Draft Key To Building Winner
Current labor contract rewards teams that can play younger players as early as possible
NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Marshon Lattimore signed a four-year, $15.4 million deal with the Saints last year.
After three 7-9 seasons and several bad years of selecting the wrong players, the New Orleans Saints had a solid draft in 2017 that saw several rookies makes headlines including NFL offensive and defensive rookies of the year Alvin Kamara and Marshon Lattimore. The team, in turn, posted an NFC South division winning 11-5 performance.
The Saints were a prime example of how important scouting and selecting the right players is under the NFL’s current labor deal. A major component of the 10-year deal, struck in 2011, set to run through 2020, is the rookie wage scale. For years, players selected at the top of the draft board who hadn’t played a down of professional football received monster contracts that rivaled and often bettered the deals of veteran players with years of experience in the league. Before the current labor deal, St. Louis Rams gave quarterback Sam Bradford, the top overall pick in 2010, a six-year, $78 million contract. It was worth $6 million more than quarterback Matthew Stafford demanded from the Detroit Lions the year before.
Unfortunately for the teams and their management, too many “can’t miss” young bucks turned into young busts, like Tim Couch, Ryan Leaf, and JaMarcus Russell. As a result of throwing too much money at untested players who didn’t pan out professionally, the league made drastic cuts in rookie contract compensation that would bring uniformity and consistency in the wage scale for new and veteran players. Now, every rookie signs a four-year deal, but teams may add a fifth-year extension on their former first-round picks after their fourth year in the league. If a player was selected in the first 10 picks, they earn the average of the salaries of the top 10 players in the league at their position. Those chosen 11 through 32 earn the average of the third to 25th highest-paid players at their position.
Cam Newton, the first player selected after the rookie wage scale went into effect, saw the value of the No. 1 draft pick’s deal drop nearly 72 percent, or $56 million, in 2011 when he agreed to a four-year, $22 million deal with the Carolina Panthers. Andrew Luck signed a similar deal when the Indianapolis Colts made him the first pick in 2012.
Having young players like Kamara, Lattimore, and Ryan Ramczyk, who were able to make immediate contributions to the team will help the Saints better control their salary cap. They won’t need to go out and throw high-dollar contracts at veteran free agents – who might or might not work out – when they can fill the stable with dependable players at significant cost savings.
For this very reason, it’s not surprising to hear the Saints have talked to Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield several times. If he is as good as he believes he is, it would be wise for the Saints to make a play for him now, let him sit and learn behind Drew Brees, and then take over when Brees retires.
It is generally accepted that to win in the NFL a team needs a top 10 QB. Currently, the 10 highest average annual contracts in the league – all quarterbacks – range from the San Francisco 49ers’ Jimmy Garoppolo at $27.5 million to the New York Giants’ Eli Manning at $21.0 million. But teams, like the Kansas City Chiefs, are dropping their established quarterbacks and leaning on a young player to come in and take control of the team. The Chiefs, a playoff team in 2017, paid QB Alex Smith about $23.5 million last season, fifth highest in the NFL. In 2018, they’ll go with QB Patrick Mahomes (the 10th pick in last year’s draft), who signed a four-year deal worth about $16.5 million, or $4.125 million a year on average. The change will give the Chiefs more than $19 million this year to bolster the roster at other positions.
The 2018 League Year begins on Wednesday. Teams may begin signing free agents and building their 2018 rosters. Expect there to be a lot of movement. There are several very good veteran quarterbacks available. Nick Foles, who led the Philadelphia Eagles to their first Super Bowl championship in an MVP performance, might be on the move. So, too, could be Case Keenum, who led the Minnesota Vikings to the NFC Championship. Washington’s 2017 QB, Kirk Cousins, will be looking for a new gig as well, which means whomever he replaces will be looking, too. Considering there are several solid college quarterbacks – USC’s Sam Darnold, UCLA’s Josh Rosen, Oklahoma’s Mayfield, Wyoming’s Josh Allen, and Louisville’s Lamar Jackson – in this year’s draft who could potentially become franchise players in the NFL, there will be a lot of interest in finding the next star at a bargain.
More bang for the buck
The value of the NFL’s No. 1 draft pick’s deal dropped nearly 72 percent, or $56 million, when the current labor deal was struck in 2011. Sam Bradford, the top overall pick in 2010, signed a six-year, $78 million contract with the St. Louis Rams, while Cam Newton, the top pick a year later, agreed to a four-year, $22 million deal with the Carolina Panthers. The Top 10 estimated four-year contract values of the 2017 NFL Draft first-round picks are as follows:
Pick Player Team 4-year deal
1 Myles Garrett Browns $30.4 million
2 Mitchell Trubisky Bears $29.0 million
3 Solomon Thomas 49ers $29.0 million
4 Leonard Fournette Jaguars $28.2 million
5 Corey Davis Titans $25.4 million
6 Jamal Adams Jets $22.3 million
7 Mike Williams Chargers $19.7 million
8 Christian McCaffrey Panthers $17.2 million
9 John Ross Bengals $17.1 million
10 Patrick Mahomes Chiefs $16.4 million
11 Marshon Lattimore Saints $15.4 million
32 Ryan Ramczyk Saints $8.9 million