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NFL’s Rookie Compensation

Pool Is Good For Business

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Using Sam Bradford As The Most Recent Example, The Cap On Rookie Salaries Has Allowed The Best Players To Get Picked And Allow Teams To Stack Essential Positions Like Quarterback

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By Wayne Schutsky
Modern Times Magazine

Aug. 26, 2014 — St. Louis Rams fans are bemoaning another Sam Bradford injury. The quarterback with so much potential and an extensive injury history is out for the season again with a torn ACL.

While St. Louis is upset, the NFL should be happy — not because of Bradford’s injury — because this situation proves the National Football League and NFL Player’s Association made the right move in agreeing on a rookie wage scale.

Bradford was the last first round pick to take advantage of the exorbitant rookie contracts players were getting prior to the scale. He signed a six-year, $78-million deal after he was drafted in 2010.

By comparison, the next two first round picks, quarterbacks Cam Newton and Andrew Luck, signed four-year, $22-million deals.

Bradford has shown glimpses of success, but Luck and Newton have outplayed him over the course of their collective careers, which should put them in line for big contracts or extensions soon. Meanwhile, after the latest injury, Bradford is going to have a tough time getting a starter’s money, let alone a blockbuster deal.

And that’s how it should be: Wasting a first round pick on a guy who can’t perform or stay on the field ‘hamstrings’ a team enough. But, when you factor in a huge contract, it can downright sink a franchise.

I know these owners are millionaires — and oft-times billionaires — many times over, but that’s not the point. With the salary cap structured like it is (which is a good thing), these teams can’t afford to waste guaranteed money on unproven players, whether the owner can afford to pay them or not.

Paying an unproven kid out of college $78 million is bad business. Ask Rams fans whether they’d like to see another season of Bradford on the injured reserve or some other good, if not great quarterback (maybe Alex Smith?) under center. But, because the Rams have so much invested in Bradford, the team is inclined to ride him out until the end of the contract rather than invest in someone new.

With a pay scale in place, teams can afford to cut ties with first round busts and move on, rather than try to make them work when they just won’t, like with Bradford. It also lets teams draft players in the first round who have huge potential, but might not start right away.

A player making $10 million a year has to start, but a guy making $2.5 million can sit on the bench and develop.

The pay scale is working out in Minnesota right now. The team signed first round pick Christian Ponder to a four-year deal worth just over $10 million in 2011. That signing didn’t force the team to stick with Ponder this season in the last year of his deal. Instead, Minnesota made the decision to acquire Teddy Bridgewater in the draft this year.

Bridgewater isn’t ready to start today, but the team could still invest in him because his contract is relatively affordable. A pre-pay scale team normally wouldn’t have invested a first round pick on a quarterback who isn’t ready to start when it already has a first-round passer not starting on the books. The financial obligation to one position was too much.

The NFL doesn’t do a whole lot of things right outside of making a ridiculous amount of money. The recent Ray Rice debacle, drug issues and player discipline are all black eyes on the league.

But, I think the NFL got it right on this one. The rookie pay scale is something that has made the game better. Teams can now afford to draft and actually develop players. They can also afford to cut ties with busts without sinking the franchise.

Wayne Schutsky is a senior contributor to Modern Times Magazine.
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