Understanding the NFL slotting system is a critical component to understanding Andre Smith's holdout

I need your help. Because honestly, I don't understand. Perhaps it's just lacking the common sense needed to understand the issue. We've probably spoken about the Andre Smith holdout more than any specific topic during Training Camp. Two sides are emerging. You have those that just want Smith in camp. They don't care about the specific details. But they blame Smith. Some calling him greedy, immature, while suggesting he's possibly wrecking the first year of his NFL career -- and there might be truth to that, I admit.

The truth of the matter is that everyone wants Smith in camp. That isn't the debate. The issue is who everyone wants to blame; or in more subtle terms, understanding the issue. Some take the higher road and shout to the heavens, "I don't care. Just get into camp." I'm standing there with you brother. But you have to also acknowledge that the complexity of the issue is saturated with an egotism that's far out of our hands.

In fact, I understand both sides of the issue. For Smith, he is risking his first season in the NFL. The Bengals' position is eerily similar to our own when discussing the ridiculous yearly increases of NFL rookie contracts. The Bengals don't want to pay it. End of statement.

The problem here is, the Bengals don't have a choice. Alvin Keels has made his position as clearly as can be heard. He wants his client to get paid more than the sixth pick from last year and a little more than the seventh pick this year. Keels didn't just make up this process. It wasn't a manipulative ploy to get his client more money. It's generally the way it works. The guy drafted ahead of someone else, gets a little more money. And that guy gets a little more money than the draft pick selected in the same slot got the year before. This isn't Keels' master plan. He's following the same system that everyone else has followed.

Wide receiver Michael Crabtree is looking to be paid as the highest wide receiver in the draft; he won't settle on being paid less than Darrius Heyward-Bey. Crabtree believed that since he was a top-five pick, he should be paid like it. This is far from the issue in Cincinnati. Clearly Crabtree's egotism is causing the holdout. Smith wants to be paid where he's slotted. In that article, Peter King writes:

The NFL has a slotting system that is ever-so-slightly malleable, where a player who gets drafted one spot lower than another player occasionally gets a smidgeon of a better deal. And sometimes a quarterback gets an above-market deal. But position players and non-quarterback skill players are slotted, and despite the efforts of agents to break the slotting system when picked lower than the agent or player thinks he should be picked, the league mostly holds firm.

So the question is, what are Keels and Smith doing that's wrong? What are they doing that any other agent/player combination wouldn't do? As Keels was overheard saying during Hard Knocks, he just wants what's fair. Katie Blackburn responds that they want to pay him in line with the other first round picks. The issue here is, paying Smith what Keels is asking would be in line to what the other first round picks are being paid, due to the slotting system described by King.

The Cincinnati Enquirer's Paul Daugherty completely ignores this, casting it as a side item in his conclusion.

Keels wants his guy at No. 6 to make more than Heyward-Bey, drafted No. 7 by Oakland. Blackburn says the Raiders decidedly overpaid Bey, a wideout whose best talent is running fast. If you look at the numbers, the Raiders deal isn’t crazy, just mildly strange. Keels’ suggestion is fair, but he sounds like he’s begging. At the negotiating table, The Family will salt him and eat him for lunch.

Heyward-Bey's deal isn't just crazy, it's ridiculous. The increase over the slot the previous year was over 20%. This is staggering. But it doesn't matter. The NFL slotting system is an important aspect for this discussion.; in fact, it is the primary issue. It mustn't just be acknowledged, but it needs to be understood if you're going to seriously address the discussion.

And this is the issue, I think that's mostly misunderstood. The finances and politics of negotiations are largely annoyances by fans and media. And that's fine. It is boring and frustrating to read about the negotiations of millions of dollars. However, while it might be annoying, it's critical. And in my opinion, the Bengals going against the slotting system that's established in the NFL is the primary cause for Smith's holdout.

If you want to argue that the slotting system is ridiculous, I firmly and full-heartedly agree. However, the reality is that it does exist. And it's why Smith remains in Alabama and we rub our temples watching the conclusion of the second episode of Hard Knocks.

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