Sunday, September 5, 2010
When it pays to be a novice
In most professions, coming in with no experience will yield you little return. The big bucks go to those with years of time honing their expertise. This makes sense. In fact, this practice exists even in industries where salaries are exorbitant. A famous Hollywood star may make $15 million for one movie. However, a newcomer, even with loads of talent and promise, will not have a salary even approaching that for their first role.
Even in Major League Baseball, where the top players make more than $20 million a year, the rookies don't. Baseball rookies, the good ones, make a couple hundred thousand a year, which is a nice chunk of change, but still fits the scale. The "great" ones, like Stephen Strasburg, technically the greatest baseball prospect of all time, received the largest rookie contract in MLB history this season. He got $15 million for 4 years: less than 4 million a year. Of course that is a giant payout for a novice, but for the greatest prospect in history to make a quarter of what the stars make isn't too outrageous.
What would be outlandish is if newcomers started making equal to, or more than their veteran counterparts. What is outlandish is the NFL. New NFL rookie Sam Bradford has never taken a single regular season snap. His first will come next week as he starts his first game. Nevertheless, Bradford has already been guaranteed $50 million and has a contract which could pay him a total of $78 million. Rookie lineman Ndamukong Suh was the prize pig of college football last season. He ended up getting drafted second overall with Pro Bowl written all over him. However, he has yet to make a tackle or record a sack in an NFL game. His first chance will come next week. And yet, Suh has already been guaranteed $40 million from a $68 million contract. And yes, I know what you're thinking. Most interior linemen don't put bodies in the stands and move the attendance figures. You know who else was thinking that? Every NFL owner.
This is why there is a labor dispute. This is why the most profitable and sustainable market in the United States (don't try to confirm or check on this, just take my word for it) will have a work stoppage. This is part of the reason why, even though both sides, the owners and the players, make loads of money, the league might not make any in 2011. Something must be done about the NFL rookie salary scale.
These first round rookie contracts are so egregious, they make other sports' egregious contracts look tolerable. Ilya Kovalchuk recently signed his NHL contract with the New Jersey Devils after their first attempt was rejected by the league for front loading the yearly figures. The contract that went through, the acceptable one, is a 15 year deal worth $100 million. Kovalchuk will be in his early to mid-forties when this contract is nearing its end. And yet, I still don't see this as being as bad as the NFL rookie contracts, not even close. Sure, it's a bit ridiculous to sign a player for 15 years. The Islanders did the same with Rick DiPietro a few years back and that already isn't working out. There is no way Kovalchuk is still on the team the last year of that deal, but really, at least he's a proven commodity. He is an offensive star. He's one of the best goal scorers in the league. It would be like someone signing Amare Stoudemire to a new 15 year, $100 million contract in the NBA...Someone did give Stoudemire $100 mill you say? Well they should have signed him for 15 years. It would have been a lighter cap hit each season.
But anyways, the point is, the other leagues have players sign 'questionable' contracts too. The difference is, in the other leagues, the players getting these deals have at least proven SOMETHING. I mean Ilya Kovalchuk is only 27 years old: he is in his prime and is a top line scorer. The contract is a bit over the top, but how about the NFL have their players play a down before they hand out their own over the top deals?
Hopefully Bradford and his fellow 2010 draftees are the last of their kind, the Aeris Gainsboroughs of the NFL if you will.
(If the reference to Aeris, the last of the Ancients, went over your head, you're obviously not as cool as you think.)
Whether it's in a shortened 2011 season, or in 2012, the NFL will come back with a new salary scale for those novices who have never proven a thing, other than that they have some potential. Potential doesn't buy you much outside of sports. If it did, I'd go to Best Buy later today and pick up a new PS3 and HD TV. The store clerk would see that I had the potential to get a new job and hypothetically afford these items at a later date. I'd be good for it, just like The Rams seem to know Bradford is worth that superstar money.
(Image taken from clipartguide.com)