Before you come to the conclusion that I am moonlighting as a certified player agent, understand that I also think teams should have less to spend on rookies.
In a perfect world, the players who have proven themselves would always make more money than players who have yet to play a down in the league. In the world we live in, players who are chosen in the top 15 picks in the draft often make more than some of the most accomplished players in the NFL at their positions. And they often never play up to their paycheck.
That's one of the main reasons most teams that are drafting high are trying to trade down every year. Of course the Miami Dolphins are shopping the first pick in the draft. No team wants to risk being saddled with an enormous contract for an underachieving player.
A number of NFL front-office men have complained, both in private and public, about the inequities in the system. "The value of the draft has priced itself out of existence," said Indianapolis Colts president Bill Polian, the most vocal critic of the system. "The idea that the worst team would get help from a good player or players is out the window because you are saddled in salary cap hell if the guy is anything but an almost immediate Pro Bowler. And it must change.
"The union has to give us a firm, definitive, rookie salary cap. We're perfectly willing to have the money that does not go to the rookies go to the veterans. Nobody is looking to save money. But we're sick and tired of giving exorbitant, incredible sums of money to players who haven't proven they can do anything but play against Eastern Michigan."
This is not an easy problem to solve, because it involves the collective bargaining agreement. Any solution would have to be part of a new CBA. That means owners must shake hands with players.
Veteran players should not need to have their arms twisted to go along with the program, seeing it would benefit them. But NFLPA executive director Gene Upshaw believes there is an advantage in allowing owners to spend big on high draft choices.
"Those rookie contracts play a role in what a veteran gets," Upshaw said. "Because if the top guy in the draft just got paid $35 million in guarantees and he hasn't even proven himself, and if your contract is up as a veteran, I think it has an affect on what you're going to get. You think Peyton Manning isn't looking at JaMarcus Russell's contract? Of course he is."
Upshaw says flat out the NFLPA will not agree to a rookie wage scale.
There already is a rookie salary cap within the overall salary cap, but a rookie is only a rookie for one year, and they sign contracts that typically extend between four and six years. So the rookie salary cap in its present form does nothing to limit the compensation of players coming into the league.
My solution: limit rookies to two-year contracts and institute a hard salary cap for those two years. After the two years are up, every player is eligible for arbitration on a second two-year contract. And then after the next two years are up, every player is a free agent unless he chooses to sign a contract extension.
This would enable the best players to get paid. It would prevent the busts from being paid like the best players. And it would ensure the opportunity of free agency for every player after four years.
Probably makes too much sense to happen.
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