The economy of the 2011 NFL draft

This morning Todd McShay was on ESPN Radio's  "Mike & Mike in the Morning" discussing the NFL draft, Cam Newton, and most interestingly what a proposed rookie salary pay scale means to the draft as a whole. At this point it's inevitable there will be some form of scale, it's actually one of the few things both the NFL and NFLPA actually agree on- they just differ on how it should be executed. Furthermore, most analysts are of the opinion that as such a change to the draft would be applied retroactively to the 2011 class, even if there's no CBA prior to it.

Mike Greenberg asked if one of the reasons we are hearing about so many QBs at the top of the draft in 2011, players who would be greater risks in past years, like Gabbert and Newton, is because of the lessened financial impact. McShay's answer was illuminating, and made a lot of sense- we'll talk about that... after the jump

Fans have a tendency to embrace a 'sky is falling' mentality when it comes to making the wrong decision at the top of the NFL draft. While the majority of the time this has to do with using revisionary history to look at who said team 'missed out on', in reality there's only one thing that truly sets a franchise back long term, money. McShay said that selecting a QB at the top of the draft in 2011 doesn't represent anything close to the risk in the past if there is a scale. Previously a wrong decision could 'set a franchise back seven years' but this isn't really the case in 2011. He went on to say that QB offers the greatest return in terms of value as a team finding a 'Sam Bradford in 2011' would be able to double dip, getting a return in performance up front, and huge financial savings on the back end. Imagine, if you will if Matt Ryan still had two years left on a deal right now and was making roughly $5 million a year- that leaves a lot of vacant money to sign veterans; As it stands Ryan is due $22.75 million over the next two years.

Obviously we've beaten the "who should we pick?" question to death at this point, and really there's not much more to talk about until we get some data back from the scouting combine. What I propose now is that we look and see where the greatest financial value is given there is likely to be this rookie wage scale. I propose this because it really does have the chance to shape the top of the NFL draft and have teams take more risks with early picks, rather than fear the duality of both missing out on talent and committing over $50 million to someone who can't play.

In order to do this I'm assuming across the board that every player is a potential pro bowler and by extension someone who would be a 'franchise player' down the road. Remember, I'm not comparing skill... just dollars. So we'll be looking at the franchise tag fees from 2010, not 2011. "Why am I doing this?" the answer is that the 2011 tags are greatly skewed by numerous teams offering front loaded extensions to free agents in an uncapped year, it ultimately does not reflect how the NFL truly values players.


Quarterback: $16.4 million

Defensive end: $12.4 million

Offensive lineman: $10.4 million

Linebacker: $9.7 million

Cornerback: $9.6 million

Wide receiver: $9.5 million

Running back: $8.15 million

Defensive Tackle: $7 million

Safety: $6.5 million

Tight End: $5.9 million

Kickers: $2.8 million


Think of this as a kind of 'depth chart' if you will. According purely to financial investment vs. financial return it makes the most sense for a team at the top of the draft to take a QB, followed by a DE, OL, LB and CB. Hereby taking advantage of a common number any top pick would need to be paid and maximizing their return. That being said, the NFL isn't just dollars and cents, it's about the gridiron and it's here that the waters get very muddy.

If you're sitting at #1 overall and ostensibly you are in 'dire need' (Rivera's words, not mine) of a QB, DT, CB (for example) then how do you weigh financial investment in any metric you're working on? Imagine if you have a QB you've graded at 92/100 and a DT at 97/100- are those five extra point on the DT worth the $9 million more you could potentially spend getting a franchise QB somewhere down the road? Are you looking at that $9 million you're potentially saving and saying "I could get a pretty good FA with that money".

What if the NFL rookie pay scale comes back and it pays the #1 overall pick $8 million per year? Are a team willing to say "I really like this running back #1 overall, but I'll be paying him almost as much as a franchised running back"? I don't know the answers to these questions- but in a funny way the economy of the draft has become all the more intriguing. Rather than just knowing inherently you'll be paying out the ear for a #1 overall pick, now it has become a matter of perhaps getting a steal for the money you've spent. Do you think the St. Louis Rams are both thrilled they have Sam Bradford, but also wishing this scale was in place before paying him $50 million guaranteed? I sure do.

What do you think? Should economy play a role in a draft pick at all? Is it prudent to look at the selection as either an opportunity to roll the dice, or a chance to get a franchise player without the franchise cost?

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