Does the NFLPA Represent Rookies?

August 1, 2011

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According to most observers, the biggest losers in the new collective bargaining agreement between the NFL and the NFL Players Association are the rookies.  There will be a new cap for rookies.  A team will be alloted a bucket of money to distribute among rookie contracts based on the slotting of their picks (the team with the #1 pick will be allowed to spend more money than the team with the 18th pick, for example).  A team could choose to spend all of the money on their top pick and non-tender their others pick, if you wish (along this is not likely to happen).

There has been much complaining about unproven rookies making more money that veterans who have been in the league a long time.  While we can argue all day about whether athletes are overpaid, within the existing context of player salaries, I really wonder if this is an attempt to solve a problem that doesn’t exist.  I have a couple of concerns with the new rookie cap.

It removes accountability for owners.

You know the best way to keep rookie salaries from spiraling out of control?  Have owners put their foot down and refuse to pay.  Pass on a guy who wants too much money and make a safer, cheaper, pick instead.  This happens in the baseball draft all the time, when prospects drop due to concerns about signability (baseball draftees often have a lot more options, since many of them are high schoolers or have college eligibility remaining). 

Not willing to pass on Joe Smith (who is demanding $50 million) to settle for Bob Jones, who is willing to take $25 million?  Guess what?  This means that Joe Smith is worth $50 million to you.  Suck it up and write the check.  Otherwise, let him drop a few spots and have your rivals pay the big bucks.

No upside for rookies

The new CBA calls for rookies to sign contracts for four years, with a team option for the fifth year.  In baseball, a player gets arbitration when they have accrued slightly less than three years of major league service.

If you blossom as a pro and out-perform your contract, there’s no reward.  You’re still going to make the same money.  This doesn’t sounds so bad, except that teams can cut a player who under-performs their contract.  In other words, the teams are protected against under-performance and at the same time don’t have to pay for over-performance.

Some writers say that teams need to be able to lock players up for five years because of how much money and effort goes into coaching.  Just a second … are these also the same writers who talk about a top pick being able to step in and start on day one?  These are contradictory statements.

There needs to be some sort of escape for the rookies.  Perhaps something as simple as baseball’s arbitration system, which would kick in after a player has three years of service.  Perhaps an “overachiever” pool of money to be divvied up each year.  Perhaps allowing playing time to trigger free agency earlier (maybe a sliding scale that gives a 7th round pick more “credits” toward free agency than a 1st round with the same amount of playing time – since the 7th rounder overachieved more than the 1st rounder?)

Taking money away from deserving veterans?

Sure, there are some underpaid veterans in the league.  Guys who have paid their dues with many years of stellar performance in the league.

Then we see the Cardinals giving $63 million over five years to Kevin Kolb.  Kolb has done a helluva job of carrying a clipboard for the Eagles, but has he really earned that contract any more than, say, Andrew Luck (the presumptive #1 overall pick in the 2012 draft)?  Sure, Kolb has “potential”, but at this point in his career has more inteceptions (14) than touchdowns (11).

Get back to me when you stop talking out of both side of your mouth, owners.

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