Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

25 Apr 2008

A Draft When No One Drops?

At the New York Times Fifth Down blog, I write today that the six players at Radio City Music Hall are likely to be chosen before the draft is an hour old. Also this week I wrote about Leodis McKelvin, Gene Upshaw clinging to a system that hurts his membership, Rashard Mendenhall getting a raw deal and Mike Holmgren's love of drafting quarterbacks.

Posted by: Michael David Smith on 25 Apr 2008

22 comments, Last at 03 May 2008, 5:24pm by Yaguar

Comments

1
by Herm? (not verified) :: Fri, 04/25/2008 - 2:19pm

Is it just me, or has the talk of the top few guys this year been much higher than usual this year? It seems the Chiefs and Jets can't miss at 5 and 6 (not that projections are always correct).

2
by Independent George (not verified) :: Fri, 04/25/2008 - 2:23pm

Regarding rookie salaries, I think a fair compromise is a rookie cap for the 1st round with the following stipulations:

1. 1st round contracts are 100% guaranteed.
2. 1st round contracts last exactly 4 years, such that the players become unrestricted free agents immedately immediately after the contract lapses.

3
by Michael David Smith :: Fri, 04/25/2008 - 2:25pm

Re 2, I like that, especially the early free agency part. The key should be allowing young players to earn their fair market value. (Which, of course, could be accomplished by simply eliminating the draft, but that's not going to happen.)

4
by Richie (not verified) :: Fri, 04/25/2008 - 3:00pm

#3, what's the chance that "fair market value" is actually less for players if the draft were eliminated?

Right now, rookie's contracts are based on their draft position compared to players drafted near them, and what that draft position was paid last year.

If Miami had signed Jake Long in a free-market system, he wouldn't be able to compare his contract to JaMarcus Russell. Instead, he'd probably have to compare to Joe Thomas. But probably nobody would even pay him that much. Right now the top few picks are considered a salary burden, so maybe the market would decide that no rookies are worth that much.

5
by inkakola (not verified) :: Fri, 04/25/2008 - 3:08pm

i thought of a conspiracy theory to explain the rookie contracts:

who stands to make tons of money off of rookie contracts? superagents. do agents get paid based on the total hypothetical value of the contract? if so then they stand to make so much money just by making these contracts. if theres a rookie pay scale then the big agents lose out on tons of money. im convinced agents are pulling the strings. since they act as go between between players and the union, if theyre opposed to it and the two sides dont meet without agents in between, itll never happen.

6
by Tom D (not verified) :: Fri, 04/25/2008 - 3:18pm

That punt return looked like pretty bad coverage instead of any thing amazing McKelvin did. Still, there is no shame in being Josh Cribbs, instead of Devin Hester.

7
by Tom D (not verified) :: Fri, 04/25/2008 - 3:20pm

Re 4:

I think there's a good chance the top 5 picks would lose some money in a free agency type system, but the players drafted from 11 to the end of the 3rd round would see huge increases.

8
by Richie (not verified) :: Fri, 04/25/2008 - 3:51pm

Due to the salary cap, I would think that the draft could be eliminated and it would not damage competitive balance. Without a cap, it would probably be a disaster and a handful of teams would get all the best players and just stockpile depth.

In theory, the bad teams will have more cap money available to sign the best college players.

Just like, in theory, the bad teams get to draft the best players.

I would love to see how a non-drafting system would work.

9
by Harris (not verified) :: Fri, 04/25/2008 - 4:09pm

What bothers me so much about Upshaw is not even that I disagree with him, it's that he's so inflexible about it. His attitude is always, "I'm right. You're wrong. Fuck you."

10
by MJK (not verified) :: Fri, 04/25/2008 - 4:33pm

Richie,

The problem with getting rid of the draft is that the issue of attracting talent isn't just a financial matter.

If a team is viewed as "bad", or if they are in an undesirable location, then they're going to have to offer more money to attract the same rookie free agents (if they can attract them at all), and they are going to remain bad. It's a self-propegating situation, that the cap actually exacerbates, because they have to offer more money but have the same total money available.

Hypothetically, assume there's not draft. Suppose San Diego wins the next two SB's, and Detroit goes 3-13 both the next two years. A rookie comes out and is coveted by San Diego and Detroit. Assuming you're that rookie, and that you're not from either city, and that they are offering the same money--are you going to want to go play for a proven winner with a chance for fame and fortune and a quick superbowl ring in a sunny warm climate, or are you going to want to play for a perennial loser with little existing talent in a cold, damp, snowy norther city that is one of the most crime-ridden places in the country? (No offense to Detroit, but that's how a lot of people not from that area veiw it). And how much more money would Detroit have to offer you before you'd go play for them?

11
by Richie (not verified) :: Fri, 04/25/2008 - 4:58pm

MJK, but I think there is a limit to that. Somebody like Matt Ryan probably wouldn't want to sign with New England, because he's not going to get a chance to play. He needs to go to a team that needs a QB.

12
by MDZ (not verified) :: Fri, 04/25/2008 - 5:12pm

#5
Agents don't get paid by the final amount of the contract. Agents get their commission when the athlete gets his paycheck. The reason agents push for the gaudy non-guaranteed contract numbers is to try to get future players to sign with them out of college (or get players to switch to them).

13
by TomHat (not verified) :: Fri, 04/25/2008 - 5:21pm

I dont like that the young players are getting a market value contract. they should get below market value, because if you are simply getting a player for market value, draft picks arent valuable, especially mid to late round picks. The contracts should be below market value, but not vastly below market value, just enough to give teams some sort of advantage for getting them (needs to be low enough that it is still worthwhile even during a weak draft class). Also the salaries should just be set for each draft position. Id say 2-4 years.

14
by BDC (not verified) :: Fri, 04/25/2008 - 6:37pm

13: "I dont like that the young players are getting a market value contract. they should get below market value, because if you are simply getting a player for market value, draft picks arent valuable, especially mid to late round picks."

This makes no sense. Of course they still have value. Are you telling me that a team in desperate need of a QB wouldn't kill for the opportunity to pay "market rate" for a P Manning? Of course, the trick is in differentiating who is a Manning and who is a Leaf, but a team that can identify talent still gets value from picks even if they have to pay market rate.

15
by Bobman (not verified) :: Fri, 04/25/2008 - 11:06pm

I do not know how to post my spreadsheet here, but a rookie cap sounds better than it works as far as I can tell. Just taking a theoretical $110 in cap space in any given year, 46 vets and 7 rookies. I assumed the 1st rounder has an outlandish $6M cap hit (not the #1 guy, assume an average 15/16 draft slot), the 2nd rounder a $2M hit, and the remaining rookies average about $1M for a total of $14M allocated for rookies--that's probably high. That leaves an average of $2.1 for every other vet. Well, you know there will be minimum salary guys in there, and most money will likely end up with the top 5-8 stars.

If the rookie cap cut the rookie cap hits by 60%(a number that sounds pretty fair to me but would give Upshaw convulsions) it just adds $8.4M to be spread out over 46 vets. Under $200k each. That does not look like enough to retain tons of top talent. My guess is that some owners would spend all $8.4M on one guy, some would spend $4M each on 2 guys, and some would spend $2M each on 4 guys, but I doubt it would get diluted much more than that. Now for some teams, that one $8M player would be enough to put them over the top. But for most, adding even 4 guys making $2M more probably doesn't do it. It might cheer the fans up to keep some old favorites--and maybe it's enough to retain 3/4 of the decent guys who would otherwise defect to FA.

I'd have to look at actual head-to-head salaries to see what the $2M upgrade buys you. But remember, as an owner you'd be bidding against guys who might be in the $8M for one guy or the $4M for two guys category, so you might not get the talent you need for the "piddly" $2M you choose to spend looking for 4 guys.

In the end, to me it looks like a collective rookie cap that saves each team $8M annually (a pretty significant cut for top rookies) will most likely end up making one or two players per team richer. I doubt it would have that democratic, "rising tide lifting all ships" feeling that makes the rookie sal cap appealing on the surface.

Thoughts?

16
by Bobman (not verified) :: Fri, 04/25/2008 - 11:09pm

On minor rethinking of what I just wrote, think of your team's players lost to FA over the past few years.... this Colt fan would have liked to keep some, and that probably could have been done for $4M each, keeping two good guys each year. So maybe it works for fans emotionally attached to guys, but might not help teams all that much.

17
by Bright Blue Shorts (not verified) :: Sat, 04/26/2008 - 5:22am

I'm sure my 'system' has flaws (ignoring the legalities of it) so point them out but here goes ...

All rookies get paid a league minimum for their first two years.

At the end of two years, the team that drafted them gets first right to sign them to a market-value contract.

18
by Matt Weiner (not verified) :: Sat, 04/26/2008 - 4:51pm

Bobman, I don't know anything at all about the salary cap so I may be way off base here -- but don't you want to count everyone who's still on their rookie contract, not just the ones who are still rookies?

19
by Stiller Fan in Austin (not verified) :: Sun, 04/27/2008 - 9:23pm

Here's how I would do rookie allocation:

1. Do what they do now with each team only allowed to spend X dollars on rookies (at least, isn't there a 'rookie pool' or something that teams can't go over). Let worse teams spend more money on rookies.

2. Draft up a 'standard' rookie contract with generic terms. Three years, signing bonus, roster bonus, etc. Something that can be compared between players

3. Draft day turns essentially into a silent auction where players are bid on by teams. Either that or it can be done like a normal auction. Let Southeby's run it.

(possibly) 4. Make players go to the highest bidder, so that geography doesn't play a part. This would probably cause some weirdness where players would sign with the league instead of teams. I don't know, just a thought.

But yeah, if a team wants to blow their whole rookie pool on two picks, I'm for it. What I really want is for teams to stop being punished for having a #1 pick that they don't want and nobody will trade for. That and for all teams to have some sort of shot at all players.

20
by cjfarls (not verified) :: Mon, 04/28/2008 - 3:00pm

I agree with post #2, except that as a fan, I would want the contracts to only be 3 years in length, and the players to go into RFA rather than full free agency.

It 1) Gives the rookies a "close to market" payday sooner.
2) Gives the drafting team some preference to keep them by paying-up (RFA), but still lets fans have continuity and "homegrown" guys. For many positions, 3-years is all still developmental, so I'd hate to have the team lose them so quickly.

21
by Ryan (not verified) :: Tue, 04/29/2008 - 5:41pm

I agree that all the deals should be for three years and lead to restricted free agency. Restricted free agents can still get megabucks contracts from other teams while the team that originally drafted the player can match the contract offer, or can receive fair compensation for the player. This is win-win-win-win for the owners, veterans, rookies, and fans.

22
by Yaguar (not verified) :: Sat, 05/03/2008 - 5:24pm

19: People want the #1 pick, and it's still good. The only reason nobody will trade for the #1 is because the owners of the #1 insist on sticking to that absurd draft value chart.

They end up being punished for their own stubbornness, not for having a draft pick that's inferior to, say, the #23.