Revisited: How to fix the top of the NFL draft

April, 13, 2009
4/13/09
1:02
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

My chat conversation with Ryan from Denver -- hawkfan0007 on espn.com -- gained momentum during a broader discussion in the comments section.

I've picked up those comments and interjected my own thoughts on how the NFL might make its top draft choices more attractive to their beholders. A rookie salary cap was probably the No. 1 suggestion, but there were others. Let's pick up the discussion.

joe_cool585: If a rookie salary cap was instituted, I think some of the problems may be solved. Far too often top 10 picks are not producing to the level that their contract may suggest. Certainly, there are those who exceed the expectations set forth by the franchise, but more often than not, the busts outnumber the hits. If the league were to move forward with a rookie salary cap, it may level off the financial risk that clubs would be putting themselves in, thus high draft choices become desirable. That said, I am happy the 49ers landed in the 10 slot and theoretically have a chance to grab one of the better value draft choices in the draft.

Mike Sando: The NFLPA isn't going to give back money on this unless there's something in it for the players. If I were the league, I would tap into any envy or resentment among veteran players. I would sell a rookie cap as more of a redistribution whereby money taken from top draft choices would go to established players.

Robberec: I still think the team with the worst record should NOT receive the first overall pick or a choice of picks based on a point system. That option should be reserved for the last team out of the playoffs. Fans would win by having a draft system that encourages their teams to win as much as possible ... even at the end of the season. Also a big fan of the rookie cap. It'll reduce the likelihood of those long pesky holdouts!

Mattyfatsack: I agree. The rookie salaries need to be much lower, but can become an restricted free agent after, say, 2 years. Prove yourself first, then ask for big dollars. The team that drafted them should have the chance to match any offer.

Leesters: Very interesting ideas. And it would ruin the draft. Sometimes Ocaams Razor should be considered, and this is one of those times. (I'll look stupid if I misspelled that.) It means the easiest and simplest route is the best. The NFLPA will not have much of a trouble getting the union members to be okay with a rookie salary rule, because none of the union members are currently draft picks. The players don't like seeing draft picks making 100 million, I am sure of that. They have to restrict the top 5 picks salaries, its the obvious solution. There are just not five Larry Fitzgeralds in every draft class.

I have a an idea of making the Top 10 Contract: There is a given salary for the top 10 picks that are slotted, and cannot be deviated from. On the other hand, teams are allowed to offer as many performance escalators as they desire.

Mike Sando: You don't look stupid, Leesters, although Occam's Razor is the proper spelling for the idea that succinctness is better. I'm not sure performance escalators are simple, though. They are downright confusing in how they are categorized. The league currently differentiates between incentives that are likely to be earned (LTBE) and not likely to be earned (NLTBE). Some of the LTBE incentives are highly unlikely. I would like to see the incentives simplified.

TNR300: The NFLPA needs to stop running the NFL and the NFL should just lower the salaries of the first rounders. The Lions should not be punished for getting the first pick, nor should they ever want the 10th pick. Dumb stuff. For example, the 1st pick in the 06 MLB draft was Justin Upton. He still hasnt produced, but his salary is only $300,000. I think that is the only thing the MLB has right.

RedBirdSupremacy: I actually like what Leesters laid out. I agree that there should be a rookie salary cap and the idea of teams being able to add performance based bonuses and escalators seems fair to me. So, if the number one pick has a set salary of ... call it 1 Million just because it is a round number and not because I think that is the right number, then there might be compensation of up to an additional 5 million if that kid hit all of his targets for instance. This would allow picks to make the kind of money that they want to make, while not exposing organizations to draft busts that break the bank with guaranteed money right out of the gate. I like it.

Mike Sando: Guaranteed money is where it's at. I don't see the NFLPA turning its back on guaranteed money to that degree.

dbehler8521: I like the idea of placing salary restrictions on draft picks. It make the top choices more attractive. As well as the NFL markets its events such as the draft, why not add one more showcase ... a draft lottery like the NBA. This would keep teams out of the playoffs playing competitively late in the season. I would tune in to the lottery show to see if Goodell drew the Niners lottery ball.

danroper00: There's only one problem with the draft -- top selections are paid too much. That's all. Remove that problem and no one is going to want to skip their slot. Expending time and energy crafting a "solution" which doesn't solve the fundamental (and sole) issue seems like busy work. That's not to say I don't enjoy the occasional academic exercise, only that I hope the draft gets here soon.

Bcook122: Well here's my ROI-driven suggestion: Let the drafted rankings of the top 32 players be pre-set with incentives. For instance, the first QB selected woud get 50% of his salary for showing up and 50% would be based upon becoming the starter and having a specific passer rating while playing in at least 75% of the games.

If it were the first linebacker then peg it to tackles and playing 75% of the games. If you are the second QB taken in the top 32 picks, then you don't have to perform as well as the first QB taken. If you're the third CB taken in the top 32 players then you still have to be a starter but maybe for only 50% of the games but you still have to have X picks and X tackles. In other words, to earn your money you have to be more than hype sitting on the bench.

Teams would be apt to take players that they were sure would perform and the players would know that there are no honeymoons. Only half the pay would be guaranteed. I know the NFLPA would not go for it because it puts unreasonable expectations on the players -- so what, that's life when you're highly paid. Alex Smith would have not been paid so much to ride the pine.

Does that mean Crabtree still wouldn't be taken as the first wideout? No, but everyone would know what was expected. I see tons of money going out as incentives, but I don't see much smart business when it comes to non-performers until the contract comes due.

After everyone agrees it's entertaiment... it's still a business.

Mike Sando: The problem would be that players' supporting casts dictate their successes to a large extent. Show me a terrific rookie quarterback and I'll show you a strong supporting cast in most cases. I also think we shouldn't be so reliant on stats because they are only general indicators. Tackle stats aren't even official. There is no universal standard for them.

Ribir: There HAS TO BE, something done, towards laying out millions of dollars, for unproven players. Sando, be great if you could find do a sheet on the top 10 draft pick
s since 2000, that have made their money, and those just coasting. Maybe, it's the agents we have to pressure, and make them pay a higher tax, according to what their clients get.

Mike I like the idea, the worse team can select the spot they want to draft, only make it they can move down, no more than 15th spot, but, for every spot they move down in the first round, they move down a half spot in the second. Det moves down to the 12th spot in the first round, but for moving down, they also give up 6 spots in the second round getting, the 12th and 38th. It shouldn't be those teams in the middle that should be penalized.

Mike Sando: There's a new thought. I'm not sure we have solved anything, but hopefully we've advanced the discussion some. Thanks for participating. We'll pick it up again, I'm sure.

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