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Rookie wage scale

One area of common ground between the owners and players in the NFL's labor talks is the desire to throw rookies under the bus. It's an easy fix in the collective-bargaining agreement - from a big picture perspective. Veteran players are happy to get more money that goes to rookies. Owners are happy to pay rookies less. Just how to work out the specifics remains up in the air.

The NFLPA proposed last summer a Proven Performance Plan under which rookie contracts would be limited to just three years. That would save the owners about $200 million a year, the NFLPA projects. The union would take $150 million of that and put it into a pool, which would be distributed to veteran players who outperform their contracts. The perfect example is Titans running back Chris Johnson, who rushed for 2,000 yards on almost a minimum base salary. Funneling more money to a guy like him would likely prevent him from holding out of camp the next year. Then the union would take $50 million a year and distribute it to retired players. 

The owners proposed to take $100 million of the savings and give it to retired players. The owners also rejected the union's proposal that rookies would be unrestricted free agents at the end of their three-year deal. The solution depends on the big-picture split of the NFL's revenue pie. If the union gets a percentage it likes, it might not object to more money for retired players coming from the pool for current players. But the union isn't likely to agree to a give-back without knowing how much it's getting overall. Whenever it gets resolved, the rookies will be getting less to start their careers. They don't really have a seat at the bargaining table. 

---Mark Gaughan

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