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Goodell vs. Upshaw: Rookie Wage Scale

Many people out there believe that athletes are overpaid.  I would not disagree to an extent, but there are athletes out there that deserve to get paid big bucks.  On the other hand, there are also athletes out there that are paid the big bucks but probably shouldn't be; not yet at least.

The athletes that get huge contracts but don't deserve them is in reference to NFL rookies.  Although some rookies come in and make an immediate impact in this league, there are others that turn out to be total busts.  At the same time, there are rookies that are in between superstars and busts and become great players as time goes by.

Currently, the NFL has no wage scale for rookies that come into this league.  That isn't a problem for the rookies as the top draft picks get amazing amounts of money, but it is a problem for teams that have high draft picks.  Rookies are without a doubt deserving of decent contracts as they worked hard to get where they are, but for some rookies to be making millions of dollars more than experienced veterans just bothers me.

I'm not going to argue that the NFL needs a wage scale for rookie contracts based on what is fair to experienced players that have actually played a down in this league, but instead am going to do so based on what is fair to NFL teams.  As a fan of the Lions, up until this year's draft I have had to watch them pick very early on in the first-round.  Normally the pick is in the top ten, and on more than one occasion it has been in the top five.  That should be a good thing as the Lions had numerous chances to add talented players to the roster, but it certainly hasn't turned out that way.

Just for a second, disregard the fact that most of Detroit's high draft picks have turned out to be busts.  That is probably hard to do, but try to forget about that when reading this.  Teams that have poor seasons are rewarded with high draft picks to make their roster better with the hope that they will build a winning group of players.  With those high draft picks, teams have the shot at picking players that should make an impact almost immediately in the NFL.  Although some teams are better at this concept than others, the concept itself is the same for all 32 franchises.  

Here's the problem: Giving bad teams the chance to add talent that will make them better is great, but what is not great at all is making them pay unproven players large amounts of money that could give them cap issues down the road.  Once again, some teams are usually able to handle this in a way that it doesn't cause them problems, but when you're a team like the Lions that has consistently been drafting early on in the first-round, the money starts to add up.

Regardless of what you will say about how a team should be handled to prevent cap issues like this (i.e. winning so you don't have to draft high, making trades, etc.), large rookie contracts go against the concept of making bad teams better.  Adding talent is good.  Paying unproven players upwards of $60 million in some cases is bad.

There is no easy way to come to an agreement that would implement a rookie wage scale as Roger Goodell and Gene Upshaw feel completely different about this issue.  Goodell thinks rookies are overpaid and wants to regulate how much they make with their first contract.  Upshaw, on the other hand, wants rookies to reel in the big paychecks as he is the head of the NFLPA, so of course he wants his players to make more money.

When negotiations commence for a new labor agreement, you can bet that a rookie wage scale will be one of the biggest issues NFL owners and the players association talk about.  I really have my doubts over whether or not an agreement can be worked out, but one definitely should be.  Instead of handing out some of the biggest contracts in the league to players that have never stepped foot on an NFL field, let's make them earn it.  How about these rookies come into the league and show they deserve a big payday before actually receiving one.  That way players that make lots of money don't have to be considered overpaid if they truly deserve what they're making.

Perhaps the biggest reason for a rookie wage scale is the fact that it just makes sense.  If teams are able to protect themselves against paying lots of money for a total bust, then that would go a long way in giving teams the chance to get better.  Yes, many of the teams that have cap issues bring it on themselves, but the fact of the matter is that a franchise looking to get better shouldn't have to put so much money on the line for someone that has never played in the NFL before.  It's simply counter-intuitive.