The rookie wage scale should be one of the easier elements of the NFL labor impasse to solve. Both veteran players and owners agree that top rookies get too much money before they ever play a down. For players taken after the first half of the first round, the compensation is not a bad deal for NFL owners. Most young players who start give teams more than their money’s worth – relatively speaking.
Here’s a breakdown of what Bills top picks have received (or will receive) in guaranteed money this decade:
2010-2005: C.J. Spiller ($18.9 million), Aaron Maybin ($10.9 million). Eric Wood ($6.5 million), Leodis McKelvin ($12.5 million), Marshawn Lynch ($10.2 million), Donte Whitner ($13.8 million), John McCargo ($5.7 million).
2004-2000: Lee Evans ($7.7 million), J.P. Losman ($5.8 million), Willis McGahee ($4.5 million), Mike Williams ($14.4 million), Nate Clements ($4.6 million) and Erik Flowers ($3.0 million).
The big numbers for the picks in the top half of the first round are the ones that stick out. Mike Williams was the fourth overall pick. He started 47 games for the Bills but played about one half of a good season and arguably ranks as the biggest bust in Bills history. He took home $23 million over four seasons with the Bills. Aaron Maybin, meanwhile, got $3.45 million his first season and $7.48 his second. Maybin needs to produce this year or his time in Buffalo probably will be over.
J.P. Losman was the 22nd overall pick. His overall contract paid him $1.5 million a year. He started 33 games. He was a bargain – or he would have been one if he had played well. Eric Wood, the 28th overall pick, has a deal that averages $1.6 million a year. Again, a bargain, given he’s a solid starter.
The owners and players can strike a compromise by limiting the length of the contracts rookie draft-picks sign. Restricting the top 16 picks to five-year deals and the second 16 picks to four-year deals is a middle ground where both sides can meet. (The owners want all first rounders to get five-year deals; the players have proposed four-year deals for all first-rounders.)
Then both sides have to find an agreeable pay scale for the top 32 picks (with the focus on the top 16). That will be a little trickier, but since all the money saved would be going to veteran players (and veteran benefits), it won’t be a stumbling block to the collective-bargaining talks.
The real hard part of the CBA talks will be how to split up the overall revenues after the first couple years of the deal - in 2013 and beyond - when leaguewide revenues are expected to skyrocket higher and higher.