Why The Rookie Pay Scale Will Fail AKA The NBAization of Football


I’m a long time lurker, but this issue has roused me from the shadows.  I am freakin tired of people boosting the new rookie wage scale.  We think it’s gonna “Lock in young talent for peanuts.”  But I got news. It won’t.  The rookie wage scale isn’t a terrible idea.  It makes sense that teams should take less risk on unproven draftees and devote more cash towards proven veterans.  And it will do that.  But there will be collateral damage.

Whatever money we save on rookies, we will have to spend developing those same rookies.   While this draft class looks like the others, future drafts will not be so rich and tasty.  Instead of sticking in the NCAA to “develop” and move up a round or three, underclassmen today have more incentive to get drafted earlier, even it means dropping.  Why?  Because the faster they can shed the first 4 years, the faster they can start making free agent dollars.  The average NFL career is only 3.4 years.  With no rookie pay scale players could max out value early on, and hedge against early “retirement.” But without that opportunity most players will try instead to maximize their longevity.  By starting at 20-21 you erase 2 years of college hits, and 2 years of rookie pay.  

Moreover, the BCS plantation system offers players no incentive to stick around.  Players only stay today because underclassmen draft poorly.  Teams want developed players who are “NFL ready.”  Kids who eked out another year of “poverty” (keeping their payoffs on the down low) could make 2, 5 even 10 million dollars more than if they stayed. But the first round money isn’t there anymore.  What incentive is there now for a solid 2 or 3 round pick junior/sophomore, to stay another year or two? Even if the 2 and 3 round money isn’t great it’s better than working for free on Masa’s field.    Why develop for free when the payday isn’t there?  Makes much more sense to get paid now, and put yourself in a better position for later.

So what’s the long term impact to football?  It’s threefold.

1. The NFL draft will take on less and less importance in the future.  Teams will no longer value picks like they used to, and we’ll see more trades for proven commodities instead.  Teams will instead focus on player development, building up a stable of solid players they can use to provide depth or trade.

2. The College game will suffer as upperclassmen leave earlier in order to build on their future value.  The Potemkin “amateurism” that the NCAA claims will get even sillier.  No doubt schools will start outright bribing kids to stay on, desperate to keep their talent pool and the ticket sales up.

3. Poor fundamentals in the NFL, as less developed players are pressured into bigger roles.  We see this a lot today in the NBA, where top “one and done” types get starting roles that they’re not totally ready for.  They may have the raw talent and athletic skill, but they harbor serious deficits in other areas.  This will also cut opportunities for UDFAs, since rough draft picks will take up more and more space on practice squads, specials, and other low depth chart situs. 



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