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Smith and Bengals tied up in Rookie Salary Knot; typical rookie salary mess

It seems to never fail.  A team in need of a big time player from college drafts a player in the top 10 but finds itself mired in contract negotiations that cause the player to hold out for more money.  Andre Smith, the 6th pick overall in this past draft, feels that he should be paid more than what the Bengals are offering.  As shown on HardKnocks, what the Smith camp is offering is not to the liking of the Katy Blackburn and thus, they are at a stalemate and Smith is holding out.

Once again the debated has surfaced whether unproven high draft picks should be getting contracts worth more than veterans with a proven record of excellence.  Each draft is a shot in the dark with no guarantee that the player will satisfy early expectations.  There has been a number of high draft picks that find themselves out of football within the first three years with little or nothing to show for it except a fat paycheck for expectations not delivered.  But there are those, primarily the NFLPA, which says this is why they should get the money up front with the average NFL player lasting just six seasons.

The teams in the NFL are run like a business.  Each team, including the Bengals, is looking to turn a profit and get the best value out of their players.  But unlike the NFL, the average business (remember, I said average, I know there are exceptions) will not front load a contract of a college grad allowing the individual to prove themselves over time before increasing their salary and giving bonuses for excellent performance.

Last season, several veterans signed long term contracts that rewarded them for their proven play, only to see highly drafted rookies get contracts that are significantly more lucrative.

2008 Veteran Signings

Career Stats:   198 rec,   3,161 yards, 16.0 avg per catch, 42.7 yds per game, 20 td's, 5 years NFL experience

Career Stats:  506 comp, 927 attempts, 54.6 pct, 6,195 yards, 43 TDs, 35 ints, 75.1 rating, 5 yrs NFL experience, 2007 Pro Bowl selection

Career Stats:  500 rush attempts, 2,159 yards rushing, 12 TDs, 48 receptions, 261 receiving yards,               1 TD, 3 yrs NFL experience.

  • Michael Turner, RB, (Atlanta Falcons): Signed a 6-year, $34.5 million contract

Career Stats:  604 rushing attempts, 2,956 yards rushing, 23 TDs, 17 receptions, 112 receiving yards, 0 TDs, 5 yrs NFL experience, 4 spent as back up to LaDainian Tomlinson.

  • Flozell Adams, T, (Dallas Cowboys): Signed a 6-year, $43.8 million contract

10 years NFL experience; selected to 5 Pro Bowls, started 162 of 166 games participated in

Career Stats:  267 total tackles, 239 solo tackles, 28 ast tackles, 26 ints, 4 TDs, 6 yrs NFL experience.  Holds 2 Super Bowl Rings and selected twice to Pro Bowl.

2008 Rookie Signings

  • Jake Long, OT, (Miami Dolphins, 1st Overall Pick): Signed a 5-year, $57.75 million contract
  • Chris Long, DE, (St. Louis Rams, 2nd Overall Pick): Signed a 6-year, $60 million contract
  • Matt Ryan, QB, (Atlanta Falcons, 3rd Overall Pick): Signed a 6-year, $72 million contract
  • Darren McFadden, RB, (Oakland Raiders, 4th Overall Pick): Signed a 6-year, $60 million contract
  • Glenn Dorsey, DT, (Kansas City Chiefs, 5th Overall Pick): Signed a 5-year, $33 million contract
  • Vernon Gholston, LB, (New York Jets, 6th Overall Pick): Signed a 5-year, $32.5 million contract

The NFL is the only professional sports league that allows its high draft picks to command higher paychecks then the proven veterans solely based on their draft position.  This trend has continued for the past several years and into this season.  Roger Goodell has recognized that this trend needs to be held in check and would like to put something in place with the next collective bargaining agreement.  But resistance to this will be strong from the NFLPA as they hide behind the short playing duration of the players.  Coupled with the fact that this type of system has been in place for decades, it could make this a fight that may cause problems between the players and owners during negotiations.  So what is the solution to this growing problem?  And if there a solution, will both sides agree to it?

There have been a lot of suggestions by us bloggers that the NFL should try to implement a NBA style of rookie salary cap, limiting how high a rookie can make based on their draft position.  Now I know, this is not the NBA and how could I even suggest such a thing?  But what this will do is prevent unproven rookies from signing contracts higher then proven veterans.  According to Hoopsworld, NBA rookies for the upcoming 2009-10 season will earn between $842.2k as the last pick in the first round to $4.1 mill as the first pick overall.  For the NBA rookie drafted 6th overall (Smiths draft position) he can expect to earn no more than $2.4 mill for his first season, $2.66 mill for year two and $2.8 mill for year three.  The 4th season, which is an option year, will have an increase of 26% from the previous season.  If this kind of salary cap was implemented in the NFL, the highly inflated rookie salaries would be far below that of the veterans and possibly preventing unnecessary holdouts as the rookie will know what to expect when negotiations start.  And just as in any business, pay increases will come as the player progresses and continues to play.

Goodell wants to make things more equitable with a rookie salary cap needing to be implemented preventing high profile and unproven rookies getting contracts higher than proven veterans.  This came to a head with the contract signed by Falcons rookie QB Matt Ryan last season placing him higher than Super Bowl winners Peyton Manning and Ben Roethlisberger, and above our own Carson Palmer.  In order to prevent situations such as this, action will need to be taken by the owners and the NFLPA must concede that the old system not smart business practice.