NFL Rookie Contracts

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Detroit Lions came to an agreement with Georgia quarterback Matt Stafford. The deal is a reported six-year, $72 million. The deal can actually be worth up to $78 million if he achieves all his incentives.

Now those that read this blog know that I do not really care what athletes get paid. I am all for people making as much money as possible. Nobody is forcing the Detroit Lions, or any other NFL team, to give athletes this money. I think it is stupid to do, but at the end of the day the free markets should dictate how much money athletes can make and how much money teams should keep for themselves.

What is of particular interest to me is how on earth the NFL got to a place where NFL rookies are paid such crazy contracts. In the other major sports, rookies have to "make good". That is, the big contract does not actually come until a few years after they have been in the league and have proven that they are worth the money.

This is not the case in the NFL. The big contracts are usually given right out of college, before any of these athletes play one down on an NFL field. This seems a little odd to me and I am not sure how this sport got here. As an owner, I would be hesitant to throw this kind of money on an unproven athlete. Worse yet, these contracts use a significant portion of a team's salary cap. More than any other sport, Football is ruled by its salary cap. A team's success is very much correlated by how well they are able to manage their cap. Yet teams are willing to throw that out the window on unproven rookies.

Further, I am not sure how the NFL veterans let this happen. Do they really have so little bargaining power? Why would they allow rookies to get these types of contracts when it directly affects how much they themselves can receive. You would expect it to be like other unions. Those who are already part of the union receive the better benefits and higher salaries. They are the ones who are voting on the rules of the contract and labor agreements. You would think they would create rules that favor those already part of the union rather than those that are coming in.

How would you feel if you are a NFL player making $3 million per year. You are busting your ass and doing great. You may even be on the cusp of a pro bowl selection. Your next contract might net you $4 million if you are lucky. And then you see a player like Matt Stafford, who by his own admission admits he may be a crap shot, get something like $12 million/year. Would you not think this is a little bit unfair?