Bradford’s Deal Even More Reason to Adopt a Rookie Salary Cap

Sam Bradford, the number one overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft by the Rams, has signed a six year deal worth $76 million. $50 million of that is guaranteed. $50 million. Let’s let that sink in. $50 million. Before he’s even played a snap.

The issue of rookie pay is something that needs to be addressed to the NFL. Teams are guaranteeing absurd sums of money for someone who hasn’t even played a down.

Sam Bradford’s $50 million guaranteed is a record. The 2009 1st overall pick, Matthew Stafford, received $41.7 million guaranteed.  The 2008 1st overall pick, Jake Long, received $30 million guaranteed. JaMarcus Russell, the 2007 1st overall pick, received $32 million guaranteed. The 2006 1st overall pick, Mario Williams, received $26.5 million guaranteed.

You get the point. These numbers keep going up. If nothing gets done, you’ll see the 2011 1st overall pick get somewhere near $60 million guaranteed. Ryan Mallet, Jake Locker: You’re about to be very rich.

The problem with guaranteeing this money is that no one knows what’s going to happen with these players. Sam Bradford may turn out to be one of the greatest. He may be awful.  We don’t know. But for every Peyton Manning, there’s a JaMarcus Russell.

There’s an old adage in football circles: Miss on a quarterback early on in the draft, and you set your franchise back 5 years. It’s true. If you draft a JaMarcus Russell type, you are wasting money and years. There’s a way to fix this.

Since no one can know how these players are going to be as pros, they shouldn’t be paid like the best in the game. Simple, right? It is. The NBA does it right. They have a rookie salary scale. Each draft position is assigned an amount. By the league. No arguing. No hold outs. This year, John Wall will receive a little over $4 million. That number goes up a bit in his second and third years. The 2nd pick, Evan Turner, will receive about $3.7 million. The salary goes down as the picks go down.

There are no hold outs in the NBA. There’s no drama. You can miss on a 1st overall pick, and not be set back financially for years. Miss in the NFL, and you’re set back for years.

The worse part about the way draft picks get paid in the NFL is that guys tend to hold out. On a football level, it makes no sense. As a rookie, you want to make an impression on the field, learn the playbook, and earn playing time. You can’t do that if you hold out. From a locker room standpoint, the veterans will not be happy. You’re alienating yourself from Day 1. From a PR standpoint, it’s doesn’t look pretty. There are no benefits to holding out. The money you get if you sign a day before training camp is going to end up being similar to the money you get if you hold out.

There’s too much risk for teams. Say Sam Bradford turns the wrong way and tears his ACL. Obviously, I hope that doesn’t happen. But if he does, the Rams are still on the hook for $50 million. What if he’s awful? The line between bust and star is so thin. Teams are spending a fortune hoping the player falls on the right side of the line.

But, as we know, football isn’t like that. Maybe a player turns the wrong way. He’s in the wrong place at the wrong time. Or maybe he just sucks. Teams can’t predict these things. And, so no matter what happens, they’re on the hook.

This is wrong. Rookies shouldn’t be entitled to this payday. They should have to earn this money. Teams shouldn’t have to dole out ridiculous amounts before they know what their investment looks like.

It’s past time. Let’s get a rookie salary cap, Commissioner Goodell. And let’s get it now.

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3 Responses to “Bradford’s Deal Even More Reason to Adopt a Rookie Salary Cap”

  1. Alex says:

    This is a great article and this is going to be a huge problem if not addressed soon. I like the NBA’s format and think the NFL needs something similar. Teams can no longer afford such a risk, neither can the fans…

  2. James says:

    Since there is basically one pool of cash that all the NFL players divide, that money should go to the vets and not the rookies, so I think there will probably some type of salary cap in the next CBA.

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