Rookie Cap Proposal Needs Tweaking

Mike Florio writes an interesting commentary on the state of the negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement.  He focuses upon a proposed rookie wage scale.  He runs the numbers and comes to this conclusion:

“Thus, the truly big money will be paid out not in the first contract but in the second contract.  As a result, the goal will become to get to the second contract.  And to get to the second contract, a player will need to get into the league and start proving his worth.”

His point is that the new system will cause more rookies to leave college early:

“As one league source explained it to PFT on Thursday, more underclassmen will choose to leave, since improving their draft stock via an extra year of college football won’t translate into the big money that a big bump up the ladder would have triggered in the past.  The big money will now come once free agency approaches, and free agency won’t approach if the player opts for another year of play-for-no-pay.”

This is a legitimate issue and one which the league would be well advised to avoid.  How?

If the goal is to get to the second contract, then higher round picks should be signed to shorter rookie deals.  That gets them to free agency quicker and provides the player with the needed incentive to stay in school and improve his draft stock.  A player might “play-for-no-pay” for an extra year but, effectively, it could still count as progress towards free agency and, given the extra skill level acquired, could make sticking around at a university worthwhile.

Will the owners actually do this?  Very doubtful.  The current system allows teams that draft well to have sustained success and, in theory, allows better organizations to compete effectively under a cap.  Organizations that draft well are going to want to be able to continue to keep those players under their rookie contract.  Even with restricted free agency there’s a good chance that such a team could lose an impact player.

But the league can’t have its cake and eat it, too.  If its serious about making sure that its money only goes to players that have shown they can earn it, its going to have to give in on something.  This might be the only answer.

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