Past NFL proposal would have cut top rookies' pay by $300M

A modified salary system for rookies was a negotiating point for a new collective bargaining agreement until talks broke off March 11 and the NFL Players Association dissolved as a union. The NFL locked out the players hours later.

The sides are scheduled to resume mediation Thursday. And although there's nothing to suggest that old proposals will play any role in the new talks, the league's stance on rookie compensation came to light in documents obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press.

According to the documents, the NFL wanted to cut almost 60 percent of guaranteed pay for first-round draft picks, lock them in for five years and divert the savings to veterans' salaries and benefits.

More than $525 million in guaranteed payments went to first-rounders in 2010. The league wants to decrease that figure by $300 million.

The NFLPA wasn't immediately available for comment Wednesday. However, its past proposals called for four-year contracts for first-round picks and three-year deals for other selections, according to documents sent to agents at one point and obtained by NFL.com.

Several agents said the NFL's proposals place unfair limitations on players entering the league.

"Five years and reduced pay is basically restricting players," said Ben Dogra, whose clients include San Francisco 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis and St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford, last year's No. 1 overall pick. "Roughly 68 percent of the NFL is comprised of players with five years or less of NFL experience.

"Even players from essentially picks 11 to 32 in the first round are good financial deals for the teams. If a player becomes a starter or an integral part of the team under the current system, the NFL teams have the player under a rookie deal that is favorable to the team."

Peter Schaffer, who represents Cleveland Browns kick returner Joshua Cribbs and New York Giants wide receiver Hakeem Nicks, called such a system "scouting insurance" for teams making bad selections high in the draft.

"It also makes the rookies more valuable when you reduce the amount you are paying to the young guy," Schaffer said. "This will eliminate the veteran middle class because teams can have younger players who are making less and are under fixed contracts."

But Eagles president Joe Banner said the original aim of the draft is being compromised by the expenses associated with signing top picks.

"The whole concept of the draft and ordering of the picks is to maintain competitive balance in the league," Banner said. "Now teams get top picks who have become so expensive and there's the risk you can miss, and it makes the ability to trade in and out of those spots almost impossible. It can become a disadvantage to be in one of the top spots."

The league's offer would free a total of more than $1.2 billion over four years through 2015 -- $37.5 million per team overall -- and slow the growth rate of guaranteed payments to first-rounders, which the documents show increased by 233 percent from 2000 to 2010.

Such quarterback busts as JaMarcus Russell ($32 million), Matt Leinart ($12.9 million), David Carr ($15 million) and Joey Harrington ($13.9 million) received huge guaranteed payments that totaled $367 million in the last 10 drafts.

Of course, Eli Manning ($24 million), Philip Rivers ($17.9 million) and Matt Ryan ($34.7 million) haven't done too badly for their teams.

Guaranteed money paid to top-10 selections since 2000 reached nearly $2 billion. Guaranteed payments for all first-rounders were at $3.5 billion. The average career length of a first-round pick since 1993 is 9.3 years.

During talks for a new collective bargaining agreement, the league also proposed eliminating holdouts by reducing the maximum allowable salary if a rookie isn't signed when training camp begins. The NFL also suggested eliminating holdouts for all veterans by prohibiting renegotiations of contracts if a player holds out in the preseason.

The compensation system wouldn't include a rookie wage scale and would allow for individual contract negotiations. Contracts would have a fixed length of four years for players chosen in the second through seventh rounds and wouldn't affect salaries for those rounds, the league said.

"From a fairness standpoint, the simple concept to drive this should be that the players who contribute the most to the league should get the most money," Banner said. "What this system does is ensures players playing well in the NFL and bringing in fans and driving TV (ratings) will get the money that went to players who turned out not to be so good. And that is good for everyone."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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