Daily mailbag: The dreaded 'multi-pass'

April, 8, 2009
4/08/09
12:00
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

Tuesday's post on "passing" in the NFL draft produced an interesting mailbag response. (Quick refresher: We discussed whether Detroit should intentionally allow its time allotment to pass at the No. 1 overall pick and then select lower in the first round to reduce contract costs.)

John Doe of Parts Unknown, Planet Earth wrote:

I have two questions. First, what stops St. Louis [at No. 2] and Kansas City [at No. 3] from doing the same thing and passing up their pick? Whoever chooses No. 1 would still have to pay the huge amounts of money given to that pick. Second, why can't Detroit negotiate a deal with a player most experts feel should go No. 5 or 6 and pay him as a No. 5 or 6? Is that possible, or are there limit to the minimum you can pay a No. 1 overall pick?

The first question -- suggesting the possibility of multiple passes -- intrigues me the most. So let's quickly deal with the second question.

The NFL slotting system calls for players to be paid based on where they were selected in the draft, not where they were ranked beforehand. There are occasionally adjustments based on position; Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan received a more lucrative contract last year at No. 3 than Miami offensive lineman Jake Long did at No. 1.

But in general your scenario would not work. There is no official minimum, but the agent for a player taken at No. 1 is justified in asking for No. 1 money. It's accepted practice and is backed by the NFL's "rookie pool," a rookie salary cap for each team based on its draft position in each round.

Meanwhile, J.D., you've hit on an interesting side effect of passing. There is nothing, to my knowledge, stopping the Rams and Chiefs from passing if they -- like the Lions -- believe they can get the player they want lower than No. 1 overall. Eventually, someone would step up and make the first pick, possibly a team that had considered trading up anyway to draft an elite player. Then, the ball would start rolling.

But a multi-pass scenario might be what forces the NFL finally to address its system for rookie contracts. If the money at the top of the draft is high enough to deter the league's neediest teams from drafting the best players, then the entire draft system is broken. The point of reverse draft order is to aid the teams that need the most help. If a stronger team eventually steps up to be No. 1, then the point is moot.

You would think we're eventually headed to a system that limits rookie contracts at the top of the draft. Paying a rookie one of the biggest contracts in the history of the league doesn't work for anyone. Having multiple teams pass at the top of the draft would probably accelerate the adjustment.

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