Tennessee safety Eric Berry is currently NFLDraftScout.com's 4th rated prospect for the 2010 NFL Draft. I've spoken to NFL scouts and front office executives who feel we have him rated too low, claiming that with the exception of perhaps Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, Berry is the surest thing of this year's class.
What those same league personnel have told me, however, is that Berry is likely to fall past these rankings in the draft, itself. He'll fall strictly because teams do not want to give a safety the money that goes with a top five pick -- or perhaps even money that goes with a top eight pick.
Take into consideration the contracts signed by players drafted with the No. 5-9 picks last year. Remember that contracts generally increase year to year, meaning that the first (or 50th) overall pick in 2010 is likely to sign a deal for more money than the man who was drafted with the same pick last year.
Mark Sanchez, the fifth overall pick, signed last year a contract of five years for 50 million dollars, including 28 million in guarantees. By hitting certain incentives, Sanchez's contract could reach nearly 60 million. Sanchez's yearly average would be -- at minimum -- 10 million.
Andre Smith, taken a pick later by Cincinnati, signed a six year deal worth a maximum of 42 million, with 21 million guaranteed. Smith's yearly average is seven million.
The seventh overall pick, Darrius Heyward-Bey, agreed to terms with the Raiders of a five year deal of 38.25 million with 23.5 million guaranteed. Heyward-Bey's yearly average is 7.65 million.
Eugene Monroe, the 8th overall pick, signed with Jacksonville for five years and 35.4 million, a yearly average of 7.08 million.
BJ Raji, drafted by Green Bay 9th overall, signed a five year, 28.5 million dollar contract. His year average is 5.7 million.
Each of these players -- a quarterback, two offensive tackles, a wide receiver and defensive tackle -- signed rich deals, but ones under the 2010 Franchise Tag tenders. This means that these rookies, while very well paid, would not earn more than the average of the top five current NFL players at their respective positions in average salary per year.
The problem for Eric Berry is that safety is the third lowest tendered position (ahead of only tight ends and kickers/punters) and has a franchise tag tender of 6.45 million dollars.
If Berry was to be drafted by a team earlier than the 9th pick, at least according to the deals from last year's draft, he'd be slotted to earn more money than the best at his position. Looking past the obvious question of fairness to established stars like Ed Reed or Troy Polamalu, the problem is that whichever team drafted Berry would find itself in a very difficult position five years later -- when Berry, assuming he played well, would likely be expecting a raise for his second contract. If drafted earlier than 9th overall, Berry's rookie contract would potentially be worth more than any deal a team would be willing to give him as a free agent. Unless the Franchise tender for safeties suddenly exploded, Berry's NFL team would likely be able to slap the franchise tag on him, guaranteeing him less than he'd earned in his original rookie contract.
I made the point in the introduction paragraphs of my mock draft that NFL teams can use the cliche of taking the best available player as much as they'd like; the reality is that position value dictates many selections.
For Eric Berry, an unquestioned top five talent, the perceived value of his position could keep him out of the top eight in the 2010 draft.