Much has been made of the rookie wage scale in the NFL, but what people don't realize how much this actually affects the way that teams approach the draft from a financial standpoint. There has been a shift in the draft for teams in the past few years, but how does the wage scale actually work?
The 2011 was the first draft class under the “Rookie Wage Scale”, which allows teams to exercise a 5th year option on players selected in the first 32 picks. The players selected in the first 10 selections will have a 5th year added to contracts, at the teams option, which is the average of the highest 10 salaries at that position. Players selected 11-32 have a similar team option paid at the average of the top 25 salaries at that position. This scale draws a very definitive line in the sand.
Jason La Conforta details the 2011 draft with estimated salaries at the 5th year option here. You will notice that players like QB Cam Newton, selected 1st overall, will have the same salary option as QB Jake Locker. Both players, since selected in the 10 top picks, play the same position and are tendered the same offer.
To see why the selection spot is so important, look no further than selection 11, JJ Watt, who has been tormenting offensive tackles since entering the league. He will make a little less than half what Cam Newton is offered. Last season, when the Buffalo Bills traded out of the 8th selection, down past the 10 spot, the move was genius, where they will be able to lock up a player who they viewed as the future of the franchise to an affordable 5th year.
This 5th year option will have a major impact on the way players are valued going forward. In the first year of the 5th Year Option, you see QBs making several million dollars more than any other position when selected in the top 10. If EJ Manual were to be offered a contract for this 5th year now, he would be making 8.4 million versus Cam Newton/Jake Locker’s 14.6 million. Needless to say, do not be surprised if teams try to snatch a “Franchise QB” outside of the top 10.