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The rookie wage scale issue continues to loom


As the NFL and the NFLPA* gear up for what could be a pivotal stretch of negotiations -- if nine owners don’t band together and knock the talks of track on Tuesday and/or Wednesday -- the primary issue continues to be the manner in which the money will be shared by teams and the players. But the extent to which money will be shared with players entering the league via the top of the draft continues to be a collateral issue that could potentially derail a deal.

Jarrett Bell of USA Today takes a look at the question of whether the new deal will contain a rookie wage scale. It’s widely believed that some sort of changes will be made; the only questions are the extent to which the windfall will be reduced and the manner in which the money will be distributed.

Still, for the agents who annually represent one or more of the top picks, the elimination of ever-growing jackpots threatens to dry up an excellent source of revenue. Thus, don’t think that the agents who stand to lose three percent of contracts that continue to grow at a greater and faster rate than any other NFL deals without a fight.

For example, agent Tom Condon of CAA tells Bell that "[h]istorically, contracts for rookies at the top of the draft helped veteran players.” Condon’s contention has plenty of merit, especially when a guy like receiver Larry Fitzgerald can leverage the back end of a big-money rookie deal into a record-setting average wage. Though no one has matched or surpassed Fitzgerald’s four-year, $40 million deal in the three-plus years since it was signed, the contract stretched the rubber band to a new maximum, allowing plenty of other receivers to earn $9 million annually, on average.

But Condon’s other point is somewhat weaker. Regarding the guys who receive millions and never become nearly as good as Fitzgerald has been, Condon says, “At the top of the draft, you’re not supposed to miss on those picks.”

In theory, he’s right. But when it comes to pinpointing why a top pick becomes a bust, the fact that he received so much money before doing anything to earn it potentially contributes to the outcome. For years, we’ve heard complaints about kids who become set for life no longer caring about being the best players they can be, opting instead to relax and coast, confident that they’ll never have another financial care in the world.

Then there’s the fact that some players who receive gigantic rookie contracts refuse to listen to veteran teammates. Or to coaches. Or to anyone. By giving the player so much money, the team has also given him power over the entire organization. If he abuses it, there’s nothing the team can do, at least not for two or three years. Even then, the organization will be admitting failure, and likely positioning itself to have another crack at grossly overspending for a top-of-the-first-round rookie.

At this point, despite the power of men like Condon and other high-profile agents, it’s impossible to prevent some sort of change. Instead, the agents will need to accept the fact that the huge fees will be earned only on a player’s second contract. And with less money going to a handful of guys at the top of the draft, more money will be available to compensate the players who have proven that they can perform at the NFL level.