Potential pays more than skill

By Jeremy Werner

Imagine graduating college, landing a job and receiving a top-end salary before ever stepping foot in the office. Ridiculous, right? Not so in the NFL.

JaMarcus Russell, the top overall selection in the NFL draft this year, agreed to a six-year, $61 million deal with the Oakland Raiders last week, ending six months of contract negotiations and a lengthy holdout.

Russell’s record deal guarantees him $29 million without ever having stepped foot on the field. This is the way of NFL rookie contracts for first-round picks. Successful college football players are drafted and immediately paid as much as the NFL’s best players.

In the NFL, contracts are not guaranteed. If a team cuts a player they are not obligated to pay out the rest of the contract. This works well for teams because they can then “backload” the last years of the contracts. For instance, Russell will make only $3.2 million this season but could earn up to $30 million in the final two years of his contract.

If Russell fails to live up to his lofty draft pick, the Raiders can cut him and be off the hook for the remaining years of his contract. However, even if he were to be cut, Russell will have the $29 million of guaranteed money he received just for signing his contract.

Get The Daily Illini in your inbox!

  • Catch the latest on University of Illinois news, sports, and more. Delivered every weekday.
  • Stay up to date on all things Illini sports. Delivered every Monday.
Thank you for subscribing!

What again did he earn this money for? In the real world, people have to prove themselves before they are given outstanding compensation.

Commissioner Roger Goodell needs to give NBA Commissioner David Stern a call and learn how the NBA’s rookie salary system financially protects both owners and players.

In the NBA, all first-round draft picks are paid a salary according to the order in which they are selected.

The first overall pick receives the most (about $4 million in his first year) and with each consecutive pick the salary gradually decreases.

All first-round picks are given contracts with two-years of guaranteed salary followed by two years in which the team has an option to pay the player a set salary.

This system works much better than the NFL because all first-round picks are given financial security with at least two-years of compensation for millions of dollars. However, it also protects teams from paying astronomical salaries to a guy who may end up being a complete bust.

Another huge plus of the NBA’s system is that it prevents any chance of players holding out of practices or the season because of contract negotiations.

The salaries are already set, so the player has no choice but sign the contract.

Russell held out of Raiders training camp, preseason and the first week of the season to negotiate his contract.

He is now light years behind in learning the Raiders’ offense and will likely not play this season because of it, nearly guaranteeing the Raiders will not see much of their $61 million investment this year.

Even though it looks as if the Portland Trailblazers top pick Greg Oden will be inactive this season with a knee injury, the Blazers are only obligated to pay Oden about $8 million over two years. That’s chump change compared to what the Raiders owe Russell.

In fact, Oden is only guaranteed as much money as Cleveland Browns quarterback Brady Quinn, the 22nd overall pick in this year’s NFL Draft.

The greatest part of the NBA system is that players are rewarded for good performance. If a player plays well, he will receive a big contract from a team and in the NBA all of that money is guaranteed.

Roger Goodell has done a fantastic job in his first year as commissioner, taking a hard stance on player conduct and punishing Bill Belicheck for, well, being Bill Belicheck.

But now, Goodell needs to put the NFL in line with the rest of the real world and abolish the existing system that places more importance and money behind potential than on proven ability and experience.

After thinking about it, maybe I should be trying to persuade the rest of the world to adopt the NFL’s system. Anyone know any newspapers that throw out big signing bonuses?

Jeremy Werner is a junior in Communications. He can be reached at [email protected].