A few days ago marcello posted a link to Roger Goodell's rant against the rise in rookie salaries. I knew I wanted to discuss this in more depth, but I wanted to wait and get my ducks in a row. Today is a perfect time for this post thanks to several video links at ESPN.com and NFL.com on the issue. Throw in Captain Chaos's post and there is a whole lot to consider.
Now that the owners have opted out of the current labor deal, the rookie salary issue is sure to become a sticking point in negotiations going forward. When it comes to labor negotiations, each side values any and all bargaining chips they can bring to the table. Conceivably, the NFLPA could concede a rookie salary cap as long as the NFL did ______. However, this particular issue is not so simple. Players eligible for the draft are covered by the NFL collective bargaining agreement, even though they're not members of the NFL Players Association. Gene Upshaw and the veterans that run the NFLPA are supposed to be looking out for the best interests of their entire constituency, but I wonder how true that is.
People's Exhibit A: Patrick Willis and Joe Staley are entering their second year in the league, and as first round picks they have certainly benefited from the rise in rookie salaries. I'm excited for the future of both young men and would not normally blaspheme against either, particularly the true awesomeness that is Patrick Willis. Then I see the video linked here and I take issue with what they have to say. In the video, both guys agree that some kind of cap is necessary on rookie salaries. At the end they're asked about their own salaries but the video cuts off before we get a straight answer.
Say the NFL and NFLPA come to some sort of agreement on how to handle this. If the players agree to a rookie salary cap, that could conceivably mean more money for the veterans when they're free agents. That is a bit of an assumption on my part, but something worth considering. One way to not screw over the rookies (not that a 3 year, $8 million deal would be getting screwed), would be that the money saved by the owners on rookie salaries would go towards the players pension plan. That way the rookies could eventually benefit if they're in the league long enough. I'm just spitballing ideas, but it's something that both sides will have to think long and hard about.
ESPN has some interesting info about the issue. Gene Wojciechowski has an anti-Goodell take and after the jump is some ESPN video, including analysis by John Clayton. He points to the trade off necessary for Upshaw to give up the rookie money and whether the NFL is willing to give up a chunk of revenue for that cap.
My own take? While I believe in the free market economy, I don't think the situation is right for it in the NFL. On the one hand, the owners are the ones giving up gobs of money to these players and they should be more disciplined. The problem is that on the other hand, the players are willing to hold out until they get the money they want. It becomes a battle of wills. If there was a slotted rookie cap in place, there would be no holdouts and no acrimonious negotiations. And for those wondering about the rookie salary pool, it comes down to working the system as they do with veterans. The Dolphins rookie pool was $6.5 million. Jake Long signed a 5 year, $57.75 million deal, but his 2008 cap figure is only $3 million.
I'll close with one reason for the players being allowed to demand whatever they want. It comes from Wojciechowski's lambasting of the commissioner:
His statement was greeted by a long round of applause from the estimated crowd of 2,000 inside the amphitheater.
None of those applauding were drafted out of college, had their job rights owned by a team/employer not necessarily of their choice, could be traded to another employer without their consent, could be severely injured on the job, and could be cut at almost anytime.