Frying Pan Sports
To declare or not to declare—that is the question!
By Bill Smith
Every pro prospect junior and third year sophomore faces a critical question—to declare for the 09 NFL draft or wait until 2010. They have until mid January to make that decision. The problem is that they will have no idea what the NFL and the NFLPA are going to do about the Collective Bargaining Agreement. The ultimate form the CBA takes will have a huge impact on the rookie contract of the top players in the draft.
If things weren’t up in the air far enough, the sudden death of Gene Upshaw, executive director of the NFLPA, last August made things not only much more complex but reduced the odds of avoiding a strike/lockout in the 2011 season. Upshaw was heavily criticized by some of his members but presided over the deal that gave the players the largest percentage of the league gross in any professional sport. He had the ability to get the players and the league to a point that they could agree and avoid work stoppages. Now, the NFL will have to wait for the power struggle to work its way to a conclusion before negotiations can even begin. Now if the NFLPA would have adopted the old Soviet Union model for resolving power struggles, we would already know with whom the league should deal.
As things stand now, there will be a draft in 09 and 10 with a salary cap in 09 but not in 2010. That would seem to give the rookies a reason to stay at college one more year. The top guys coming out of the draft will get the biggest advantage if there is no cap.
But in this world nothing is quite that easy. One of the high priorities of the NFL owners in any new agreement is a rookie salary cap. That is something that the players will readily agree to because it means if the rookies get less, the veterans will get more of the salary cap dollars. Besides many of even the earliest draft choices wash out but take their millions of guaranteed signing bonus money with them. The rookies have never played a down in the NFL and get much more than vets in the same position that have proven themselves for years.
If there is a rookie salary cap as part of a new agreement it will be effective in 2010. And that is the rub. Eligible players can come out now under no rookie cap but with an overall salary cap. They can wait and if there is no new agreement, rake in a bonanza in the uncapped year of 2010. Or they can wait, and end up with both a rookie and overall salary cap and lose millions of dollars in their first contracts.
Admittedly this only affects the top 25 draft picks or so but for those like Sam Bradford, Oklahoma QB (3rd year Soph), Matt Stafford, QB Georgia (JR), Colt McCoy, Texas (JR), Knowshon Moreno, RB Georgia (3rd year Soph) and Chris Wells, RB Ohio State (JR) the decision is critical.
There is another couple of factors that enter into a player’s decision to come out or not as well. There is always a risk of serious injury in a year of college football. While all the top players will likely get insurance to pay them if they are injured and unable to play pro ball, the amount is not anything like the money that they would make in an average length NFL career. That insurance is also expensive. Some of the top performers may not be able to afford the coverage.
There is also the question of how many top players at their position will be in a given draft vs. what the demand for that position might be. Right now there are at least 5 NFL teams that have QB as their first or second priority in the draft or free agency in 2009. With only one senior QB being graded as a first day (2 rounds) choice and just a couple of quality free agent veteran QB’s, things look good for the afore mentioned QB candidates to come out. But what if all three plus Tim Tebo come out in 09? At least one or maybe even two or three will be second round picks because teams are very hesitant to draft a QB high in the first round. Do the names of Tim “I’m now on the” Couch (Cleveland 1999) and Alex Smith (San Francisco 2005) ring a bell? Each was a first choice over all and both got the staff that drafted them fired.
The last risk is one of matching their level of performance. Prior to the junior eligible entry date for the 2008 draft, two tackles were viewed as possible first overall choices. One, Jake Long of Michigan, was the first overall selection of the Dolphins. The other was Alex Boone LT of Ohio State. Boone decided to stay another year to see if the team could win a national title. I honor him for his loyalty but he played most of the year like he was running through wet concrete. The current grade on Boone is the middle of the third round and he is falling like the stock prices on Wall Street. He contributed to his draft grade demise by calling out his fellow players publicly but ignoring his own obvious short comings. Bad move, Alex. It cost you about $5,500,000 in signing bonus and another 10 million is salary and bonuses over the life of the first contract. For him, staying was extremely expensive.
It is likely that some will make the mistake of not coming out. But more will make the mistake of coming out when they would have been so much better off to stay and get one more year of seasoning. Every year around 60 football players that have eligibility left in college declare for the NFL draft. Every year about 50 percent of those players are not drafted or are very late 7th round choices. Everyone of that group would have been better off staying and getting another year to build their value. If my son was going to be a top 20 draft pick as a junior, I would tell him to come out and grab the cash. If he was projected to be a 3 round or later choice, I would encourage him to stay in college for another year.
In the last few years, the NFL has done a great thing by giving players a place that they can go without an agent to find out where they are ranked in the draft. The NFL has gathered a group of former GMs and personnel people to evaluate the player and give them a rough idea if they will go in the first round or well down in the draft. Unfortunately, there are agents that will tell a kid and his parents anything to get them to sign a representation agreement. Once a player does that, he loses his eligibility and has no choice but to enter the draft.
We will all be interested in seeing who stays and who goes. Either way. we wish the kids that have given so much effort for a sport we all love the very best no matter what they do.
That’s what I think. Tell me what you think.
Bill Smith is a former coach of several semi-pro teams, has officiated both football and basketball, done color on radio for college football and basketball and has scouted talent. He is a senior writer for NFLDraftDog.com and edits fryingpansports.com. He has also published several novels on and edits .To declare or not to declare—that is the question! by Bill Smith