The 2011 NFL rookies won't like it. Their agents won't like it. But it looks like the NFL owners and the former NFLPA are closing in on a rookie wage scale.
According to Jarrett Bell from USA Today, the rookie wage scale currently being discussed would establish four-year contracts for all non-quarterback first round picks, giving those players an earlier shot at a big free agent contract instead of a large rookie deal. Players drafted later would receive three-year deals, which would make them restricted free agents after the end of their contracts.There is also some talk about doing away with option bonuses and other salary cap 'tricks'.
John Clayton of ESPN reports that the only thing standing in the way of implementing a rookie wage scale is a 'mild disagreement' between owners and players over contract lengths:
The expectation is that high first-round picks could take a 50 percent reduction in guarantees. Cam Newton, whom the Carolina Panthers picked first, might be about to get $25 million in guarantees. The dispute between owners and players -- which is only a mild disagreement -- is over how long those contracts should be.
The players would like first-round picks to be given no more than four-year contracts, with three-year deals being given to later-round picks. Owners want four-year contracts from Rounds 2 through 7 and five-year deals for first-rounders.
So what could this mean for Tyron Smith, the Cowboys' first round pick? That's not totally clear yet. Last year's number nine pick, Buffalo's C.J. Spiller, signed a five year $25 million deal with $20.8M guaranteed. Under the proposed new system, Smith will likely sign a four year deal, with the upside of becoming a free agent earlier and the downside of a lot less guaranteed money.
Jarrett Bell also writes that the option of signing Tyron Smith under a new rookie wage scale figured into the Cowboys' decision to draft him with the ninth pick:
Jones, who in the past traded out of top-10 draft positions because of the commitment needed to strike contracts for unproven players, said the prospect of a rookie scale weighed into his decision to stay pat in this year's draft. With the ninth pick, the Cowboys selected Southern California tackle Tyron Smith.
"I was more comfortable in that spot," Jones said, "than I would have been."
At the end of the day, the rookie wage scale is something that both sides can easily live with. The owners lower their financial risks in case a player turns out to be a bust, the players in return get to free agency sooner (if they make it past even the four years, that is).