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Hammer's theory revisited

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Guest Aloysius
Rookie wage scale talk may affect 2009 NFL draft


By Paul Domowitch


The NFL scouting season is in high gear. Hundreds of scouts are on the road right now filing reports on drafteligible college seniors.


Officially, they're supposed to turn a blind eye to underclassmen. Unofficially, they are paying more attention to them than ever.


That's because league people and agents think the persistent talk of a rookie wage scale will prompt a record number of underclassmen to declare for the 2009 draft.


Last year, 53 underclassmen were eligible for the draft. The year before, the number was 40. Many think the number could exceed 80 this time around.


"I'm planning for that,'' said an NFC personnel director. "We're doing some things differently this year. I told our guys we have to start looking quicker [at the underclassmen] and start putting lists together of people in their areas. I told them, 'When you're at the school, pay closer attention than usual' to the underclassmen.


An agent who regularly represents multiple first-round picks echoed the personnel man's sentiment.


"That's totally the buzz I'm hearing," he said. "I'm hearing this guy wants to come out and that guy wants to come out. They want to come out mainly out of the fear that something's going to be done about the rookie wage situation."


The uncertainty over who will replace Gene Upshaw as the executive director of the NFL Players Association has added to that fear. The league's owners have been clamoring for a rookie wage scale for a while now. Even many of the league's players have advocated the need for one. But Upshaw had been opposed to it.


"When you consider the impact [rookie contracts] have on the [veteran] market, you've got to keep that piece there," Upshaw told me in an interview shortly before his death.


"The owners are the ones paying this money. No one put a gun to [Falcons owner] Arthur Blank's head when he decided to pay Matt Ryan [$34 million in guarantees]. I didn't sign that check. He agreed to that. Now he wants me to stop him. He wants me to fix what he did. Well, the union isn't in the business of stopping the owners from paying players."


Last month, the NFLPA hired a search firm, Reilly Partners of Chicago, to assist the union in its search for a new executive director.


"I've had a number of inquiries through family members and friends [of underclassmen] on the subject" of a rookie wage scale, said longtime agent Jerrold Colton, who is based in South Jersey. "At this point, it's completely uncharted territory. A wage scale certainly has been a subject that's been discussed in league circles the last several years, and it's something that Gene resisted tremendously. But since we don't know who his successor is going to be, we don't know whether he's going to feel as strongly about it as Gene.''


Colton said any player who comes out early purely because of the possibility of a rookie wage scale is making a huge mistake.


Thirty-seven of the 53 underclassmen who came out this year were drafted in April, including a record 30 in the first three rounds.


According to scouts, this is not a particularly impressive or deep senior class. For a team like the Eagles, who have two first-round picks - their own and the one they acquired in a trade with Carolina - both of which are likely to be in the bottom third of the round, a larger-than-usual exodus of underclassmen clearly would benefit them.

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I wouldn't be surprised if it has an impact, but man, I hate the idea of a rookie cap. My hope is that if and when they put one in place, it will be because the players who are already in the league want it, not because of the constant din from pundits and fans every year about how much rookies make.


Come on, folks...trying to control how much people can make in their jobs? Where's Joe the Plumber when you need him?



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Guest Aloysius

Though we've heard some grumblings from veteran players about how much rookies make, they're already making too much money to organize against a rookie cap. And it doesn't make sense for athletes making millions of dollars to question the logic of giving rookies boatloads of cash, especially when that inequity in pay is insignificant compared to the petty cash (& pensions) retired players receive(d).


Also, it's gotta be hard for players to go against their their agents, the folks who "get" them their money.


But I think there's a strong case for a rookie cap. Not only would it prevent teams that drafted busts from descending into cap hell, but it would eliminate a perverse incentive structure that gives player little reason to work hard for their next contract.


I wonder if that'd improve the quality of football we see every Sunday. Probably not, but it's worth a try...

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