A quarterback class that doesn't feature an elite talent could still place “as many as four or five” quarterbacks in the first round based on a provision in the collective bargaining agreement.
That clause, which allows first-rounders to be under team control for five years rather than four years for second-round picks, is a primary reason team sources gave as to why the top 32 picks on April 25 will feature several quarterbacks.
The NFL instituted the rookie contract slotting system to curtail exorbitant contracts given to unproven rookies. The new CBA, ratified two years ago, stipulates that all first-year players will be given a four-year contract but allows for the team option of adding a fifth year for players drafted in the first round. Undrafted rookies sign three-year contracts.
The ability to own the rights to a player for that fifth season could prove a critical factor for teams -- such as Jacksonville, Oakland, Arizona and Buffalo -- struggling with the decision to wait until the second or third round to draft a quarterback or to "reach" to take one in the first.
|More 2013 NFL Draft coverage|
Where a player is selected in the first round, however, is of critical importance when it comes to salary, which is why quarterbacks may slip but still wind up being selected in the first round.
Per the CBA, the year-five option on these deals equals the average salary of the veterans at the same position. Put simply, any quarterback drafted in the top 10 this year would be looking at a salary north of $12 million in the fifth year of his deal. Keep in mind, the rookie deal for a No. 1-4 overall pick will be roughly four years, $23 million -- $5.75 million annually. That's a hefty raise and one likely to increase, as salaries are sure to jump over the next three, which is the deadline when clubs must decide whether or not to exercise the fifth year of the contract.
The salary demands change signficantly for picks 11-32, however. At that point in the draft, the year-five club option is the average salary of the third-highest quarterback through the 25th player in that position. Therefore, any team looking to draft a quarterback -- or other "developmental positions" -- may view picks 11-32 in the first round as more valuable than a selection in the top 10.
As the most valued commodities in the sport, quarterbacks are the most likely to come ahead due to this policy. A five-year deal is potentially just as valuable for prospects at other positions. However, some teams feel it is especially important for players likely to outplay their rookie deals. That would imply "developmental" positions like quarterback, offensive tackle, defensive tackle and defensive back are more valued than positions which often result in immediate success -- like pass-rushers or running backs.
"There is a growing feeling that in this draft, specifically, if you have a guy you like, why not make sure you get him rather than try to get cute and wait," one high-level executive told me. The long-time talent evaluator requested anonymity because he works for a club expected to select a quarterback this year, perhaps as early as the first round.
By adding veteran passers via trade and free agency, the Oakland Raiders, Philadelphia Eagles, Arizona Cardinals and Buffalo Bills have given themselves "wiggle room" but no one would be surprised if the clubs invested an early-round pick in a rookie.
In terms of players, there may not be any bigger fans of the "new" CBA agreement than quarterbacks Geno Smith, Matt Barkley, Ryan Nassib, E.J. Manuel and Tyler Wilson, each of whom has admirers throughout the league.
As for the teams in best position to take advantage of this year-five option, keep an eye on the Carolina Panthers (selecting No. 14 overall), New Orleans Saints (15), Chicago Bears (20), Indianapolis Colts (24) and New England Patriots (29) as clubs that may look to trade out. Each of these teams boasts a strong starting quarterback and could be looking to recoup picks, as they are missing at least two of their original selections from the 2013 draft.
The Panthers and Bears no longer have their third- and seventh-round picks. The Saints lost their second- and seventh-round selections. The Colts already gave up their second- and fifth-round picks. The Patriots, seemingly always active on draft weekend, currently have zero picks between their third-round selection (No. 91 overall) and the seventh-round choice (226) they received from Tampa Bay as part of the Aqib Talib trade.