Last year, after his team lost to Ohio State in the NCAA semifinals, Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban complained publicly about the potential influence of input of the NFL Draft Advisory Board on Alabama players who were eligible to make the next step.
Saban didn’t like the potential impact of players making business decisions (by running out of bounds and otherwise trying not to get hurt) on his business.
This year, Saban had no cause to complain. According to Joe Schad of ESPN.com, tight end O.J. Howard said Tuesday that Alabama players voted not to open their letters from the NFL Draft Advisory Board until after the season ended. (It’s unknown whether Saban prepared, distributed, collected, and/or counted the ballots.)
Howard said he’ll meet with Saban on Wednesday to make a decision. But it sounds like a decision already has been made, pending the contents of Howard’s letter.
“We try to emphasize with our players that if you’re a first-round draft pick, the business decision is you should go out for the draft,” Saban said Tuesday, via NFL.com. “If you’re in a position in the draft where you can enhance your value by staying in college, then maybe you shouldn’t go out for the draft.”
That’s an unrealistic assessment, given the current state of player compensation in the NFL. Before the rookie wage scale was implemented in 2011, a player could make a lot of money by spending another year in college and working his way from a second- or third-round pick into round one. Indeed, a player prior to 2011 could make a lot of money simply from going from the bottom of round one to the top of it.
The current rookie wage scale places less of a premium on playing another year for free in the hopes of making more later. It’s actually better, if the player is destined to become a good-to-great NFL player, to start putting in years now toward the potentially far more lucrative second NFL contract.
Moreover, it’s always better to be a high second-round pick than a low first-round pick, because teams control the rights to first-round picks for five years. Second-round picks are eligible for free agency after four.
So let’s say Howard gets a second-round grade, decides to return to Alabama, and makes himself into a low first-round pick. If he plays well, he’ll be eligible for free agency in 2022.
If he gets a second-round grade, decides to enter the draft, and plays well, he’ll be eligible for free agency in 2020, a full two years earlier.
That’s why Saban’s rule of thumb doesn’t work for the players. But it definitely works for Saban, who benefits from the players choosing to continue to work for him at no cost to Alabama. And the ensuing Jedi Mind Trick also works well for Alabama, which can continue to justify paying millions that otherwise would go to the players to the coach who has convinced them to keep working for free.