Today the Washington Redskins signed Robert Griffin III to his rookie deal after a longer than expected wait to get the rookie under contract. The hang-up, as with all current rookies that are unsigned, is the offset language teams are trying to put into their contracts.
Essentially the offset language states that if a player is cut before his contract reaches completion, and another team picks him up, then that player cannot ‘double dip' and get paid his rookie salary, and salary from a new team. The Carolina Panthers know offset language well (or the lack thereof) because when Jake Delhomme was cut prior to the 2010 season the organization were paying Jake, as were the Cleveland Browns.
I find the inclusion of such language in rookie deals is both greedy and shortsighted. RGIII's deal today was finalized for a total of just over $21 million dollars spread over four years. It wasn't so long ago the St. Louis Rams completed their rookie contract with Sam Bradford, a deal which totaled 6 years, $78 million-almost three times per year what Griffin III is getting paid. The rookie salary situation needed to get sorted, and the pay scale saw to that, but the money-grubbing that's happening over the offset language is appalling, and a key reason why Andrew Luck remains unsigned. It's worth noting that the deal agreed to by RGIII did not contain such language.
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There's good reason why the Carolina Panthers were so quick to get Cam Newton and Luke Kuechly signed, neither contract contained the offset language. Jerry Richardson fell into an amazing situation where he was the first owner to benefit from a #1 overall pick under the new pay scale, and he ensured the Panthers didn't waste time bickering over pennies. Instead, the deals were done quickly; both Newton and Kuechly got their fully guaranteed contracts and could concentrate solely on football.
Nothing is more important to professional athletes than their confidence. Time and time again we see talented, young players who are derailed by a lack of faith, either in themselves or from an organization. I can't imagine it's a great feeling then to be told on draft night how important you are to a team, then a couple of months later being mandated that you add a special provision to your contract ‘just in case we cut you'. I'm of the opinion that when a team selects a player in the first round they make a tacit vote of confidence in that player being ‘the guy', and as such they have the responsibility to pay their full rookie deal, one that is pennies on the dollar compared to corresponding contracts a few years ago.
To the average fan it may seem fair to include offset language. After all, how fair is it for someone like Jamarcus Russell to be paid for failure? However, look at it this way: If you're RGIII (for example) and making $5 million per year, but Washington turns into a nightmare scenario and you get cut, how fair is it that you should choose between sitting at home for $5 million a year, or continuing to pursue your dream for $300k? The lack of offset language is a protection for players stuck in terrible situations.
For the Carolina Panthers this is a moot point. They have shown appropriate faith in their first round picks, and put their money where their mouths are. Time will tell if these teams trying to make their rookies agree to such language will be forced to pay for it when their next contract is due.