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mesaSteeler
04-24-2011, 10:20 AM
NFL owners, players eye rookie wage reduction

By Scott Brown
PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Sunday, April 24, 2011

Billy Devaney worked in a little due diligence with dinner last year when the St. Louis Rams general manager and the team's then-offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur met with Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford prior to the NFL Draft.

While the three dined in a Pensacola, Fla., restaurant near where Bradford was training, Devaney slipped away and sought out the eatery's owner.

"I asked him what kind of guy (Bradford) was, how does he mingle with people, how does he act when people ask him for his autograph, how does he act with the waiters," Devaney said. "We checked every possible person that we could that knew anything about Sam Bradford."

If the NFL has its way, executives like Devaney might no longer feel the need to go to such extremes. The league is pushing for a reduction in guaranteed money paid to first-round picks like Bradford, who commanded $50 million after the Rams took him No. 1 overall before he had thrown a pass in the NFL.

Reduction of rookie wages is part of negotiations between owners and players on a new collective bargaining agreement. Those talks resumed Tuesday with court-ordered mediation, and compensation for unproven players might be one issue on which the sides fundamentally agree or can at least find common ground.

The NFL would limit financial risk for teams near the top of the draft but also take money that is saved the league estimated $300 million per draft class and redistribute it via performance-based bonuses to veterans and to retired players.

"It is long overdue and something that should have been instituted back in '93 when free agency started," said agent Ralph Cindrich of Carnegie. "It is something that I think players, the NFL and fans agree that it is close to a travesty when there is a high amount paid to a young guy and he's a total bust, whether it's a lack of skill, or worse, it's because of attitude and the like."

The escalating money guaranteed to first-round picks has not impacted the Steelers much for two reasons: They have picked higher than 16th only twice in the past 11 years, and they haven't whiffed on a first-round pick during that span.

A document obtained by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review illustrates the rise in guaranteed dollars from 2000-10.

In 2003, the Steelers guaranteed Troy Polamalu $5.489 million after taking the Southern Cal safety with the 16th pick. Last year, the Steelers gave center Maurkice Pouncey, the No. 18 pick, $10.67 million in guaranteed money as part of his five-year contract.

That represents an almost a 100 percent increase in what the Steelers guaranteed to players selected with nearly the same pick.

Guaranteed money given to first-round picks league-wide has increased 223 percent since 2000. Nowhere is the spike more exaggerated than with No. 1 picks.

The past two top picks, Bradford and Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, are guaranteed nearly $92 million between them. That's almost $60 million more than top picks David Carr and Carson Palmer were promised following the 2002 and '03 drafts, respectively. That steep price tag makes it almost impossible for teams to trade the No. 1 pick.

The $50 million Bradford is guaranteed is almost $20 million more than what Ben Roethlisberger received after signing his second contract with the Steelers in March 2008. It was the most lucrative deal in franchise history, and Roethlisberger got it after he had become the first NFL quarterback to start his career 13-0 and the youngest signal-caller to win a Super Bowl.

"Where in the world does a kid coming out of college go into his first job making as much as the top people in the organization? That's ludicrous," said CBS analyst and former NFL general manager Charley Casserly. "(The issue) seems to be one of the priorities of the owners and also the players' association. The question is: How do you structure it so that there really is savings? That's the concern of the clubs. The concern from the union is that the money really does get redistributed and doesn't just get lost."

Andrew Zimbalist, an economics professor at Smith College in Massachusetts, said there are other industries in which college graduates are guaranteed large sums of money before they have proven their worth. Harvard graduates, for instance, often have companies bid for their services, driving up their value.

But Zimbalist said scrapping the draft and allowing rookies to enter the league as free agents like the Harvard graduates in their fields wouldn't work in the NFL because the league's success is predicated on a level playing field for small- and large-market teams.

"Professional sports is not a normal business," said Zimbalist, a frequent commentator on sports economics. "The reason why there can't be competition like other labor markets is you've got to have balance across the league."

The NFL estimated that the money saved and redistributed through scaling back rookie earnings would exceed $1 billion by 2016. Among its proposals are limiting first-round picks to five-year contracts and capping what a first-rounder can make in his first contract if he holds out during training camp.

The union has long insisted the NFL provide a detailed plan of how the savings will be given back to players not just a guarantee that it will do so.

"I sort of have mixed feelings about this thing," said Joby Branion, an agent representing Texas A&M linebacker Von Miller, who is expected to be a top-five pick when the 2011 draft begins Thursday. "I think it's a mistake to just jury-rig something that imposes a hard-and-fast sort of penalty on the guys coming into the league when, in fact, there are many more hits than misses. For every JaMarcus Russell, there are three guys who go to multiple Pro Bowls."

Branion said he supports the initiative as long as players receive the money that is saved.

Former NFL coach Jon Gruden agreed.

"Hopefully they get this resolved," said Gruden, an analyst for ESPN's "Monday Night Football." "The guys that perform and play the best, I think, are entitled to the highest salaries."

Scott Brown can be reached at sbrown@tribweb.com or 412-481-5432.



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Fire Arians
04-24-2011, 04:17 PM
I don't understand why #1 picks command so much money. The worst teams in the NFL pick first, and pay some ungodly amount of money for untested talent, putting them in the hole salary cap wise and making it harder to rebuild unless that draft pick ends up being worth that much (which isn't always the case). they're just shooting themselves in the foot, it almost ensures the bottom teams will stay on the bottom if they ever draft a bust