Rookies will still get paid, just not on a Sam Bradford level
The final hurdle to NFL labor piece may have been cleared Thursday night.
ESPN reported that the league's owners and the NFL Players Association have reached a tentative agreement on a new rookie wage system, which has been said to be the final stumbling block toward a new collective bargaining agreement.
Contracts for first-round picks would be a fixed four years in length, with teams holding options for the fifth year. If the team chooses to exercise that option a year early, after the contract's third year, the fifth-year option salary is guaranteed to the player.
Each rookie would likely receive a standard slotted salary in the first four seasons, and then the option year's wage would depend on the player's draft slot.
The top 10 picks would receive a salary equal to the average of the top 10 salaries at their respective positions. Picks No. 11 through No. 32 would get the average of the Nos. 3 through 25 salaries at their positions.
As an example, let's use the NFL's current poster boy for outperforming the rookie contract, Tennessee Titans RB Chris Johnson.
Drafted No. 24 in 2008, Johnson would fall into that latter group. The average of running back base salaries No. 3 through 25 in 2009, according to the USA Today Salary Database, was $2,679,833, which would be a marked improvement from the near-league-minimum $385,000 Johnson pulled down that season. Undoubtedly, the Titans would have already exercised Johnson's option, guaranteeing him that money.
For point of comparison, the average of the top 10 running back salaries from that year would be $4,092,940.
Still unknown is the fate of cap maneuvers like option bonuses, which helped Rams QB Sam Bradford, last year's No. 1 draft pick, make an extra $18 million on his rookie contract, or whether first-round picks' contracts will be able to contain roster bonuses.
Signing bonuses aren't likely to go anywhere, and may still be allowed to be quite substantial. NFL rookies will not be able to cry poverty, but they won't be guaranteed $50 million the moment they first set foot in the team complex, either.
--Scott Henry (Twitter: @4QuartersRadio)