The NFL and the Players Association on Tuesday took measures to explain their separate and dividing stances regarding rookie salaries, an ongoing topic of debate between the league and its players union. But some of the veterans, including at least one Viking, tend to support the league's stance.
After a back-and-forth exchange in the press recently between NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and NFL Players Association Executive Director Gene Upshaw, the league issued its stance on the growing turbulent topic of rookie pay.
Two weeks ago, Goodell called the money that rookies receive before ever playing a down in the NFL "ridiculous." Upshaw fired back, calling Goodell's comments "ridiculous."
Sounds cordial, doesn't it?
In fact, both executives have valid points. Goodell's argument of players needing to prove themselves before they receive such lucrative contracts (No. 1 overall pick Jake Long
got a five-year, $57.75 million deal that included $30 million in guarantees) makes sense. Matt Ryan
, the first quarterback drafted this year, received a six-year, $72 million contract that called for more than $34 million in guarantees.
But Upshaw has a valid point that the NFL owners don't have to pay rookies that much money. Teams are only required to meet a minimum salary for the season and stay under the salary cap for that season. Rookie salaries aren't dictated by the players union, but the agents representing those rookies aren't likely to give back ground they've already taken.
You might think that all the players are for higher salaries, even for rookies. But there are a number of veterans that don't support paying unproven talent more than – or even close to – the amount that the league's veteran stars make.
"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 last 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."
Although the Vikings haven't officially signed any of their five draft picks from April, they also don't have to worry about the higher bonuses given to top-15 draft picks this year after trading away their first-round pick to acquire Jared Allen
, a proven veteran that the franchise seemed excited to sign to a six-year, $73 million contract.
Even those veterans who have recently signed lucrative contracts of their own aren't so sure that paying unproven rookies with lavish bonuses is such a good idea.
"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," 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, said last month. "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 Tuesday, the NFL offered its selling points on the matter in a press release, saying "here are points to keep in mind regarding the contention that high rookie contracts are good for NFL veterans because they drive veteran contracts higher." The following bullet points are the NFL's stance.
It's not true that exorbitant rookie salaries benefit the veterans as a group. It can't be, not in a capped system.
In a capped system, there is a defined amount of money in the system. It's one pie and a zero-sum game (win-lose, not win-win). Every additional dollar going to an unproven rookie means one less dollar going to veterans.
High rookie contracts may drive high contracts for a select group of elite veterans – the stars. But if that's true, it's the rank-and-file veterans that lose out. If an additional dollar going to an unproven rookie drives another dollar to an elite player, that means two dollars less going to rank-and-file veterans.
And, if a rookie receives an enormous amount of guaranteed money in the form of signing bonus and does not produce on the field, it's even worse. That money goes completely out of the system. It is with a player not producing anything on the field.
Veterans like Kevin Mawae (NFLPA president) recognize this and have stated so publicly.
It is the same problem that exists with players that breach their contracts and are able to keep bonus money (Michael Vick). The money goes out of the system, instead of being available to be paid to top, proven veterans.
The term used by clubs to refer to guaranteed money paid to players that have washed out or don't produce is "dead money." That money is not available to pay to players that are actually contributing. It is money that is not doing anything to contribute to the quality of the game.
The NFLPA responded with its own points of emphasis:
Rookie contracts are limited under the CBA by a "cap within a cap" referred to as the "rookie pool." That pool is limited to about 2% of total revenues, leaving about 56% of total revenues for veterans. In dollar terms, the rookie pool average is less than $4.5 million per team, which is less than 4% of the total cap ($116 million) for all players.
The NFLPA has cut back the rookie pool several times in the past 10 years. When the CBA was originally signed in 1993, the rookie pool was 3.5% of DGR (defined gross revenue), and the pool grew annually by a percentage increase in DGR every year. In 1998 we limited that growth to 10%, and in 2006 we cut that in half to 5%. As a result, the pool has shrunk by at least a third.
The 2006 Extension further limited rookie salaries by imposing a maximum length on rookie contracts, providing that draftees beyond the first round could sign for no more than four years. This means that signing bonuses, which typically increase along with the length of a contract, had to be cut back for most drafted rookies.
The perception that rookies get too much money is created mainly by the top 10 to 15 picks, which as a group gets generous contracts but represents only about 2.5% to 3.75% of the annual rookie class. Typically, a top pick in this category gets about more than one-half of his club's rookie pool, leaving the other half to be shared by the other rookies on the club. If anything, it is therefore the other rookies who pay the price for the big contracts at the top of the first round, not the veterans.
The average player salary for 2007 was about $1.75 million, but only the first 18 picks signed deals that averaged more than that. Put another way, 237 out of last year's 255 picks got less than the average salary because of the rookie pool.
Most top draft choices who turn out to be major contributors (and most of them do) will renegotiate their contracts long before they expire. When they do, they will be negotiating as veterans and replacing the out years of their rookie contracts with compensation that matches their proven value. Meanwhile, their rookie contracts provide leverage for established veterans to negotiate proportionate increases in their compensation, and the rookie himself is negotiating from a higher base when he does his second contract. A good example is Peyton Manning, who signed a record-setting contract as a rookie and did so again when he re-negotiated. Both times he established a favorable base from which both he and other quarterbacks could negotiate in the future.
More than anything, the NFL owners' focus on limiting rookies in the next CBA is motivated by a desire to pit player against player and is part of a divide and conquer strategy. This last point is the most important. The issue is just a ploy by management to divide the players. Currently, the NFL is $400 million under the cap – a lot of money that they could spend on veteran players. Additionally, total salaries for the NFL in 2008 will be over $4 billion dollars! If you add up all of the signing bonuses for all of the rookies, it is not even a blip on the radar screen. What the owners are trying to do is pay EVERYONE less, particularly the rookies.
With those points direct quotes from separate releases Tuesday, the war of words is likely will continue until a new Collective Bargaining Agreement is reached.