The rookie wage scale issue continues to loom

Getty Images

As the NFL and the NFLPA* gear up for what could be a pivotal stretch of negotiations — if nine owners don’t band together and knock the talks of track on Tuesday and/or Wednesday — the primary issue continues to be the manner in which the money will be shared by teams and the players.  But the extent to which money will be shared with players entering the league via the top of the draft continues to be a collateral issue that could potentially derail a deal.

Jarrett Bell of USA Today takes a look at the question of whether the new deal will contain a rookie wage scale.  It’s widely believed that some sort of changes will be made; the only questions are the extent to which the windfall will be reduced and the manner in which the money will be distributed.

Still, for the agents who annually represent one or more of the top picks, the elimination of ever-growing jackpots threatens to dry up an excellent source of revenue.  Thus, don’t think that the agents who stand to lose three percent of contracts that continue to grow at a greater and faster rate than any other NFL deals without a fight.

For example, agent Tom Condon of CAA tells Bell that “[h]istorically, contracts for rookies at the top of the draft helped veteran players.”  Condon’s contention has plenty of merit, especially when a guy like receiver Larry Fitzgerald can leverage the back end of a big-money rookie deal into a record-setting average wage.  Though no one has matched or surpassed Fitzgerald’s four-year, $40 million deal in the three-plus years since it was signed, the contract stretched the rubber band to a new maximum, allowing plenty of other receivers to earn $9 million annually, on average.

But Condon’s other point is somewhat weaker.  Regarding the guys who receive millions and never become nearly as good as Fitzgerald has been, Condon says, “At the top of the draft, you’re not supposed to miss on those picks.”

In theory, he’s right.  But when it comes to pinpointing why a top pick becomes a bust, the fact that he received so much money before doing anything to earn it potentially contributes to the outcome.  For years, we’ve heard complaints about kids who become set for life no longer caring about being the best players they can be, opting instead to relax and coast, confident that they’ll never have another financial care in the world.

Then there’s the fact that some players who receive gigantic rookie contracts refuse to listen to veteran teammates.  Or to coaches.  Or to anyone.  By giving the player so much money, the team has also given him power over the entire organization.  If he abuses it, there’s nothing the team can do, at least not for two or three years.  Even then, the organization will be admitting failure, and likely positioning itself to have another crack at grossly overspending for a top-of-the-first-round rookie.

At this point, despite the power of men like Condon and other high-profile agents, it’s impossible to prevent some sort of change.  Instead, the agents will need to accept the fact that the huge fees will be earned only on a player’s second contract.  And with less money going to a handful of guys at the top of the draft, more money will be available to compensate the players who have proven that they can perform at the NFL level.

47 responses to “The rookie wage scale issue continues to loom

  1. Rookie wage cap of 1 million a year is good enough. I can’t be the only one who is sick of rookies who don’t get signed and then don’t pan out after they are signed. Ef all rookies.

    I have no clue how agents have any leverage in contract negotiations. Who cares what they want?

  2. The prior system of no cap on rookie contracts is poor business and really not good for anyone, but the agents.

    They need to consider a plan that would allow the team to pay the rookie a fair amount for two years and then either keep him or fire him, and if they keep him, escalate the pay dramatically in the third and subsequent years.

    In other words, a plan that requires the rookie to prove himself in the NFL, and if he proves himself, then he gets paid accordingly.

  3. Seriously, rookie wage scale is an issue?

    Veteran players can and should roll their eyes at guys who haven’t proven a lick making a lot more than they are.

  4. Those of us Charger fans who endured the Ryan Leaf era know all about players who don’t listen to ANYBODY. His big payday expanded his ego, not his skills as a QB.

  5. @hedleykow,

    Correct! The idea that an unproven, untested rookie who has yet to play one down in the NFL can command these megabucks is ridiculous! Remember Jamarcus Russell?

    The fact that the veterans have yet to get behind changing this nonsense is outrageous. You’d think these dudes would figure out that the less $$$ spent on unproven rookies, the more that could be spent on second contracts and FA veterans. Duh!

  6. But if you look at the contracts, they go down in a fairly linear fashion from top (#1 overall) to bottom (Mr. Irrelevant). There isn’t a spot you can say everyone above this is getting too much, everyone below too little. It would be a nightmare to try to alter that graph, which presumbly is free market driven. Communism!

  7. hedleykow is absolutely right. To pander to what the agents want is effectively giving a sugar cube to a cancerous tumor.

    Nobody but agents care what agents want.

    Outside of those declaring eligible for the draft what demographic collectively wants to see the existing BS continue with rookie contracts???

  8. A cap of $1 mil per year will almost guarantee that some startup league will steal some blue chip rookie talent.

    Part of the reason the NFL needs to reward rookies for being awesome in college is to make sure they actually go to the NFL.

  9. The league needs a rookie wage scale . I am sick of seeing the ryan leafs and the jamarcus “codeine” russells of the world receiving huge guaranteed contracts while proven vets hope there is enough of the pie for them too get a slice .
    It would also make the draft more fun cause it gives every team alot more ammo to move up into the top of the draft . Not having to gamble with $30 million will make guys more appealing, and make GM’s more willing too roll the dice . Now , talk & MAKE A DEAL !!!

  10. EVERYBODY wants some kind of Rookie Wage Scale EXCEPT for the agents.

    This will not be an issue with the CBA. They will agree to some kind of Rookie Scale, no doubt at all.

    Non Story # 1,039

  11. I think a rookie wage scale would be very good for the game. The problem is that:

    1. A rookie wage scale would be very bad for agents.
    2. Agents are smart
    3. Players are (with some exceptions) not very smart.
    4. As a result of 2&3, players tend to trust what their agent tells them.
    5. As a result of 1&4 a lot of players will be against a rookie wage scale
    6. As a result of 5, rather than welcoming a rookie wage scale the NFLPA* will probably see it as a concession and because the owners probably don’t care *that* much either way (it doesn’t really save them money overall), it will probably get canned.

    I hope I’m wrong 🙁

  12. “[h]istorically, contracts for rookies at the top of the draft helped veteran players.”

    Give me a break… this is only true for a small percentage of players. For the most part it’s taking away money from the majority of players looking for new contracts who have been in the league a few years and who have actually earned what their making. A rookie pay scale with shorter contracts, meaning they can hit free agency faster/get a new contract sooner is the way to go.

    If the agents have any say in wether a deal is accepted I will be pissed.

  13. Okay… this is makes zero sense.

    Someone explain this to me please.

    The last salary cap in 2009 was about $125 million. But for the sake of discussion, let’s say that the salary cap is $100 million and the new CBA stipulates that the teams have to spend to 90% of the cap which would establish a cap floor of $90 million.

    If every team has to spend at least $90 million, what difference does it make to the agents? As a group they’ll get the same amount of money in commissions regardless of whether that money goes to rookies or to veterans.

    And as to Condon’s comments about big rookie salaries setting the bar for veteran contracts… if they do away with franchise tags and shorten rookie contracts thus moving closer to true free agency… then the market for the top players at each position will be determined the way they should have been in the first place… by the free agent contracts given to veteran players.

    Am I wrong and if so, can someone explain to me what I’m missing because none of the arguments supporting the current absurdity in top rookie contracts makes any sense to me.

    I think Condon and the top agents are just trying to maintain their lucrative market of big-name rookie clients.

  14. Why haven’t the owners done to the rookies what they are doing to the players right now. They’re fighting for a CBA and lockout the players when business is through the roof but do nothing to stop rookies getting these ridiculous contracts which could destroy there teams. This should be their first priority.

  15. You’d think a rookie cap would be the easiest part of the CBA to negotiate.

  16. Agents should have no say in this at all. Why would owners or players want the rookies getting paid so much for proving nothing. They should do it how the NBA does it, each pick is slotted for a certain amount.

  17. You managed to compose that entire article without mentioning JaMarcus Russell. I would have list a pretty penny on that wager.

  18. I don’t understand why every Rookie Contract isen´t 3 years with 5 mill. a year guaranteed to the first pick decreasing to 30k for the last pick. After 3 years the rookie is either a proven commodity who will receive a big contract or leave for another team.

    The agents will just get paid later

    The player have to prove himself

    The owners don’t overspent on bad players

  19. The agents have money, and they use it to buy influence. In the past Upshaw received huge bribes to kill any sort of rookie wage scale. I suspect the same thing is happening here. The handful of top agents are throwing money at the union hierarchy, who in the end will do their bidding instead of the players.

    It’s a lot like our Congress and Senate. Wealth buys the representatives who then agree to sell out their constituency.

  20. If they don’t want 9 small market owners to band together to derail the deal, they will institute a rookie wage scale. The cost of high first round draft picks is financially crippling to small market teams.

  21. The only people not having a rookie wage scale benefits is the agents. The veterans are against it, the fans are against it. I can’t stand basketball, but the one thing they have right is a set rookie wage scale.

  22. Once the salary cap is set, the rookie wage scale won’t impact agents at all. If the same $$$ are shifted to veterans, then agents will still get their same cut of the same pie.

  23. So let me get this straight, the agents are in the middle of this negotiation but the fans still don’t have a seat at the table? Yeah, they really do care about us!

    This issue will determine wether I go back to the NFL. Not saying I definitely wont watch again with no rookie cap but I will certainly think twice abbot buying tickets. I don’t mind spending $100 to watch a game when the money is paying guys that EARNED it. But when it goes to some loud mouth agent and 20 year old that has never done anything but think he’s a HOF already, not sure I can spend my money that way any longer.

  24. moneymike23 says:Jun 20, 2011 1:50 AM

    Why haven’t the owners done to the rookies what they are doing to the players right now. They’re fighting for a CBA and lockout the players when business is through the roof but do nothing to stop rookies getting these ridiculous contracts which could destroy there teams. This should be their first priority.


    Thats exactly what D. Smith wanted the owners to do. I have heard him in interviews state that the rookie wages are a creation of the owners so it is up to them to do something about it on their own. In a sense he was daring the owners to lower the offers to rookies so that he could immediately file a collusion lawsuit in Doty’s court.

  25. “if nine owners don’t band together and knock the talks of track on Tuesday and/or Wednesday”

    It’s almost over and you still have to take shots at the owners. What if the players knock them off track? That IS a possibility you know. This whole thing has proven how biased the media really is.

    That said, no player deserves the amount of money these draft picks get without proving worth it. There should be a rookie scale to motivate young guys to have one or two solid years in order to earn the higher salaries.

  26. The draft promotes competitive balance and is an evaluation of potential contribution of a player. A wage scale makes sense and allows a player to pursue a FA contract based upon performance rather then potential after X number of years.

    A limited number of veteran exemptions after X number of years may allow teams to reward players for leadership contributions that can impact young players and make the overall team better and shift dollars.

  27. I want a POS Salary Cap that allows owners to take back money from people who take that big payday and then lay down on the field for a nap. Call it the Haynesworth Rule. In the real world you can sue a party who fails to deliver their end of a contract. Apparently that doesn’t apply in the NFL.

  28. Generally I don’t think veterans care how much a rookie makes, as long as they make the same or more. Those huge salaries factor into negotiations and franchise tag pricing, allowing guys like Matt Cassel to end up with $10M/yr deals. Players just want a massive raise in cap & cap floor so they can all get more of the pie and not worry if the rookies get a nice slice either. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not agreeing with Condon, this stuff is out of control & there has to be a wage scale.

    I think it should be a base pay based on draft position plus positional value (QB, WR, OL, etc) and then additional performance incentives. That way they get a nod for their draft spot and potential impact of the postion they play, and can get more if they work hard.

  29. One aspect of the CBA that has not been discussed is what recourse, if any, teams will have if/when a player is suspended for drug use.

    Right now, if a player DECIDES, of his own volition, to do drugs, he risks getting suspended for at least 4 games without pay.

    The team meanwhile, loses a player who could help them, thus the team could lose games, and thus millions of dollars, solely b/c some idiot player wanted to smoke a doobie. Right now, the team cannot go after the player legally and recoup signing bonus money.

    When Vick was busted, the Falcons were allowed to recoup a very small portion of the $20+ million in bonuses that Vick received. In other cases, the player has been able to keep their bonus money.

    IMO that is bulls**t. The new CBA should include language that states that if a player decides to do drugs, they will be subject to suspension per the NFL drug policy, AND they will lose 1 year toward becoming a free agent, AND they will have to refund 50% of the signing bonus that they received. The penalties should be even worse for repeat offenders.

    As it stands now, the media is firmly backing the players yet it is the teams who have 100% of the legal liability and suffer the consequences of the actions of idiot players.

    When do teams/owners get a “second chance” like the players ALWAYS do?

  30. Players are kind of stupid, we need a rookie wage scale!!!! The average player plays 3 years free agency starts either in year 4 or 6. They are costing themselves money and guarentee’s.

  31. IF team salary caps continue to expand as reported, won’t the agents make their money on the veterans instead of the rookies?

    Their (the agents) income will be deferred until the stars actually produce, that’s all. Adapt.

  32. Have a rookie pay scale and let a player go to arbitration if its turns out they are worth more than their contract. Problem solved.

  33. All of you are forgetting one thing.

    Agents never GET that big second contract for high draft picks that are busts. Thus, if the new CBA limits rookie contracts, the agents lose, because the rookies who don’t earn that big second contract can’t help make their agents richer, which makes it more important to score big on their first (and only) contract, every time.

    I’m not real sure what the success percentage for first round draft choices is, but I’m gonna bet that it’s no more than 50%, as far as the player becoming a desirable free agent, and cashing in, when he finishes his rookie agreement. So agents who look at the numbers certainly realize it’s going to cost them heavily, if the rookie contracts are capped.

  34. They gotta start paying them less in the beginning. They gotta earn it. too much resentment from all star vets and vets in general.

  35. All rookies should get league minimum.

    Teams should have the option to pay rookies a signing bonus, capped at twice the league minimum, but it will only vest after two years accrued playing time. That will keep their focus and make them work hard to get their pay.

  36. A rookie pay-scale seems like a no-brainer. The top guys are stellar college players but are unproven NFL level players. A graduated scale based solely on draft position seems faulty to me. The difference in the top 5 players is not very big at all most years. The reason a guy goes #1 overall is mostly due to team need rather than the kid is the obvious best player. If the Rams would have had the worst record, does anybody think Cam Newton would have gone #1? Why reward a player for something as simple as playing the position that the worst team in the league needs most? I think they should do it in levels instead of picks. By round may be a little too broad to be fair to the truly elite players so why not group the rookies into pay echelons based on 1/2 round increments? 1-16 as the top, 16-32 in the next etc. Put hard limits on base salary and actually address the “creative financing” some owners use to gain advantage.

  37. giving rookies some guarenteed money is o.k. because of the nature of the profession but to give huge amounts of money to an unproven player is just plain stupid and it’s an issue that we should not even be talking about because it should have been resolved years ago.what ever happened to earning what you get?

  38. I agree with the majority of the comments on here. I think that the over payment of rookies makes it hard for the rest of the team. The fact that the fact that the contracts for these rookies are made so public, the vets have to see what they are making, and it has to get them bitter. This rookie who has done absolutely NOTHING in the NFL is getting paid way more than 90% of the NFL.

    I absolutely think that Suh is one of the best DT’s to come out of college in a long time, but the way he is so SUH this, and TEAM SUH is a little over the top for a rookie. Sam Bradford went before him, looks to have a great NFL career, and you never hear a peep from him. I think the rookies coming in should be much more humble to the rest of the team (i.e. Bradfrod) and prove themselves for a couple of years until they go around town thinking they are the best thing since air conditioning. (BTW, I am not a fan of any NFC team, so I am not trying to be bias.)

  39. Condon’s suggestion that “your not supposed to miss on the high picks” is ridiculous. Even the great GMs miss from time to time. A certain number of busts are guaranteed for every team. Ron Wolf was a great GM, but if his success were dependent on his first round picks, and specifically his earliest first round pick (Terrell Buckley), he would have failed.

  40. Condon’s statement also ignores the difference in talent levels from year to year. Could be that one year’s first pick would have only gone fourth in another year, which is a big money difference.

  41. I don’t see avg. joe starting at top $S, AS a matter of fact, most all, all are on a trail period.

    The CBA should be tied to the economy. As my SS which has not seen a raise in 2 years.

    Seems to me these people-players, owners & agents-live in a bubble and seem not aware of the suffering going on. True, many come from disavandaged life styles which appear to be forgotten while the big $s are available.

    In my opinion the CBA should be a reflection of the economy and be fluid. New players aren’t worth what they are paid. Players/owners/agents need to be aware of the ups & downs of society and be reflective of that for each current year and not based on a progressive scale.

    Changes need to be made; can’t with the old style. I would like to see that the NFL be a projection of the American life style and not a shelter for pampered people. The NFL is headed for a big down turn if all parties continue with the old worn out thoughts and patterns.

  42. It’s actually the owners that didn’t want a rookie wage scale in 2006, when the last CBA was signed.

    The NFLPA put forward a proposal where total rookie payouts would be cut by around 50%. In return, every drafted player would have the option of becoming an unrestricted free agency after three years.

    The owners said no, we’re happier with things the way they are now.

    I actually thought it was a good proposal by the NFLPA. Let the players prove themselves first and if they do, let them hit the market.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to leave a comment. Not a member? Register now!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.