In an appearance late last week, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell spoke out on the huge salaries being given to top draft picks. He acknowledged that it is “ridiculous” to reward untested rookies with lucrative contracts, and wants the issue addressed in contract talks. “There’s something wrong about the system,” Goodell said Friday. “The money should go to people who perform.”
He was asked specifically about the five-year $57.75 million contract that Michigan tackle Jake Long signed with the Miami Dolphins. “He doesn’t have to play a down in the NFL and he already has his money,” Goodell said during a question and answer session at the Chautauqua Institution. “Now, with the economics where they are, the consequences if you don’t evaluate that player, you can lose a significant amount of money.”
And that’s a huge problem. If you’ve read my annuals, you know that recent history suggests that half of first round draft picks don’t pan out. If you commit that much of your salary cap to one guy for so long, you’re bound to get into trouble, and it doesn’t make any sense to be taking that kind of risk on a player whose never played a down in the NFL. Absent some sort of limit on salaries for rookies, teams are in a bind. They want the talented players that are only available at the top of the draft, but if they aren’t willing to pay the market rate, the players simply won’t sign.
The owners don’t like the current system, and neither do the veteran players. How do you think veteran players — guys who have been to the Pro Bowl — feel when a new kid walks into camp making twice as much as they do? Maybe he’ll earn it and maybe he won’t, but those veterans hate seeing unproven players get substantially more money based on their potential. And they also hate the fact that the kid’s bloated contract is going to force the team to cut several players loose just to stay under the salary cap.
Ultimately, that’s what will drive the change… the veteran players and the union. Their careers are very short, their contracts aren’t guaranteed, and the vast majority of players are better served by a system where everyone is paid based on their performance. Tom Brady threw 50 touchdown passes last year and led his team to 16-0 record. This year, he’ll make $5 million, less than half of what Jake Long’s pro-rated contract will pay out. That’s great for Jake and his agent — God bless ’em — but it’s just ridiculous.