Paying the Rookies

Brian McIntyre of NorthwestFootball.net takes a look at the rookie pool, the rule of 51, and what sort of contracts the Seattle Seahawks' draft choices can expect to receive.

In 2006 and 2007, the first Seattle Seahawks' draft pick wasn't signed until July. Last season, Seattle got an early jump by getting three late-round picks under contract in late June.  There's no telling what having to get a Top 5 pick signed will do to the process, but if history is any indication, the Seahawks could be about five or six weeks away from beginning to get their draft picks under contract.With the San Francisco 49ers getting two draft picks signed, the Seahawks could sign their first pick as early as this weekend.

You never know when these deals will be signed, so before one does, here's a quick primer on the "Rookie Pool", "The Rule of 51", as well as some educated guesses on what each of the Seahawks' draft choices will sign for.

According to ESPN.com's Len Pasquarelli, the Seahawks will have a "rookie pool" of $5,192,801. The rookie pool is often described as a "cap within a cap", as it represents the maximum amount of cap dollars each team can spend on first-year players and the figure lies within the league's overall salary cap.

So do the Seahawks need $5,192,801 in cap space to start signing their draft picks, right?

Yes and no.

Yes, the first-year players on the Seahawks' roster will eventually account for nearly $5,192,801 in cap space. Right now, in fact, each of the Seahawks' seven draft choices has a cap number of $310,000, which is the minimum base salary for first-year players in 2009. Between those base salaries and the signing bonus proration for the undrafted free agents, whose base salaries are not applied to the rookie pool, the Seahawks have already dedicated around $2.2 million dollars of the rookie pool number to first-year players. The remaining funds will be absorbed by signing bonuses, higher base salaries for the top two draft choices, and the comings and goings of current and future undrafted free agents.

While the first-year cap numbers of the draft choices are fully applied to the "Rookie Pool", the "Rule of 51", which refers to only the highest 51 cap numbers being calculated during the off-season, may keep them from being fully applied to the overall salary cap.

Because mid-to-late round draft choices (4th round and later) and undrafted free agents sign contracts with minimum base salaries and moderate signing bonuses at a point in the NFL calendar when there are typically 70+ players already on the roster, their first-year cap numbers almost always fall outside the Rule of 51, so only the first-year signing bonus proration is applied to the overall salary cap.

Currently, the Seahawks have 72 players under contract. The 51st highest cap number is around $390,000. So when sixth-round quarterback Mike Teel, for example, signs a four-year deal with a $310,000 base salary for 2009 and what I'd estimate to be a signing bonus of around $116,000, his first-year cap number will be approximately $339,000. That $339,000 is fully applied against the "rookie pool" number, but since it falls outside of the Rule of 51, only the $29,000 in signing bonus proration would be applied to the overall salary cap.

With that primer out of the way, let's take a look at what the contracts the Seahawks' draft choices can expect to receive.

Aaron Curry (1st round, 4th overall)

It's been awhile since the Seahawks have had to sign a Top 5 pick. The last one was Shawn Springs back in 1997, who as the third pick overall signed a 7-year, $20 million dollar contract.

As the fourth pick in this year's draft, Aaron Curry can expect to receive more than $20 million dollars in guaranteed money as part of a six-year contract that will likely exceed $60 million dollars. Remember, while Curry said he would have taken less money to be the 1st overall pick, he didn't say he'd take less money as the 4th overall pick. And last year's fourth overall pick, Oakland Raiders running back Darren McFadden, signed a six-year, $60 million dollar contract that contained $19.685 million in guaranteed money. Through escalators, McFadden's guaranteed money could be worth as much as $26.685 million dollars.

The trend in first-year compensation for players chosen at the top of the NFL Draft has been for the player to receive a minimum base salary and a roster bonus that is immediately applied to the salary cap and rookie pool. Below are the base salaries, signing bonuses (SB), roster bonuses (RB) and first-year cap numbers (CN) for each of the Top 5 picks in the last three drafts:

Player

Base

SB

RB

CN

Williams, M.

$275,000

$0

$2,625,000

$2,900,000

Bush, R.

$275,000

$0

$2,425,000

$2,700,000

Young, V.

$275,000

$0

$2,365,000

$2,640,000

Ferguson, D.

$275,000

$0

$2,075,000

$2,350,000

Hawk, A.

$275,000

$0

$1,910,000

$2,185,000

Russell, J.

$3,162,340

$0

$0

$2,976,320*

Johnson, C.

$285,000

$0

$2,501,750

$2,786,750

Thomas, J.

$285,000

$6,360,000

$1,355,000

$2,700,000

Adams, G.

$285,000

$0

$2,100,000

$2,385,000

Brown, L.

$285,000

$0

$1,925,000

$2,210,000

Long, J.

$295,000

$0

$2,705,000

$3,000,000

Long, C.

$295,000

$0

$2,605,000

$2,900,000

Ryan, M.

$295,000

$0

$2,505,000

$2,800,000

McFadden, D.

$295,000

$0

$2,330,000

$2,625,000

Dorsey, G.

$295,000

$0

$2,100,000

$2,395,000

*-signed after week 1. Amount is equal to 16/17ths of his base salary.

Incentives would be included to boost the player's first-year take in a way that circumvented the rookie pool rules, and in year two, the player would receive an option bonus that would be prorated over the remaining years. With 2010 being an uncapped year, the rules regarding rookie contracts are bit more restrictive. Negotiating contracts for players chosen in the first two rounds will require teams and agents to be more creative.

As the chart of the last 15 Top 5 picks notes, only one player received a base salary above the first-year minimum and that was Raiders quarterback JaMarcus Russell. After holding out throughout training camp, Russell signed after Week One and did not receive a signing or roster bonus, which may be the norm for what players at the top of this year's draft receive. First overall pick Matthew Stafford, for example, has a base salary of $3.1 million dollars in 2009, with no signing or roster bonus. Curry's contract will ultimately be based on what Jason Smith and Tyson Jackson sign for, but I wouldn't be surprised to see Curry receive a fully guaranteed first-year base salary of between $2.5-$2.9 million dollars.

Max Unger (2nd round, 49th overall)

Unlike players chosen at the very top of the draft, each player drafted in the mid-to-late second round does receive a signing bonus. Most of these contracts wind up containing playing time incentives that increase the guaranteed portion of the deal in a way that skirts the rookie pool. What complicates projecting the signing bonus Unger can expect to receive are the base salaries, signing bonuses (SB), roster bonuses (RB) and first-year cap numbers (CN) the 49th pick in the last three NFL drafts:

Player

Base

SB

RB

CN

Clemens, K.

$275,000

$1,610,000

$0

$677,500

Irons, K.

$285,000

$1,280,000

$0

$605,000

Jackson, D.

$295,000

$1,353,000

$0

$633,250

Clemens' $1.61 million dollar signing bonus in 2006 was $310,000 more than the signing bonus Minnesota Vikings cornerback Cedric Griffin, the 48th pick, received. The difference is that Griffin had an easily attainable $320,000 playing time incentive bonus in his first-year, which brought his "guaranteed" money to $1.62 million dollars. As a rookie quarterback, Clemens wasn't expected to play, so he received a higher signing bonus in lieu of a playing time incentive.

Former Cincinnati Bengals running back Kenny Irons' deal also included an easily attainable playing time incentive, which brought the guaranteed portion of his deal to $1.7 million dollars. For some reason, Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson didn't appear to receive a playing time incentive bonus in his contract, nor did fellow Eagles' second-round pick Trevor Laws. It's possible that this information hasn't been made public, as other players chosen around Jackson and Laws (Jerome Simpson, Fred Davis) did receive playing time incentives.

In recent years, the Seahawks have used playing time incentives for second round picks John Carlson ($880K) and Josh Wilson ($539K).

Based on what players around the 49th pick typically receive, Unger could receive a 4-year contract worth around $3.5-$3.8 million dollars, with a signing bonus between $1.7-$2.1 million dollars.

Deon Butler (3rd round, 91st overall)

Here are the base salaries, signing bonuses (SB), roster bonuses (RB) and first-year cap numbers (CN) the 91st pick in the last three NFL drafts have received:

Player

Base

SB

RB

CN

Rucker, F.

$275,000

$620,000

$0

$430,000

Henderson, M.

$285,000

$634,000

$0

$443,500

Finley, J.

$295,000

$653,000

$0

$458,250

In 2007, Mario Henderson received a 2.3% increase in signing bonus over what Frostee Rucker received the year before. Jermichael Finley received a 3% increase over what Henderson signed for. The market will ultimately dictate the size of Butler's signing bonus, but with an expected 3.5-4% increase over what Finley received, Butler's signing bonus should fall between $665,000-$680,000.

 

Mike Teel (6th round, 178th overall)

The involvement of compensatory picks after round three make it a bit more difficult to project what sort of signing bonuses the mid-to-late round draft picks will receive. For example, here are the base salaries, signing bonuses (SB), roster bonuses (RB) and first-year cap numbers (CN) the 178th pick in the last three NFL drafts have received:

Player

Base

SB

RB

CN

Ellison, K.

$275,000

$107,000*

$0

$295,063

Folk, N.

$285,000

$108,000

$0

$312,000

Mehlhaff, T.

$295,000

$101,467*

$0

$320,367

*-Signed a three year deal. SB is extrapolated over four years, based on the per-year average of the players' original signing bonus.

 

In addition to Teel being the 178th overall pick, he was also the fifth pick of the sixth round, which may play a factor in the size of his signing bonus. Over the last three years, the average difference in signing bonus between the last pick of the fifth round and the first pick of the sixth round has been around $31,500. Ellison was the ninth pick of the sixth round in 2006, and in 2008, Mehlhaff was the twelfth pick of the sixth round, which may explain why their signing bonuses are lower than the one Folk, who was the fourth pick of 2007's sixth round, received.

So perhaps a more appropriate way to gauge what Teel's signing bonus will be is to look at the base salaries, signing bonuses (SB), roster bonuses (RB) and first-year cap numbers (CN) the fifth picks in the sixth round has received in last three NFL drafts:

Player

Base

SB

RB

CN

Lay, J.

$275,000

$112,000*

$0

$296,000

Blades, H.

$285,000

$106,500

$0

$311,625

Henry, M.

$295,000

$111,200

$0

$322,800

*-Signed a three year deal. SB is extrapolated over four years, based on the per-year average of the players' original signing bonus.

Marcus Henry received a 4.4% increase last year over what H.B. Blades signed for in 2007. A similar increase would put Teel's signing bonus a bit north of $116,000.

Courtney Greene (7th round, 245th overall)
Nick Reed (7th round, 247th overall)
Cameron Morrah (7th round, 248th overall)

There were 256 players chosen this year, while in both 2006 and 2007, 255 players heard their name called. Only 252 players were drafted in 2008, for a variety reasons (New England and San Francisco forfeiting draft picks, for example). So when looking at what sort of signing bonuses Greene, Reed and Morrah can expect to receive, I've opted to look at where they were picked in relation to the bottom of the draft.

Greene, Reed, and Morrah were the 12th, 10th, and 9th picks from the bottom of the 2009 NFL Draft. Below are the signing bonuses each of the players chosen at the same spots in the last three drafts received:

Pick

2006

2007

2008

12th

$38,200

$40,400

$42,000

11th

$37,867*

$40,000

$41,388

10th

$37,033*

$40,000

$41,100

9th

$36,933*

$38,667

$40,700

*-Signed a three year deal. SB is extrapolated over four years, based on the per-year average of the players' original signing bonus.

Even if you look at the signing bonuses the 245th, 247th, and 248th picks received, or if you look at what the 36th, 38th, and 39th picks of the seventh round have received, it's pretty clear that Greene, Reed, and Morrah can be expected to receive signing bonuses of between $40,000-45,000.

This article used data from NFLPA records, as well as USA Today's salary database. Brian McIntyre lives in the Boston area. In addition to writing for NorthwestFootball.net, Brian maintains his own blog (www.macsfootballblog.com), writes for FalconInsider.com, and charts games for Football Outsiders. If you'd like to e-mail Brian, you may do so here.


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