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Kevin Figgers August 10, 2007
Kevin Figgers
NFL Columnist

Tell Kevin your opinion.

$20 million…$24 million…$27 million. These are the contracts of some of the NFL’s elite, right?…wrong. These are the signing bonuses of the last 3 number one overall picks in the NFL Draft. Untested, unproven college players who have the weight of the world on their shoulders to begin with, being selected number one out of 255 possible players who can be drafted. But giving them this amount of money not only places more of a burden on the player, it also places a burden on the franchise, who often times find themselves having to cut a veteran or two, sacrificing the team just to get these players into training camp.

I completely understand how a team may not want to delve out a lot of cash to an older veteran who is more likely to get hurt. But by allowing these players and these agents to dictate how much they can sign for, it is setting a bad precedent for drafts in the future.

The people who are representing current 1st overall pick in this years draft, JaMarcus Russell, are asking for $40 million in guaranteed money. Although the Oakland Raiders contend that the signing bonus is not the problem (they contend that Russell’s agent wants a guaranteed option bonus, and the Raiders aren’t willing to do that). A year and a half ago, JaMarcus Russell wasn’t on anyone’s radar as a potential top 5 pick in the NFL Draft (he was actually on the verge of losing his starting job at LSU to Matt Flynn). The guy dominates a mediocre Notre Dame defense in a BCS bowl, and all of a sudden he’s the second coming of John Elway.

In no way am I trying to slight Russell. I think he CAN be a good player in this league. However, so often we teams draft players based on potential, and many of those players never work out. And teams have to pay the ultimate price if these guys do not turn into the superstars everyone thinks they will be. Yet, while the team is still trying to figure out whether this player will be the franchise guy or not, they are already paying him as such.

I believe that now, more than ever, that the NFL needs to implement a rookie salary cap, similar to what the NBA does. Input a system where no number one pick can earn over a certain amount of guaranteed money (for arguments sake, lets say they can receive no more than a $10 million signing bonus). This would allow teams to better manage the cap, hold on to some key veterans, and most importantly, allow them to be lot more patient with their draft picks. There’s a big difference between paying a young rookie $2.5 million to back up a veteran, and paying a rookie $8.5 million to backup a veteran. More often than not, that veteran is let go regardless of how productive they’ve been, because the franchise has invested so much money on this unproven rookie.

I’m not going to come out and say that, “These holdouts are hurting the game” or anything like that, because more often than not, all of the draft picks are signed before or soon after training camps begin. I just feel that it is a little ridiculous when parties begin to argue over option bonuses, or in the case of the Jets and Darrelle Revis, ONE YEAR! Are you kidding me? You miss two weeks of training camp over a dispute of one season (the Jets want Rivas to sign a 6 year deal, but Revis only wants 5 years). Who’s the owner, and who’s the rookie? I know the old saying that “the NFL is a players league”…But please, can we leave that distinction to the players who have actually proven something first?

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