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Volume 21 No. 2
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So now you wish you were a second-round draft pick ... ?

Some agents and other industry insiders were considering the possibility last week that it might be better, under the new rookie pay system, for top college football players to be selected in the second round of the NFL’s annual draft instead of the first round.

As analysts were assessing who were the winners and losers in the new 10-year labor agreement between the league and the players, there was no question where first-round draft picks fell.

“For the first eight to 10 to 16 picks, they are taking a haircut,” said Pete Kendall, a former NFL Players Association player rep who consulted players during the negotiations.

The mandatory contract length for drafted rookies in rounds 2 through 7 under the new deal is four years, as it is for players selected in round 1. However, while players drafted in rounds 2 through 7 of the next 10 drafts will be free agents after four years, clubs will have the option to re-sign first-round picks at a preset amount. The club option on the first 10 picks will be the average of the top 10 salaries at that player’s position. For players picked in the first round, but outside the top 10, the club option will be the average of the third through 25th-highest paid players among veterans at the player’s position.

Because players in rounds 2 through 7 will be unrestricted free agents sooner in their careers, they could make more than first-rounders who perform and are tied to the club for an additional year.

“They took away the big payday for the first-rounders on the front end,” said one agent. “And you are taking away the leverage for the players on the back end because the clubs can use the fourth- and fifth-year numbers as the basis for a new deal.”

Peter Ruocco, NFL senior vice president of labor relations, disagreed with that analysis, noting that the fifth-year option would pay rookies what veterans are being paid, which is more than what rookies made under the old system. “I think it sets up for a very fair negotiation,” Ruocco said. “If you are a quarterback and successful, your number in year five could be $13 million.”

The contract of St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford, top pick in the 2010 draft, was the subject of much public and media discussion during the labor talks. His six-year, $78 million deal provided for a reported $50 million guaranteed. By comparison, this year’s No. 1 pick, Cam Newton, would draw $22 million over four years, plus a potential option year salary of $14.3 million — though there is no limit on the amount of guaranteed money a player may seek or receive.

The new rookie system takes a lot of the creativity out of negotiating contracts because agents are not allowed to negotiate nearly as many terms as before. Option bonuses, option exercise fees, voidable years and nonvoidable years are prohibited, according to a document the NFLPA distributed to agents last week. Additionally, agents cannot negotiate incentive clauses for things like making the Pro Bowl, being rookie of the year, leading the league in touchdown passes or posting other, individual-player achievements. “A performance incentive must be based only on a specific numerical playtime amount,” states the document the NFLPA distributed.

“The previous system had loopholes in it that people were able to exploit, and this is a closed system,” Ruocco said.

In commenting on the new system, agents asked for anonymity because they did not want make public statements that may be viewed as critical of the NFLPA. Most agents were not happy about the new system, but not all.

“It’s about time,” said one NFL player agent who has not represented top players selected in the draft. “Fifty million dollars is ridiculous for a rookie contract.”