Big Rookie Bonuses Senseless
Bob Labriola, a Pittsburgh native, has been editor of Steelers Digest since its inception in 1988. This page offers him an opportunity to provide additional insights into the Steelers, the NFL and the events that are making news.
On April 22, amid much fanfare, the Miami Dolphins announced they had signed Jake Long, their No. 1 pick and the first overall selection of the 2008 NFL draft, to a five-year contract worth $57 million. Included in that total is reported to be $30 million worth of guaranteed money.
Exactly three weeks earlier, with much less fanfare, the NFL announced how it had distributed close to $100 million in its Performance-Based Pay system, which was created to benefit lower-salaried players, for the 2007 season.
Each team kicked in $3.15 million for the 2007 season, and Steelers right tackle Willie Colon collected the biggest check awarded under this system, for $309,534.
Under the Performance-Based Pay system, players can qualify for extra money through an index that takes into consideration playing time for a particular season. As Commissioner Roger Goodell explained, ďIf a player is making the minimum salary but plays in a high percentage of his teamís plays, heíll get a larger payout of the pool than a teammate with the same amount of playing time but a higher salary.Ē
Hereís an example of how this system works: A player earning $600,000 and participating in 50 percent of his teamís snaps would earn an extra $60,000, while another player earning $6 million who also participated in 50 percent of his
teamís snaps would get $6,000.
This is a nice start toward rewarding players for on-field performance, but the amounts could be a lot more, and the natural place to find the money is in the obscene guarantees awarded to unproven rookies, particularly those drafted in the top half of the first round.
It has never made any sense why the members of the NFLPA continue to allow a system that rewards such ridiculous sums to these unproven rookies, because at the time the players sign these contracts theyíre not even members of the union yet.
Colon, like Long, is an offensive tackle, and while he will have to continue to bust his butt to put together a body of work that might land him millions in his second NFL contract, the unproven rookie has nothing to worry about because he knows heís getting $30 million whether he can play or not.
The real winners under the current system are the agents of those top rookies, because 3 percent of $30 million is
excellent pay for what amounted to a few weeks worth of work.
As a union, the NFLPA is governed by its members, who foolishly have allowed these inequities to continue. Itís one-man, one-vote, yet the many are bowing to the wants of the few.
Makes no sense.
Last April, the San Francisco 49ers decided they absolutely had to have tackle Joe Staley, and so they traded this yearís No. 1 pick to New England for the chance to pick him. If the 49ers had kept their No. 1 pick, they would have been able to pick any of the eight offensive tackles drafted in the first round this year, with the exception of Jake Long.
Trading away future draft picks is the professional football version of using your credit card to pay your mortgage. Itís nothing but a shortterm fix that ends up costing more in the end.
There was a time when the Pittsburgh Steelers played this game.
Buddy Parker was a coach who valued veterans and distrusted rookies, and so he traded future draft picks as if they were worthless.
In a span of five drafts, from 1959-63, Parker traded 29 of the teamís top 32 picks. Thatís right, 29 of 32. The Steelers traded their first seven picks in 1959; in 1960, they drafted Jack Spikes in the first round and traded their next five choices; in 1961, they traded their No. 1 pick, drafted Myron Pottios in the second round and traded their next four
picks; in 1962, they drafted Bob Ferguson in the first round and traded their next five picks; and in 1963, they traded their first seven picks. The Chicago Bears used that No. 1 pick in 1963 to take Hall of Fame middle linebacker Dick Butkus.
With so much of its future squandered, itís no wonder the Steelers were a combined 14-53-3 from 1965-69.
On April 26, 2008, the Carolina Panthers decided they absolutely had to have tackle Jeff Otah, and so they traded two picks in this draft plus next yearís No. 1 to get him. Theyíll have to wait until April 2009 to find out what that actually cost