Posted by Andy Benoit
The rookie wage scale is one of the hot issues in the current Collective Bargaining negotiations. All commonsensical observers agree that it’s ridiculous for unproven rookies to warrant gargantuan contracts (the JaMarcus Russell era confirmed this once and for all). The question is what to do about it.
As Liz Mullen of the Sports Business Journal points out, a concern the NFLPA has about the league’s proposed rookie wage scale is that if the scale applies to fourth and fifth-year players, middle-of-career veterans could get forced out of the league on the basis of being too expensive (why hire a vet when you can get a rookie for cheap).
Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk has a brilliant idea (so brilliant that it warrants its own post):
We propose two-year contracts for all draft picks. After two years, the players become exclusive-rights free agents, which is essentially what they are upon being drafted.
Then, after completing the initial two-year contract, the player can threaten to withhold services as leverage for getting the best possible deal, which is precisely the leverage that unsigned draft picks possess. Or he can sign a one-year tender that would be based on playing time and possibly other factors, such as Pro Bowls and other achievements and awards. Or the two sides can come together and agree to a long-term deal based not only on potential but also on two years of performance.
If a player not picked in the top 10 plays at a high level, like Titans running back Chris Johnson did during his first two years in the NFL, he can cash in like he would have done if he’d been a top pick. If a player picked in the top 10 becomes a bust, like Raiders quarterback JaMarcus Russell, the team can give him a one-year tender offer based on the factors that will reflect his substandard performance, or the team can let him walk away.
After the third year, the player would be subject to the rules of restricted free agency, like every current third-year player whose contract has expired. After four years, the player would be an unrestricted free agent, assuming that the next labor deal maintains a four-year path to unrestricted free agency.
This idea would appease the teams while also yielding the same key rights to players: a crack at unrestricted free agency after four years.
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