QB Sam Bradford

QB Sam Bradford

The year was 1984 and the Dallas Cowboys organization was on the market. H.R. “Bum” Bright purchased the franchise for $84 million dollars from previous owner, Clint Murchison. Fast forward 25 years — in the coming weeks the NFL will see former University of Oklahoma quarterback, Sam Bradford receive about $50 million for the opportunity to play pro football. Bum Bright paid a total $84 million dollars for an entire franchise. With that he received stadium usage rights and a solid revenue stream by being the new owner of America’s Team. Sam Bradford will receive half that amount and might — might play quarterback for the St. Louis Rams.

Assuredly the economic landscape has undergone dramatic changes these past 25 years, but to that extent? The answer is an emphatic, NO! Rookie player salaries have spiraled out of control to the point that the highest paid player on many teams is a guy who has never played a single down in the NFL. Reality is, he may never play a down in the NFL. Teams that draft and subsequently pay these top draft picks are surely hoping they see the field of play. They further hope that these gentlemen will fill their multi-million dollar stadiums with fans, sell tons of jerseys, become the face of their franchise for a solid decade, and hopefully take them to the promised land of the Super Bowl.

History does not bode well for these high risk propositions. The reality of what becomes of these new extraordinarily wealthy young men is that they may never turn into serviceable NFL players. The danger is that these extraordinarily wealthy young men will behave like so many lottery winners and blow any chance for sustained success. The big single payday removes the motivation and drive to continue working hard. Love of the game drives many to greatness, but the desire to make a buck is also a significant motivator. When money ceases to be an issue, it takes an incredibly strong man to work as hard at his craft.

The difference between a lottery winner who throws it all away and a top draft pick is that the latter can take down with him an entire organization. It must be discouraging for a Pro-Bowler to find himself sharing a locker-room with a kid having never played a down in the NFL who happens to be making several times more money as the established star. The team having invested so much revenue into a Matt Leinart, JaMarcus Russell, or Ryan Leaf has significantly less money available to improve the organization through the acquisition of proven veterans via Free Agency. Teams that continue to have losing seasons continue to acquire top draft picks, further exacerbating the problem by bringing in more unproven players to be paid big bucks.

I am not begrudging, Sam Bradford his right to a big payday. He worked very hard for a long time to be in the position he now finds himself. His family sacrificed much money and time to get him to this level. I am simply questioning the wisdom of a system that puts so much cash in the hands of a young man who has yet to accomplish anything at the next level. Top draft picks should clearly be compensated well — the question is how well should they be compensated and what criteria would be best used to reach a reasonable dollar amount?

We don’t want to see a situation like the NBA has where some lower round picks opt to play in Europe for more money rather than settle for what the cap permits. We clearly do not want to create a system which would find players opting to become Toronto Argonauts. Veteran players who are unable to reach an agreement with their current club can receive the “franchise tag.” This arrangement pays them an average of the three highest paid players at their position. Though not ideal, it largely works. What about a rookie version of this system that looks at the compensation of the top 15 players who play their position with the dollar amounts decreasing as we move through the seven rounds of the draft. It would take into account the position played and where he is drafted.

The system was designed to bring competitive parity to the league. Teams with the worst records are rewarded top picks in the rookie draft. Unfortunately this system is quickly deteriorating to a place where the worst teams are ill-equipped to pay for their pick. Often the best decision for a team in this position would be to trade that pick to a good team who is likely in a better position to afford that top pick. Parity goes out the window when this happens and each year’s draft continues to underscore the need for a rookie salary cap.