Wednesday, August 11, 2010

More On Rookie Wages

This is one of those 'I've been waiting for no particularly good reason to post this' posts. 18 To 88 is a dedicated Indianapolis Colt blog and Nate Dunlevy is a fixture, one of the most prominent writers.

Anyhow he discusses the rookie wage scale. His perspective is pretty good for a couple of reasons, not the least of which is how the wage scale penalizes teams that regularly draft near the bottom of the first round.

The union has responded by asking for free agency to begin after three seasons. On the surface, it's a curious counter offer, but it makes sense. The rookie wage scale would only have a major impact on the first round, and especially only on the top of the first round. Like it or not, most NFL stars come from the top picks in the first round. On the whole, if teams could control their young stars for up to five years at bargain prices, it would have the effect of chilling salary growth.

Think about it: big contracts for rookies are used by veteran agents to negotiate bigger deals for older players. "You can't offer my guy that!" they say. "So and so (a draft bust from the Chiefs, let's say) makes more than that! Your offer is insulting!". Under the current system, bad players are overpaid, but the good players are paid correctly. No one in Atlanta argues over Matt Ryan's deal, for instance. However, if you impose a rookie wage scale, teams get good players on the cheap, but busts don't hurt as much.

Imagine that same contract negotiation with a rookie wage scale in place. Star veteran is up for a new deal. He's a good player, but not elite. The team compares him to another player drafted in the top 10 who has made multiple Pro Bowls, but is still on his rookie deal. They say, "You aren't as good as so and so! He's only making $1.5 million a season! Why should we pay you more than him?" So, a rookie wage scale in this case would actually serve to hold down the salaries of veteran players.

This is valid and difficult to get around. Now the barometer for premium salaries comes from rookie deals. In our previous discussion, Domonique Foxworth explained that the NFL has refused to guarantee the savings from rookie deals be transferred to veterans.
It would also lead to a lot more Chris Johnson style holdouts. Johnson got paid a deal that was way under market value thanks to his low draft status. Obviously unhappy with the deal, he spent a contentious offseason trying to leverage himself more money that he felt he earned. The situation eventually resolved itself, but not without some acrimony. Under a rookie wage scale, elite top of the drafts talents would reguarly out perform their deals, and if they remained under team control for 5 years, lots of conflict will enuse. [sic]
Another good point. And of course both of these points argue toward a sane wage scale that rewards good play over bad play, regardless of player age and draft status. One can envision any number of mechanisms for doing this that would give teams roster security while giving players some negotiating flexibility. Sadly it appears that the owners have interest in an equitable solution yet nor have the players shown the imagination to offer one.


  1. I don't think his comparing a veteran not on the rookie wage scale to a great player still on it makes any kind of logical sense. One guy got 'slotted' the other has no slotting system.

    Secondly, if Team X - say the Packers - want to try to underpay all their veterans [as some teams already do] that is certainly their right. They will suffer.

    Player B can sign, hold out if he's still under contract, or go elsewhere. I don't see the problem.


  2. Right now the opposite is happening and it is just as inappropriate.

    The point here is that Matt Stafford signs a $78M contract and all of a sudden Brady is underpaid. Stafford doesn't sign that deal - and instead is slotted then Brady isn't underpaid.

    This is okay, but only if the money that was going to go to the overpaid rookies goes to vets instead. If the owners get to save both the money from Stafford and Brady then the rookie pay scale seems terribly unfair.

  3. I don't see how they are 'saving' money on Brady. Brady is getting paid exactly what he agreed to sign for when he re-signed with the Pats.

    If Brady is underpaid today, 1 of 3 things happened:
    1) He took too little money - bad bargaining by him/bad advice by agent
    2) He took too many years/higher guarantee $$ - he traded security for higher annual avg. [happens in NBA all the time]
    3) He vastly outplayed his contract.

    3 sure as hell doesn't seem true. He's played in line with his deal, and got paid for an 'injury' year.

    Stafford being overpaid doesn't make Brady underpaid. It just makes Stafford overpaid.


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