The annual meat market that is the NFL scouting combine started today in Indianapolis. Over 300 college players will be tested in drills that include the 40 yard dash, the bench press, the vertical jump etc...Then 300 grown men will stand around in their underwear and be measured and weighed. I can not think of anywhere else this occurs. Could you imagine going on a job interview that required you to do this? On another note, why Indianapolis every season? With the NFL fever the nation currently has they could change stadiums every year and sell tickets to fans to attend. Then they could add to the 9 billion dollars currently being argued over between the owners and the NFLPA. That's right, 9 billion dollars. That is the total amount of revenue trying to be divided up to make the owners and players richer and there by happier.
I start with the NFL combine because the draft in April may be the only sure thing to happen this off season. The current contract that the NFL is operating under expires at midnight next Thursday night. That's one week to try and get a deal done that according to reports from the mediator today is still far off on all major subjects. I can not fathom arguing over or allocating 9 billion dollars but here are two existing key points: one I do not agree with, the other I do:
1. The owners want to extend the season from 16 to 18 games and cut the pre-season from 4 to 2 games. I don't like this and of course the players do not like this. They are currently paid on a 16 game schedule, two extra games means adding two extra paychecks to every single player at their regular season rate, not sure if the owners want to do that. If they do, great, but there are still a few things to consider. The average NFL career currently stands at 3 years and change, the players and the owners have to consider injuries and career longevity if they had to play two extra games in a very violent sport; the average career could be cut even shorter. Imagine a team paying a face of the franchise player a 5 year 100 million dollar deal and that player gets hurt in week 18. As it stands, most players do not make it through all sixteen games let alone an additional two.
In addition, long shot players that may make an NFL roster if the current preseason schedule remained will have a tremendous drop off of opportunity to make the team. If there were only two preseason games, those games would have to be used to get the starters ready for the regular season and the backups some work. Third string and fourth string guys may never see the field. The NFL would have to create a minor league for left over talent. I don't see NFL Europe coming back anytime soon.
Although two extra games would be great for fans and fantasy football owners, it just does not make sense. The current system works just fine. The preseason allows teams to evaluate young talent and still get the starters ready for the regular season. The owners still sell a decent amount of tickets to those games and the players get paid a preseason wage so the profits are still there. In my eyes this is a bad idea.
2. The idea of a rookie wage scale seems like a no brainer to me. The fact that a guy like Jamarcus Russell can be the 1st pick in the draft, get guaranteed 40-50 million dollars before ever setting foot on a pro field is just insane. The owners and players should all be in favor of this, it should not be an issue.
For the players, why should unproven rookies step in and take such a huge piece of the money pie? I would think that as a player you would want more money to go to proven players as opposed to rookies. As an owner, the reality of dedicating so much money to some unproven kid would make me not want to draft in the top ten. I would trade out every single year. Owners should be more comfortable paying guys that have proven themselves.
The solution: A reasonable and manageable rookie wage scale. The longest contract a rookie can sign is 3 years, with a max of 20 million dollars. This would allow players to hit the free agent market or renegotiate their existing contracts sooner. 20 Million dollars still rewards the top pick but allots more money to the veterans. This also makes the free agent market younger and more attractive to teams. Would you rather spend the money on a 30 year old coming off his first contract or a 26 year old? At 3 years and a maximum of twenty million teams will be less on the hook and not be set as far back if a player is a bust.
I know there are more complicated issues to discuss but my brain will hurt if I attempt to do it all in one sitting. The NFL Network will air all of the scouting combine this weekend and I know like many other fans I will catch myself falling asleep on the couch watching it. I Hope these issues will be hammered out by the powers that be and the NFL mediation brain trust before next Thursday. If not, life will go on and at least we can look forward to the draft, signing those picks may be another story all together.