How Badly Does The NFL Need A Rookie Salary Scale?
Ha! Just kidding. But the truth is that the answer to this question really is that simple. Every year around this time, just a week or two into training camp, the rookies of the league—who were drafted alllllll the way back in April, may I add—start showing up to National Football League training camp. Late.
Not because they necessarily want to, either. But because it takes them until now to work out their contracts. After spending weeks haggling over how much they’ll make, how many years they’ll be under contract and how much they’re guaranteed to make, they finally give in and sign a deal they’re comfortable with. But it disrupts training camp, the preseason and, in some cases, even the regular season.
It’s ludicrous to the rest of us, because many of these guys are making millions of dollars a year for playing 16 games of football. But in some sick, twisted way, I can’t even argue against their tactics of holding out for more money. If I was getting hired to do a job that could cause me physical harm and possibly end my career my first week in the league, I’d want to make sure I was getting taken care of, too.
The real reason this is a travesty to the league, fans and the veteran players of the NFL is that the league continues to allow rookies to take advantage of the system. And if they’re going to do that, why shouldn’t the next generation of players fight tooth and nail to get paid up front? Why shouldn’t they hold out of training camp until they’re guaranteed a certain amount of money? Why shouldn’t they act like divas and tell their teams to go shove their tiny contract offers up their…well, you get where I’m going with this.
Former Oakland Raiders quarterback JaMarcus Russell held out for a larger contract during the summer of 2007. Despite making more than $35 million with the Raiders, the team cut him last spring due to poor performance on the field.
Right now, NFL rookies are nothing more than little kids who’ve been told all their life that they’re lifting weights, running wind sprints and doing pushups after practice in order to get a big payday. So when they’re drafted into the NFL, a big payday is what they’re expecting. No one from the NFL tells them they can’t have it—so, they sit around and wait until someone gives it to them. And once someone gives it to them, the guy behind them says, “You know what? He got that and I was drafted just a little lower than him, so give me a little less than him and I’ll be happy.” And that continues until all NFL rookies are signed.
The solution to stop it? The NFL needs to create a rookie pay scale. Rather than let an untested, unproven quarterback like this year’s No. 1 overall pick Sam Bradford sign a contract that guarantees him $50 million regardless of how great or how poorly he plays, have a contract already drawn up for the first round pick that’s non-negotiable. Have one for the second pick, too, and the third pick and the fourth pick and so on. The NBA does it and it works well. Guys get into camp on time, play with their teams at the beginning of the season and don’t have to worry about catching the side-eye from wily veterans who are sitting around wondering, ‘Why haven’t I gotten my big payday when that guy, who’s never even played a game, is cashing multimillion-dollar checks?’
I understand it’s only a matter of time before the NFL puts a rookie salary scale in place. But that time can’t come soon enough. While the rest of the league is already kicking things into high gear and ready to start the preseason, there are a handful of rookies like Lions defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh still riding the pine and waiting for their big payday—a payday that’s not even deserved yet, regardless of how great some of these rookies were in college.