Rookie Salary Reform

There's some thought out there that most NFL teams are afraid to trade into the top of the draft this year. So what happens if the Chiefs can't find a trade partner? Scott Pioli and company will draft somebody third overall.

It's not necessarily a bad thing. Who knows, maybe Kansas City's strategy all along has been no strategy at all. Maybe all the talk to trade out of the third overall position is just that – talk.

That's not an original strategy, but as we've all heard the draft is like playing chess or poker. Don't telegraph your move or show ‘em your hand. The main concern league-wide is the cost of paying a highly-drafted rookie and the estimate for this year's third pick is somewhere in the neighborhood of $75 million.

All of that money isn't guaranteed, but the actual guaranteed dollars will most likely be in the $20-25 million range. Beau coup bucks for an unproven player. This is what fries most veterans and gives owners migraines - that kind of cash for someone who is more likely to flame out than burn bright for the next decade.

Can you blame veteran players? If a rookie took my job and started out making more than me without ever having to prove himself, it would burn my hide, too. This is another issue owners are agonizing over, so during the next set of bargaining talks we may see something every veteran player and owner wants – a rookie salary cap. The only way rookies will earn salaries equal to current first-rounders will come via playing-time, statistical and individual award incentives, and endorsement deals. It makes sense for all parties.

So let's speculate. After a new collective bargaining agreement is in place, say the Chiefs have a high first round-pick again, with a highly-rated player sitting there for the taking, and they make the pick. Under a new CBA, there's a rookie salary cap in the neighborhood of $1 to $3 million guaranteed. But the player's agent thinks his client has more potential than an average middle-round or second-day pick.

Even so, the CBA only allows for the guaranteed money agreed to in the first contract year, with the likelihood of semi-steep increases in the second, third, fourth and fifth years. By year five, that player is making closer to $7-10 million a year.

Now here come the incentives. This pick just happens to be a wide receiver. If he starts as a rookie, he earns an additional $250,000. If he plays at least 50 percent of offensive snaps, another $250,000. If he racks up at least 500 yards receiving, another $250,000. If he hits 1,000 yards, another $250,000. If he's AFC Player of the Week, throw in $50,000 (let's say four times that year). How about conference player of the month? $200,000 (at least once). What about offensive rookie of the year? Another $500,000. Throw in a Pro Bowl, and that's worth $250,000.

In short order that rookie could be taking home $5,150,000, a nice paycheck for a 22-or-23-year old kid. It's based on the player achieving performance goals that should be required.

Granted, these incentives seem to favor the owner and require some serious work by the player, but for the money earned versus the time worked, the players will still be quite wealthy. Plus, the owner avoids sinking five times that amount up front. Some deals will become backloaded so the player can pick up additional "bonus" money, plus his step increase. The better he plays, the more the team benefits and the player will profit.

This type of structure would hopefully force more of these players to be wise with their personal spending and not blow everything they make on bling, that Hummer with the 22-inch rims, or perhaps a Maybach.

Of course this may all be a pipe dream in the grand scheme of things but at least if this type of structure is considered, the game could get back to being somewhat more affordable for the average fan, while promoting a better quality product on the field. Players would be more vested in their own success and coaches might not be shackled with players who become problem children.

Scott Pioli and Todd Haley both mention that the players they will select, regardless of draft position, will have to fit the Chiefs' profile. They'll have to want to be a Chief and commit to the style and culture this team is developing. Both are excellent points worth embracing if the end result is success.

Whether the Chiefs retain the third overall pick and choose Aaron Curry, Jason Smith, Eugene Monroe or any of the other highly-rated players, or trade the pick for additional compensation, one fact remains – this is a business, and it all comes down to the bottom line. Produce and profit or lose and lament.

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