Is being drafted by a pro sports team an “honor”?

AP

The NFL has had plenty of P.R. problems in recent years. Decades ago, however, the league laid the foundation for one of the great P.R. maneuvers of all time: Making new players believe it’s an honor to not be able to pick their first employer.

Great high-school players get to pick their colleges. Great college players don’t get to pick their first NFL teams. Their NFL teams pick them, as the final, well-hyped, three-day act of a four-month job interview during which the players jockey for the privilege of being chosen.

Players have become conditioned to regard being drafted in any round as an honor, even if many of the players taken in the final round on Saturday would have been much better off to not be drafted at all. Often, players selected in the seventh round find themselves facing an uphill climb to make the 53-man roster due to the stockpiling of players at one position; in those cases, it’s better for the player to pick (through undrafted free agency) a team, a roster, and a scheme that maximizes the player’s chance of making it.

The fact that plenty of fans and former players (including one very loyal company man) react so strongly when anyone tries to peck at the outermost layer of this particular onion confirms the impact of Big Shield’s long-term Jedi mind trick regarding the idea that there’s something good and honorable about a highly-skilled worker in a specific, narrow industry having no freedom of choice to select his first professional city, workplace, supervisor, or coworkers.

The system of allowing separately-owned sports teams to calls dibs one at a time on the incoming workforce would be regarded as unfair at best, illegal at worst in any other American industry. Every year, for example, thousands of law students emerge into the workforce, with the best of them landing jobs at major law firms in large cities throughout the country (you know, the same cities where NFL teams are located). The law firms don’t get together on a national (or even local) basis and decide which lawyer goes where; each lawyer decides where he or she will live and work.

Is it an honor to be regarded as good enough to work for a major law firm that pays out a very healthy starting salary? Absolutely. Would it be an honor to be subject to a system that compels the employee to work in a city in which the employee may have no relatives, no friends, and/or no desire to live or work? No.

The fact that some of you are getting a little upset while reading this proves that the NFL has successfully conditioned everyone (well, almost everyone) to think it’s good to be drafted. But it’s critical to separate being regarded as good enough to play in the NFL from being stripped of any choice as to where those football skills will be demonstrated.

Five years ago, the antitrust lawsuit filed after the NFL Player Association disbanded and the NFL locked out the players challenged all anti-competitive aspects of the league’s rules, including the draft. Once people realized that the end result of an NFL without a unionized workforce would be no draft at all, folks lost their minds a little bit. (Including me; I guess my opinion has evolved.)

Before assuming that the NFL without a draft would create chaos (and fewer opportunities for organized booing), consider what the alternative would be. Teams would compete with each other to sign the best players — and the ability of one team to corner the market on all the best young players would be constrained by a rookie salary cap, which would limit the total amount that could be given to new players. The broader salary cap also would limit the ability of teams to stockpile high-priced players.

Instead of three days of a draft, the NFL would have a second free-agency frenzy — one that could be even more compelling than the veteran version the NFL stages every March. (Remember, the NFL once resisted tooth-and-nail the notion that players should become eligible at any point in their careers to choose their teams.) A true rookie free agency process would be much different from Big Shield’s current preference for Schadenfreude TV, but letting the teams scramble for players could ultimately be better.

The fact that it would be different freaks out everyone who either likes/loves the draft or who directly or indirectly benefits from it financially. As a result, the fact that it would be the fair and just way to truly honor the best college football players in America gets overlooked.

Especially since the NFL (and everyone else) has managed to convince kids who have been exploited for the past three or four years in college that they aren’t being exploited one last time.

51 responses to “Is being drafted by a pro sports team an “honor”?

  1. It’s the draft… It’s something to watch… Not over analyze like a political debate…. Have a few and enjoy it..

  2. the draft was instituted to maintain a certain degree of competitive balance…and the league, basically has done a good job of maintaining that balance…in an average year, there will be 9-12 A teams (teams with 10 or more wins), 9-12 B teams (teams with 7-9 wins who at least compete for the playoffs), and 9-12 C teams who have to hope for the following year but who can improve through the draft (see Oakland, Jacksonville, Tampa for example). If only our society worked as well…but go ahead and do away with the draft and cater to the likes of Jerry Jones and his ilk…Mark Cuban’s words ring truer and truer with each passing day…

  3. It’s an ‘Honor’ serving in the Military, or doing work in the Public sector if you’re not trying to make a mockery of the System.

    I personally don’t see it as an Honor to be a professional athlete or be drafted by a Pro Team.

    I would guess I’m not in the normal percentile.

  4. Virtually every pro sport has a draft. It works. If anything, the NFL should get rid of compensatory picks that give teams fee draft picks, because the GM can’t manage a team. There should never be free picks in the 3rd round let alone the 4th. Even more so starting next year if they can be traded.

  5. I don’t disagree with the argument.

    Sports entities are not a representation of a free society. They represent the thinking of socialist “eutopia”. They have salary cap rules to make it “fair”. They have a salary structure to make it “fair”. You have to be politically correct on sex, bathrooms, and team names.

    The NFL is a socialist experiment.

    I totally agree that it should be dismantled.

    Good point Florio!

  6. It is an honor because there is only 32 teams. There are thousands of law firms and colleges so your comparison kind of sucks. Then there’s the fact that small market teams would have trouble competing with large market teams due to endorsement deals and such.

  7. I would think as long as you keep the salary caps in place – it would be fine to get rid of the draft. I would imagine it would largely play out the same anyway. Well managed teams with good scouting depts would sign underrated players for less money, and bad teams would overspend for overrated players.

  8. Agreed.

    The draft is an entertaining feeature of an entertainment provider (NFL) for te viewers. Build up, drama, etc. It was a reality TV type of feature, before there was reality TV.

    I sure wouldn’t want to sit around for 3 days to see if I landed a job in some part of the country that I may not want to live in for 5 years, with a bunch of cameras in my grill and talking heads putting me through the microscope and pontificating/speculating on my value.

    It is not without its rewards for some of the participants though.

  9. I get where you are coming from. But I look at it more as the players are applying to work for the NFL in general. Being picked to play for a certain team is really just the employer (NFL) locating them at a certain location within the company. Really not that different than a lot of jobs.

  10. In addition, it would allow the more successful (i.e., more attractive) teams to bear the burden of making the same types of financial mistakes (if they are so inclined) that the lesser teams currently do when their high-priced, top of the draft picks bust. Currently, the lesser teams are almost always in the position of having to take that risk while the better teams can mostly just make the “safe” pick and at a lesser cost.

    With a salary cap in place in the NFL, teams would be inclined to spend more wisely and less desperately – there would be no NY Yankees just spending more and more to cover up their mistakes.

  11. Being drafted gives the players a shot of adrenaline straight to their ego! It also provides an immortalizing effect and a public arena to validate their personal beliefs in how good they are at their craft. That is why the players across all sports look past the obvious logic and pursue “the dream”!

  12. Lots of hate directed at the nfl from a site that makes tons of money reporting on…the nfl.

  13. Not sure how you ever got into this business but you need to get out and go back to being a lawyer. No one cares what you think and for some reason you think people do. Just shut up and go away, this site used to be good before you sold out and started thinking you are more important than you actually are.

  14. Very few high school players actually get their pick of any and all colleges…Colleges only have 20-25 scholarships a year…only the top 100 players in the country probably get their choice of any school…the top few players at each position…example: Drew Brees badly wanted to play at the University of Texas…his uncle is one of the most famous QBs to ever play there…even though Drew is from Austin, the ONLY D1 offer he got was Purdue…no other Texas school, Big 12, SEC, or PAC 12 offers. He won a state championship at one of the biggest and best high schools in Texas that has produced many NFL players like current players Justin Tucker and Nick Foles, and 100’s of D1 players over the years. His story is more typical even of players that make it to the NFL. They weren’t all four star recruits.

  15. The draft is about competitive balance and the NFL isn’t “conditioning” anyone. The draft exists in all major American sports, and even leagues like the WHL have a draft.

    Don’t be a tool and turn this into a human rights debate. These players make millions of dollars, I think they can handle living in a different state then mommy.

    If every college player became a free agent, the current cap situation would be turned on its head once again as teams bid for the top available players. And ultimately, the majority of players would decide their team not on what situation is the best for them, but which one offers the biggest signing bonus. Kinda like normal free agency and UDFA.

    The draft is simply the most effective strategy for implementing a new class of players into the league

  16. I completely disagree with your argument. First, it is an honor to these kids because they have worked their butts off to play football in the NFL and being drafted basically solidifies their work to that point. Second, the NFL is the company that they’re going to work for and the teams are branches of the NFL. As a former military member, I “applied” for a job with the USAF and got hired. The USAF told me where I was going to be stationed. I didn’t get to pick my location, my supervisors or my co-workers. They picked. Same for me now as a police officer. The state tells me where I will be stationed. The draft is the way the NFL chooses to reward college football players for their talent and hard work, as well as choose where to “station” their newest employees. I don’t see anything wrong with it.

  17. I Often disagree with you Mr Florio, but I must say that this is great work. Thought provoking, well written, and timely. I can indeed see that your view on this has changed, as has mine. Why should these young men agree to a system that benefits only the owners? It doesn’t matter what the pay scale, an employee should be able to decide between different offers for employment.

    The NFLPA will never go for a change. It’s purpose is to protect members who pay dues and capture new members. Not rookies.

  18. wiskybuck says:
    May 1, 2016 10:52 AM

    One may argue that you are picking your job, to play in the NFL.

    Right on the money. I have four terminals across the US. I hare guys based on their abilities. If they do not like the terminal they are assigned to, they could always quit and find another company. Same could apply to the NFL draft.
    The rookies could refuse the draft and go the udfa route if they did not like the draft. Of course, they would give up significant $$$ to pick their own team.

  19. It’s an honor to own an NFL team. Apparently, the current group of owners has forgotten that.

  20. It’s more like a 4-month exercise in watching dodge ball teams get picked. Someone’s going to be last, and if you got to choose your team everyone would go with the same one.

    At least it’s one more filler until the season starts.

  21. The process of graduating medical students getting matched into residency spots is pretty similar.

    Medical students get to rank which programs they prefer, but ultimately the program’s decide where the student ends up.

    So, similar things so occur in other fields of work.

  22. The law firm analogy in this case is isn’t valid – here’s it’s really more akin to the company (i.e. The NFL) hiring all the rookies and assigning them to the local office where they’re needed. So yes, if you want to work for that firm, you’d go where the job is, even if it’s not where your friends and family live.

  23. Given that all the sports leagues have drafts, I’m not sure that you haven’t overlooked some of the consequences of eliminating the draft. One possible consequence might be that teams would be tempted to use all their rookie cap money on one or two players, QBs notably, and fill in the rest of the roster with veteran minimum players. That would be like the issue we had before the Rookie salary scale when a guy who hasn’t played a down becomes the highest paid player on the team. Also, wouldn’t Buffalo and Tampa have to pay more than the NY teams or Dallas for the same level of talent? It all sounds like a return to the bad old days when competitive balance was totally lacking.

  24. I really don’t see how replacing the draft with an auction is going to make the NFL any better. The Jones’ and Snyders will overpay for the top talent and use up their whole rookie pool on one or two players, then fill out the rest of the team with UFA’s.

    If a guy doesn’t want to play for a team, all he has to do is say so. John Elway didn’t want to play for the Colts, and Eli Manning didn’t want to play for the Chargers. It worked out for both of them. Anybody that is not the top pick in the draft will be limiting their options, and likely sliding in the draft for perceived attitude problems, but the draftees do have some influence on what teams they end up with. But if Deshaun Watson came out and said that the only team that he’ll play for is the Dallas Cowboys, you can bet that they’d make it happen.

  25. just because you are drafted, does not mean you have to sign. and there is always Canada. the players do not have quite as many options or power as other leagues, but they still have a few.

  26. Sure, do away with the draft but keep the rookie pay scale and the NFL can be like college football with a few successful programs serving as magnets for the best talent while the rest are just kind of there.

  27. It’s an honor your earn, not a right, nor should be an entitlement or some expectation. It simply means you are selected to be part of a competitive organization.

  28. I’d meet you have way on this one. The draft is a great spectacle and an tradition worth keeping, but the guys picked in later rounds often times never get the reps they need to develop because they’re drafted by teams without a strong need at the position. Guys drafted high usually get put into a position to contribute, perhaps more often than they would if they were free to sign with any team. It’s the later picks who get unfairly swept under the rug.

    Those problems could be solved by cutting the draft down to four rounds, and giving every team a somewhat sizable UDFA salary cap. You wouldn’t have those guys who could come in and contribute on ten teams, but get stuck with ST reps with the team that took them in the 6th round.

    From the league’s perspective, there would still be the same fanfare surrounding the draft, but the excitement of the UDFA period would skyrocket. It’d be a win for everyone involved.

  29. It’s not an honor if you’re a millennial, then it’s an entitlement.

  30. ‘The fact that some of you are getting a little upset while reading this proves that the NFL has successfully conditioned everyone ….”

    No it doesn’t prove a thing. Just because some disagree with your opinion, does mean its because the NFL has brained washed them. I expect in most cases those that disagree with you have come to a reasoned opinion that differs from yours.
    Some, like I, see that the NFL and all sports leagues differ from other industries, as the success or lack of success on the field in Cleveland has a direct impact on the financial success of every other team in the league.
    Where as if Morgan and Morgan gets all the good lawyers to come to Atlanta, and Saul Hickman gets only the leftovers to come to New Mexico, Cochran & Cochran in LA isn’t effected either way.

    Your premise that College players are exploited is also opinion, not fact.

  31. Fascinating article and perspective to consider.

    From the perspective of the player gaining the wonderful opportunity to play in the NFL in a system that is the way it is, it is a great honor when a team utilizes a pick to declare that they value your services more than any other team in the league that could have picked you previously or traded for that current pick if they wanted you more than the team that owns that pick within this already established system.

    If there is a substantive and appropriate need for a different system, then any individual or group that believes in a cause for change should petition the Union to negotiate a different labor agreement structure with the NFL. They could present an alternative system, but if it is financially efficient to keep the system in place for the health and profits for the league, then that is in effect creating a larger revenue pool to share with the players and to create a compensation level for the players that is worth more overall to them than additional flexibility.

    As is, it is a great honor and wonderful privilege that hopefully every participant embraces with appreciation and motivation to contribute their best efforts.

  32. What is to stop a young star college player from waiting until after the draft and then announce they are leaving college effective immediately and available for pro teams? Imagine if Goff did that this year? Teams with tight cap situations would be HOSED, but the player would be eligible to listen to any and all contract offers just like a free agent. The wouldn’t had their medicals and wonderlics leaked, nor would they have had to go through all the other underwear olympics. I hope someone gives that a shot sometime.

  33. Lay off of the pity party for college athletes and pro athletes. They chose this avenue, they are simply taking advantage of their talents (like someone who went to law school) and reaping far more rewards than most of their peers in school, just look at the exponentially expanding student loan debt that is going to crush this economy.

  34. Players have waited until after the draft to declare, it is called the supplemental draft. Happens every year.

  35. You foolish, foolish man. Did you really try to introduce logic into a field overruled by emotion?! Just look at the ridiculous comparisons people are trying to make to debunk your idea. No, this isn’t like the military. When I joined the Army, I was paid by the US government, so that is who I worked for, so I went where they said go, end of story. The NFL pays these men NOTHING! The teams pay everything…. everything. The contracts are with the team, not the NFL. But that little detail is conveniently ignored by the naysayers. As for the medical school comparison, stop emarrassing yourselves. There is only a very slight linkage. Difference is, (and it is huge) you get to choose your potential destinations. Yes, the schools decide if you area good match for them, but if you never chose Johns Hopkins, there is no worry they will choose you. So you do have some control. These kids have no control… zero, nada….NOTHING! Bottom line, people will never give up what they’ve become accustomed to. It’s playing out in our socio-political arena, so why shouldn’t it play out here as well? It makes too much sense to let people have more control over their future.

  36. I like your thought process, but not your conclusion. A draftless world would ruin parity. Sure you got a salary cap, but many smart players/agents would take less to put their player in a good spot, like a perennial Super Bowl Contender, or Miami where it rarely snows and you keep your income. Places like Cleveland, Detroit, Cincinnati, St. Louis offer little to no appeal outside of home town boys, and there isn’t enough money to “buy” a decent team for them. Parity would be nonexistent.

  37. It is about time that someone within the football world asked these questions. My wife the non-sports fan thinks the draft is weird and unfair and trying to explain things like competitive balance to her doesn’t make it make sense.

    I would love to see the sports draft go away. It might in the NBA at some point, and we can finally see what that means.

  38. Nobody is stopping you from going the undrafted free agent route.

    However, if you want the big bucks, you enter the Draft.

    It’s a fair tradeoff.

  39. Yea let’s stop that and then every good player can sign in New York or Chicago and all the scraps can got to the small market teams, because let face it the big time media don’t care about the small market. That is where they all started and when they developed their skills they left the area that gave them their start. That is much fairer

  40. It’d be way more entertaining to have all the incoming rookies go through a free agency-style process instead of having the draft and, as long as a rookie cap was in place, it’d prevent big market teams from buying all the stars.

    But, the Draft is a ratings home run, so fuhgeddaboutit.

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