Veteran Sounds Off On Rookie Bonuses

Established veterans know what it's like to pay top dollar to NFL rookies. That's probably why Darren Sharper had something to say about the amount of money teams pay top 10 picks like Adrian Peterson. This year's No. 10 pick (Jerod Mayo) is likely to get a contract worth over $20 million with $13 million guaranteed before he even steps on the field. Is it any wonder veterans have a beef?

Adrian Peterson is already one of the best running backs in the NFL. He is ultra-productive, personable, humble and very marketable.

But before any of those characteristics were known for sure at the NFL level, Peterson was also one of the most handsomely paid running backs before he ever gained a professional yard and before he was ever allowed to participate in training camp. Peterson did join the Vikings' training camp last year shortly after it opened after he signed a six-year contract with $17 million guaranteed, and could be worth $40.5 million if he hits the incentives.

It's a growing trend in the NFL that rookie contracts are rapidly rising and becoming a potential point of debate in any upcoming collective bargaining talks between the NFL and the NFL Players Association. However, it's an issue where some veteran players in the league may be in agreement with the owners on this one.

"I don't have a problem with the signing bonuses or the money the rookies are getting, but when it gets to a situation where a rookie that hasn't stepped on the field for an NFL game gets more of a signing bonus than Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Derek Anderson – who went to the Pro Bowl last year – when they get more than these guys, something's not right with that system," safety Darren Sharper told Viking Update earlier this month. "Something needs to be changed. I'm not saying to not allow them to get big bonuses like the $20 million range, but when you're getting more than what Peyton Manning got when he set that record, something needs to be looked at. It is just the top-tier guys, the top-15 picks, but then you need to make it a slotted system. Guys can't get more of a signing bonus than Peyton Manning gets. That kind of opened a lot of people's eyes."

By all accounts, Peterson is a model teammate, and the veterans aren't citing him or his contract, just the general concept that rookies who haven't play a down in the NFL would receive so much more than established veterans. Fortunately for the Vikings, after one season, Peterson appears to be worth every penny to the franchise, which has a new face of the offense, despite Peterson missing time last year with a knee injury.

But rookies aren't always worth the investment. Some rookies are simply college stars and NFL busts, even those drafted early in the first round.

To Sharper's point of players getting paid more than Peyton Manning, last year, top draft pick JaMarcus Russell received a contract with more than $30 million in guarantees, according to published reports, from the Oakland Raiders. Manning reportedly received a signing bonus of $34.5 million in 2004 after throwing for more than 4,200 yards and 29 touchdowns the previous season. But the disparity in current production is obvious.

After a holdout that lasted into September, Russell's development was set back and he threw two touchdowns and four interceptions in four games, including one start. Last year, Manning had 31 touchdowns and more than 4,000 yards passing.

"It is getting out of hand, but I'm not one of those players that's going to say, ‘He shouldn't get this or he shouldn't get that' because that's what the market says. That's what football has led up to," said wide receiver Bernard Berrian, who signed a six-year, $42 million free-agent deal with the Vikings that included $16 million in guarantees after four seasons in Chicago. "If they change it to where they don't want rookies getting more than established veterans, then I'm going to go by that. Whatever it is, that's how it is right now, so I'm not upset about it."

But Sharper said the contracts signed by top-15 drafted rookies that are loaded with guarantees have been eye-opening to veterans around the league.

"The last of couple of years, guys have been looking at it, kind of going, ‘Wow.' Mario Williams got $25 or $26 million and Reggie Bush gets $20 million," Sharper said. "When it was around 20, guys were like, ‘OK, but that means our money is going to go up as far as veterans.' But when (the rookies) started going up at a higher rate than what we were going up at, guys were kind of (thinking) that that's not right. Guys shouldn't get higher signing bonuses than guys who have been Pro Bowl players and are free agents. I think that kind of let some guys know that the system needed to be changed a little."

It's not likely to be changed for at least the next three seasons, when the current CBA still sets forth the rules that the NFL will follow.

In fact, if rookies are ever put on a slotted salary structure, the NFL Players Association isn't likely to let much of that lost rookie revenue go back to the owners. Instead, it would allow teams more money to sign proven veterans.

Sharper said the agents will still get their money, but would just receive more money from veteran contracts rather than getting a big commission from the contracts of rookies selected early in the first round of the draft.

"Always agents want everyone to get the most money because that helps their percentages out. Truly, that's only going affect 15 players, so you might think about six to seven or eight agents that that's going to affect," Sharper said. "I think overall agents aren't too worried about that because the money is still going up. If they get guys to sign and get good contracts, everything will work out well for them too."

The credo among veterans seems to building – first prove yourself and then get paid.

"You do have to prove yourself somewhat, but that's the way – the owners have done that," Berrian said. "They are the ones dishing out that money, so I'm never going to be mad at another player for accepting that because no one is going to turn it down."

Tim Yotter writes for Viking Update, the Minnesota Vikings affiliate on the Scout.com network. Article courtesy VikingUpdate.com.

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