Rookie cap could bring balance to NFL salaries

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Sam Bradford is coming off of shoulder surgery, and has never taken a snap in the NFL. Yet the No. 1 draft pick managed to get the St. Louis Rams to guarantee him $50 million and a possible $78 million over six years.

Tom Brady hasn’t had as much luck so far at the bargaining table with the New England Patriots. And that’s despite three Super Bowl wins, a proven arm, and an uncanny ability to complete a pass when it means the most.

Not that Brady’s wallet isn’t already fat. He’s in the final year of a deal that pays him $60 million, so there will likely be no need for any fundraisers to help him pay the electric bill.

To his credit, he’s not complaining about not having a new deal. He’s one of the rare athletes who truly seems to appreciate being able to become rich playing a game he loves.

“I certainly don’t think we have much to gripe about,” Brady said the other day.

As the top draft picks hire investment managers for their new millions and head off to camp, though, maybe it’s time for some griping to begin.

Darrelle Revis is doing his griping with his feet. Staying out of training camp is enough to let the Jets and the rest of football know he’s not happy with his $1 million salary for the upcoming season.

Hard to blame Revis, who is in the fourth year of a six-year deal he signed coming out of college. Without their shutdown cornerback, the Jets almost certainly wouldn’t have made the playoffs last season for the first time in three years.

Even harder to blame Revis when rookie Joe Haden signed on Saturday to play cornerback for the Cleveland Browns. His price tag? About $50 million over five years, with $26 million of that money guaranteed.

Anyone get the idea there’s something wrong here?

NFL owners certainly think so, which is why the issue of a rookie salary cap will be front and center if and when the league and the players get down to serious bargaining for the agreement that expires next year. Commissioner Roger Goodell made that clear at the draft, even as he underestimated the amount of money Bradford would get from the Rams.

“As much as I like these young rookies, and I do think they’re terrific, it’s crazy to give someone who hasn’t proven themselves on the NFL field $45 million,” Goodell said.

Goodell’s point is well taken, as any Raiders fan can tell you. Past performance in college guarantees nothing in the NFL.

That doesn’t mean Bradford will be a flop in the NFL, but that’s the risk teams take. They’re rolling the dice, hoping all the tests and tryouts will uncover a bust like JaMarcus Russell before the $39 million is wired into his bank account.

But with hundreds of millions (Goodell estimated $600 million for this year’s rookie class alone) being given out in guaranteed contracts, there are going to be mistakes. And they will be costly, which is one reason owners will push hard for a rookie salary cap during the current negotiations.

The player’s union, of course, would rather have no cap at all. But NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith said last month that the union has already given the league a proposal that includes rookie contracts shorter than the standard five or six years — but only if the league agrees to take the money saved and give it to veteran players and to improved pensions for retired players.

That’s not likely to happen, given the increasingly loud griping from teams about escalating salaries. The owners would like to implement a rookie salary cap without promising too much in return on the other end.

But don’t feel too sorry for the veterans. Brady will surely get his contract, and Colts owner Jim Irsay says he intends to make Peyton Manning the league’s highest-paid player in his new deal.

Jets owner Woody Johnson, meanwhile, reached out to Revis on Monday and offered to personally sit in on negotiations with the cornerback to get him a contract he can live with.

Indeed, there seems to be no shortage of money around the NFL, no matter what the owners like to claim. They are awash in cash from hugely lucrative television deals and high ticket prices.

Properly negotiated, a rookie salary cap could help ensure that cash is spread more equally around.

And that could make a lot of veteran players as happy as a rookie on draft day.


Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)