enough college coaches become unhappy, it could become much harder for NFL teams to scout the emerging talent.
It’s not clear what the NFL could do to discourage early entries short of the nuclear option of increasing the collectively-bargained threshold for entering the draft from three years after high school to four. Under federal labor law, an agreement by the league and the NFLPA to raise the bar by a year would be largely bulletproof, if challenged in court.