How an NFL rookie pay scale could be structured

The 2009 NFL Draft is over and the off-season is effectively gone with it. Players are attending mini-camps across the country, and agents are beginning the process of wrangling with front offices over contracts. It's an unfortunate and sometimes acrimonious process that can turn a fan base against a new player, front office or both.

Two years ago, No. 1 overall draft pick QB JaMarcus Russell held out of Raiders camp, if I remember correctly, until after the start of the regular season. As a result, his first year was a complete waste. His second year was, in effect, his rookie season. Last year it was Jaguars DE Derrick Harvey. He held out for much of the pre-season and never really made any impact at all. Some other first rounder will almost certainly hold out this year as well.

Everyone - except for the agents and incoming Top 10 rookies - recognizes the need for something to be done about the massive contracts handed out to rookies. My stab at a workable rookie pay scale is below.

The heart of my idea is to give, effectively, 1-year deals to rookies with their pay for that year contingent on the round (not overall number) in which they were selected. For example, each player taken in the first round would sign a $1 million (officially) 2-year deal. Players taken in the second round would get $800,000; third rounders would get $600,000 and fourth rounder $400,000 with everyone else getting rookie minimums. There would be no signing bonuses, roster bonuses or any other sort of financial provisions.

This would be a take it or leave it provision for rookies. Taking the deal would amount to poorly paid (by current rookie wage standards) internships for the guys at the top of the draft. For those taken in later rounds there would be a certainty and likely not much less money than they currently get. Leaving the deal would mean entering the rookie pool the next year, at the lowest paid level. There would be no instant windfalls for rookies. Ever.

More on the idea after the jump.

At the end of the first year every rookie would be a restricted free agent, free to sign offer sheets from other teams. (A team that lost one of the rookies would get a first and third in compensation.) Rookies that perform, or at least continue to show promise, would get big contracts after that first year. It wouldn't matter what round the player was selected. To use our favorite team as an example, CB Leodis McKelvin would be in for a big payday because he produced both at corner and in the return game. TE Derek Fine would be getting a better deal than the one he's locked into now. WR James Hardy, on the other hand, may or may not get a very large contract. After all, he was slow to learn the offense and didn't produce.

The NFLPA should, in theory, like this version of a rookie pay scale because rookies aren't members of the NFLPA while players who have completed one year are. Basically, there would be more money for members.

The players should, in theory, like it because everyone who comes into the league has to prove themselves before getting enormous contracts. The players don't have to stomach looking at some hapless rookie making far more than they are.

The coaches should, in theory, like it because the rookies aren't untouchable by virtue of enormous contracts. Also, it would eliminate some of the animosity between rookies and other players, making the locker room easier to manage.

Front offices should, in theory, like it because they would be giving money to proven players - which should result in less dead cap space. It would help them to avoid the kind of mistakes (i.e. giving large piles of money to players who turn out to be useless) that get them fired.

Rookies not at the top of the draft should, in theory, like it because they have an actual chance of getting paid. Every year some late round rookies have a tremendous year and are locked into a 4 or 5 year low wage (for NFL players) deal. A great first year will lead to the kind of deal only the Top 10 or so players can expect.

Even agents should, in theory, find something to like. While they will undoubtedly howl about losing huge amounts of cash from their 3% (about $2.28 million from the Stafford deal) on those Top 10 rookie deals, they will get to renegotiate deals for every rookie based on performance just one year down the line. Also, the agents wouldn't face as much pressure to sign college players.

So, what are your thoughts on a rookie pay scale?

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