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The NFL's new rookie pay scale is a game changer


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Lesson seven: The NFL's new rookie pay scale is a game changer

NFL owners took a PR hit during last year’s lockout, but fans should be glad that the suits stuck to their guns on one key demand. The new rookie salary scale should introduce a more sensible financial structure, with the biggest NFL deals based on performance, not potential. In the 2010 draft, top pick Sam Bradford got a six-year, $78 million deal from the Rams. Last year, though, Panthers rookie QB Cam Newton received only a four-year, $22 million deal. “Newton is a very good young quarterback,” says Vikings GM Rick Spielman, “but if he had been a bust, his contract is nowhere near the competitive disadvantage that it would have been.”


Wharton believes the new model could help establish a relationship between spending and success in the NFL, as the worst franchises will no longer be forced to pay exorbitant amounts on high draft picks, freeing up money to pay proven veterans.




Lesson three: A lot of spending goes a little way in the NFL

Unlike world football, the NFL shows an extremely weak correlation between spending and winning: There’s no formula, and the best talent has been hard to pay for. Increasing team payroll by 10 percent yields just a quarter of a win. Spending it on offense nets only 7.9 extra points per season; on defense, it nets 2.2 fewer points allowed.


Throw your money at quarterbacks or cornerbacks, linebackers or left tackles. It doesn’t much matter. Wharton found that dedicating more payroll at any one position proved statistically insignificant to winning. And salary isn’t indicative of performance. Rams QB Sam Bradford made $26.8 million last season, including bonuses; Giants QB Eli Manning made $9 million. Manning and his team were just slightly better.


Vikings GM Rick Spielman says he isn’t shocked by those results. In the other sports, especially baseball, star pitchers or power hitters can dominate individual matchups. Football relies more on coordinating the efforts of everyone on the field. “All 11 guys have to work together as one on every snap,” Spielman says.


Plus, more than in any other sport, the frequency and randomness of injuries can destroy even the best-built teams and throw off any slight relationship between salary and success. Put another way, when you’re down to your backup QB, that’s a problem no amount of money can solve.

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