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NFL rookie contracts are high priority
May 8, 2009; Alameda, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders rookie receiver Darrius Heward-Bey (12) at minicamp at the Raiders practice facility. Photo via Newscom Photo via Newscom


The NFL is about to enter the rookie signing period of the offseason. The Rams selection of a quarterback will likely cost them around $45 million even if Sam Bradford never plays a down. Oakland knows all about first overall picked QB not working out. The recently dumped JaMarcus Russell cost the team about $39 million and he only won seven games and threw 18 touchdown passes in three years. Last year’s Raiders draft class was highly criticized, but when the team’s fans look back at it now, it appears to be better than it initially looked on paper.

The top pick from this year has said that he is not in it for the money. “We haven’t started contract talks,” Raiders new middle linebacker, Rolando McClain, told his hometown newspaper The Decatur Daily. “I’m not sure where we are on that. I leave that to (agent) Pat Dye Jr. and the Raiders. I just play football.

“I’m not looking to sit out. In order to play for the team, I need to be in training camp. I’m going to OTAs (organized team activities) and not worried about the contract.”

So what can McClain expect to be putting in his bank account at the end of this year? Well based on the general inflation of rookie contracts from year to year, McClain can probably expect a figure in the ballpark of last year’s number seven overall pick Darrius Heyward-Bey’s 5-year $38.25 million with $23.5 million guaranteed. It’s a figure that paid Heyward-Bey $2,420,000 in base salary last season or $268,889 per catch.

The hope of Raider Nation is that McClain gets more than nine tackles, but hey you never know.

May 9, 2009; Alameda, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders rookie safety Mike Mitchell (34) at minicamp at the Raiders practice facility. Photo via Newscom Photo via Newscom

Last year’s second round pick, Mike Mitchell, earned a base salary of $1,910,000. That’s the figure new defensive end Lamarr Houston will be working with this year.

The trouble with the high rookie salaries in the NFL is that top picks generally get insanely high salaries that increase every single year. So  a guy like Heyward-Bey, who really has never done anything in an NFL-sized pair of cleats, is making nearly $300,000 more for catching nine balls than TE Zach Miller, SS Tyvon Branch, LT Mario Henderson, WR Chaz Schilens, and OLB Trevor Scott combined; five Raiders players who have not only earned roster spots, but have earned starting roles as well.

Some folks think this is why the NFL needs to develop a set rate of pay for rookies, similar to the NBA’s scale. The NBA’s rookie pay scale is outlined in their CBA. There are three basic fundamentals to it:

  • One is a graduate pay scale based on your draft position (#1 picks get paid more than #2 picks)
  • Number two is that the first two years are guaranteed and then following two years are at the team’s option
  • In the fifth year, the team can submit a “qualifying” offer which makes the player a restricted free agent where the team can match any other offer the player receives

The current NFL system is what’s referred to as a “rookie salary pool”. Each team gets a certain amount, generally based on how many draft picks they have. The more picks and the higher your picks, the more money you get. The 2010 St. Louis Rams have the highest amount of pool money at $7.596 million. Now, obviously, they will sign Sam Bradford for more money than that, but it will be in a back-loaded contract where most of his money comes after the first year, most likely, years two, three, and four. Basically, the NFL’s system does nothing at all.

This from www.nfllabor.com:

The rookie salary pool counts ONLY the base salary, pro-rated signing bonus and “likely-to-be earned” incentives (such as roster bonuses) earned in a player’s rookie season. The rookie salary pool does NOT take into account option bonuses exercised in future years, base salary guaranteed in future years, the remaining pro-rated amount of the rookie-year signing bonus, or “not-likely-to-be-earned” incentives (such as playtime that is coupled with team improvement in various statistical categories) earned under the rookie contract.

You have to admire the lawyer talk involve in the NFL’s version of the explanation.

Anyhow, being that all of the Raiders draft choices came after the 8th pick in the draft, the bottom line is that all of the 2010 Raiders rookie class should be present and accounted for when the Raiders head to Napa on July 28th.

In my opinion, the NFL owners shouldn’t even have to come to terms with the NFLPA regarding rookie salaries. It’s obvious to me that the NFLPA only cares about what percentage of a rookie’s pay is going to union fees, rather than protecting its veteran players from getting shafted on their contracts in favor of the new guy.

The owners should be able to come to some type of agreement with each other to not give into to these high demands made by agents of players have been living with mommy and daddy for their whole lives. They are only beating themselves up, I mean, the Raiders certainly could’ve made a better investment than a rookie QB who was more concerned about bling-bling than actually learning to play the game on a higher level.

KANSAS CITY, MO - NOVEMBER 25: Quarterback Daunte Culpepper of the Oakland Raiders looks to pass during the game against the Kansas City Chiefs November 25, 2007 at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Signing a guy like Daunte Culpepper to a six-year $68 million contract would’ve produce better (or at the very least the same) results the Raiders got from signing JaBustus. Hey, I’m just glad it doesn’t have to come out of my pocket. But hey NFL owners, how about giving us blog writers a raise?

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