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News » 'There's something wrong' with NFL pay scale

'There's something wrong' with NFL pay scale

'There's something wrong' with NFL pay scale
Reggie Bush likely will earn more than $8.5 million from the Saints this season. His lucrative financial package, part of a renegotiated rookie deal last year, makes him the second-highest paid player on the roster, behind quarterback Drew Brees.

In fact, Bush's $12 million salary-cap figure is twice as high as any other Saint except Brees and defensive end Will Smith, two former Pro Bowlers. There's something wrong with this picture.

This is no knock on Bush, a breathtaking talent who's injected much-needed star power into Team Fleur de Lis since being drafted with the No. 2 overall selection in the 2006 NFL draft.

Bush simply is playing by the rules set forth in this backward system. But clearly Bush has not yet earned the $20 million largesse in bonuses, salary and incentives he's received in his first three seasons.

And it's not just him.

Jake Long, the No. 1 overall pick a year ago, became the highest-paid lineman in the NFL the minute he signed a five-year, $57.5 million contract with Miami last season.

Chris Long became the second highest-paid Ram when he signed a five-year, $48 million contract as the No. 2 overall pick.

These outsized deals are the product of a broken system that rewards high draft picks on reputation and potential rather than NFL production. By virtue of their lofty draft selection, top-five draft picks are being compensated with the best players in the league before they've ever played a down.

"There's something wrong about the system," NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said last year.

Goodell would like to see the system amended when the league negotiates a new collective bargaining agreement with the players' union in the next year or so. He's proposed a rookie wage scale similar to the one the NBA employs, where rookies are paid a fixed wage on a sliding scale for the first three years of their careers.

In the NBA system, Michael Beasley can't get paid more than Dwyane Wade. The money will come later, once Beasley proves on the court he is worthy of a raise, like the one Chris Paul got last year.

In the NBA, young players have incentive to work hard and bolster their r?sum?s so they can cash eventually cash in.

In the NFL, there's no such incentive. Top-five picks are handed the keys to the store the first day on the job. Some can handle the responsibility, others can't.

Remember Johnathan Sullivan? He's probably laughing all the way to some Griffin, Ga., bank with the millions he pocketed from the Saints. In three years, Sullivan was paid more than $16 million. In that time, he had 1.5 sacks and one forced fumble in 36 games before being ignominiously dealt to New England.

Sullivan and other first-round busts like Akili Smith, Ryan Leaf and Mike Williams are testament to the capriciousness of NFL personnel procurement. Despite the investment of thousands of man-hours and millions of dollars, mistakes are made.


Colts General Manager Bill Polian said that 50 percent of the top picks the past 25 years have been busts. That's why top-five picks, once prized league-wide, have suddenly become albatrosses.

Last year, Miami tried to trade the top overall pick and couldn't find a taker.

This year, the Lions have made it known the No. 1 selection is available, and all they've heard is crickets.

"You can't trade the pick," said former NFL general manager Charley Casserly, now an analyst for the NFL Network. "There was a time you could. You can't trade it; nobody wants it. Now that's a generalization, I know. But it's holding true, because of the money involved."

As the general manager of the Texans in 2006, Casserly tried to test the market for the No. 1 overall selection. He didn't receive one offer.

"In fact," Casslery said, "one team jokingly wanted us to give them something to take the first pick."

Indeed, Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis made it clear at LSU's Pro Day last week that he'd be happy if he never had another top-five selection. The potential reward simply doesn't justify the risk.

The No. 1 pick in the April 25-26 draft will receive more than $30 million in guaranteed money before he plays a down, a thought that terrifies NFL owners.

Lions Coach Jim Schwartz compares selecting at the top of the NFL draft to blackjack. Play at the $5 table, make a bad decision or two and you lose $100 in an hour. Do the same thing at the $5,000 or $10,000 table, Schwartz said, "and you're walking home, you're not flying home."

"I think you've got to add that into the equation," he said. "Not only is it an opportunity to get a great player, but you need to make sure."

Thing is, nobody can be sure.

The 49ers gave quarterback Alex Smith $24 million in guaranteed money on a six-year, $49.5 million contract when they made him the top pick in 2005. In four seasons, Smith has thrown 19 touchdowns and 31 interceptions. He hasn't played a down since 2007.

The club recently renegotiated Smith's deal to a pay scale commensurate for a backup quarterback.

Everyone thought Bush was going to be the next Gale Sayers. Turns out he's closer to the next Eric Metcalf.

Regardless, thanks to his contract, Bush will continue to be paid like a player of Sayers' caliber. In fact, if Bush plays into the final year of his contract, he'll earn a salary cap figure of $16 million in 2011. That's significantly more than Brees or any other Saint will earn.

Even Bush must know there's something wrong with that.

. . . . . . .

Jeff Duncan can be reached at jduncan@timespicayune.com or 504.826.3404.

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: March 29, 2009

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