Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

17 Aug 2009

Rookie Contracts

As a 49ers fan, I've been following Michael Crabtree's holdout. Clearly, Crabtree has no leverage, since the knocks on him were that he is a diva and that we don't know how the injury will affect his play, and a year holdout during which he can't work out for other teams aren't going reassure anyone--and next year's draft is supposed to be stronger at the top anyway. No way he would go in the top 10 next year. Heck, I'm not entirely sure he would stay in the first round. While the 49ers were happy to pick him at 10, he was passed over by nine teams. And as much as it would look terrible if they failed to sign their first pick, if the 49ers set the precedent that they would give in to this kind of pressure, every agent would demand top three money for their client.

What really strikes me, though, is how bizarre it is that we should even be talking about this kind of money for rookie WRs. It was a weak year for free agent receivers, but no one got that much guaranteed money. Even Houshmanzadeh only got $15M. Crabtree may have much more potential, but highly touted receivers bust fairly often because there is a huge adjustment to the NFL. Ask the Detroit Lions. So how can he turn down $16M in guaranteed money? And why would the Raiders pay Darrius Heyward-Bey $23.5M guaranteed? At least we know Houshmanzadeh can play in the NFL. Would anyone pay Crabtree or Heyward-Bey that much money if they came into the league as free agents instead of through a draft? Probably Al Davis, I suppose, but he can only overpay a couple of rookies every year.

I started wondering whether anyone would pay top ten picks that much money if they were competition for them on the open market. Does anyone seriously think any unproven rookie is worth that much money? Sure, in retrospect Patrick Willis was worth every penny, but we couldn't know that for sure when he was signed. And even the people who thought Alex Smith deserved to be the number one pick didn't think he was worth this rookie contract. Why do teams pay top draft picks so much more than they would fetch on the open market? Is it just because they excite the fan base so much? Does the NFL draft system actually give top rookies more leverage, because they know they can sabotage a team's entire first round by refusing to report?

Posted by: protagoras on 17 Aug 2009

2 replies , Last at 01 Sep 2009, 9:04pm by wr

Re: Rookie Contracts
by Cafeconcarne (not verified) :: Sun, 08/30/2009 - 5:23pm

It is truly bizarre when you have untested rookies making more money--and more guaranteed money--than legitimate superstars of the game. But it really only seems to apply to the first half or so of the first round. It is a huge problem, and frankly, it will have to be addressed in the next version of the CBA. The good news is that the players union might go along with it, if presented with this logic: Next year's rookies are not yet a part of the league, so all players voting on it could be considered vets. It is in the self-interest of the vets to maximize their own piece of the salary cap pie, which while huge is still finite. This of course assumes a CBA with a salary cap will be in place.

Re: Rookie Contracts
by wr (not verified) :: Tue, 09/01/2009 - 9:04pm

In an interesting sidelight, 2 days after the Bengals sign Ander Smith, he breaks his foot...

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