It's pretty good. It's definitely better. But it's still not the way it should be.
There's no question that the new rookie wage scale instituted under the current 2011 collective bargaining agreement has been a huge positive for everyone associated with the NFL — except, of course, for the top 10 picks the last four years, their families and their agents.
For everyone other than those in that very small group, it'd be hard for anyone to argue that the system isn't better.
Rookies used to hold out into training camp all the time under the old system. Now, more than 80 percent of the draft choices, including No. 1 overall selection Jadeveon Clowney of the Texans, are already under contract.
The money being doled out, especially to the players taken in the top 10, is also much more reasonable than it used to be. Rams quarterback Sam Bradford, the last top pick under the old system in 2010, received a whopping $50 million guaranteed on a six-year contract that totaled $78 million. That was the record for any player in NFL history at that time. And it went to a guy who had never, you know, actually shown that he could play at a high level in the NFL. Many would say he still hasn't. Point is, it was getting out of control.
Clowney, as a point of comparison, will receive $22.4 million over four years as part of his initial NFL contract.
There's no doubt, as former agent and current salary cap guru Joel Corry told me recently, that "the rookies got the short end of the stick in the new labor deal."
While that may be true, it still makes much more sense for a totally unproven commodity at the pro level to have to show some level of competency in their profession before getting rewarded with huge dollars. Even though the new CBA took a big step in that direction, the system still needs some tweaks.
The rookies taken in the first half of the first round get their entire four-year contracts fully guaranteed. That's insane. No other NFL players get close to that much guaranteed. Even franchise quarterbacks like Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers struggle to get 50 percent of the total value of their contract fully guaranteed.
In fact, Niners quarterback Colin Kaepernick just signed an extension that fully guarantees him just $13 million, or about $10 million less than Clowney. How does that make sense? The pass rusher who has never played a down in the league gets nearly twice the guaranteed money of the quarterback who has taken his team to the Super Bowl in his first opportunity and was on the doorstep in Year 2.
You can argue that Kaepernick shouldn't have signed a deal that didn't include more fully guaranteed money. You can also argue that top picks like Clowney deserve the fully guaranteed four years since they are still making so much less than they used to under the old system.
I don't want to argue either of those things. I just want to propose a change that makes sense for everybody except those top picks who prove very early on they are not cut out for the NFL.
I'm OK with increasing the yearly salary for top rookies by a million or two a year as long as only the first two years of the deal are truly guaranteed. There's got to be some recourse or ability on the part of the teams to cut bait without having to pay a bad pick for two more years. Sometimes you miss. The misses shouldn't have four full years of NFL paychecks coming their way. It's not deserved and frankly insulting to the guys who are earning them each and every week.
But if the NFLPA would give on the amount of guaranteed money for their incoming crop of union members, than they need to get something in return. And they should, in the form of the elimination of the new "fifth year option" that was talked about so much this offseason and picked up for the majority of 2011 first-rounders.
If these guys are going to make so much less than their predecessors, and under my system have even less guaranteed, then they should be able to see what the market can bear earlier in their career. Teams like the Texans with J.J. Watt and the Cardinals with Patrick Peterson know full well that they have franchise-caliber players that they want to extend for the long term.
The fifth-year option allows them to delay the inevitable; I don't think that's right. Watt and Peterson and many others in that 2011 class have earned life-altering contracts with their performance on the field at the NFL level over the last three years. The fifth-year option allows teams to not even have to offer them a new contract for two more years. Even at that point, they can elect to just franchise them, which would again prevent them from getting the huge guarantees and security that they seek.
It's not right. It's not the way it should be. And it needs to be fixed.
I'm not the only who thinks so.
"I think it'd be a fair trade off for first-round picks to get less guaranteed if they get rid of the fifth-year option," Corry told me, adding, "None of the first-rounders in 2011 draft have gotten a new deal yet. Some of them would have already if there was no option because they'd be going into the last year of their deal."
This isn't that hard. Less guaranteed money for the guys who prove they can't play; an earlier opportunity at the really big second contract for those who show they can.