One of the more interesting mechanics of the new CBA is the option for what is in essence a 1-year extension for all players that were drafted in the first round. The way it works is that all players drafted in the 1st round are split into 2 groups based on draft order (1-10, 11-32) and a value based on the 3rd through 25th highest salaries of the players respective position is used to determine the 5th year option value. At this point, no Packers player has received a 5th year option; Derek Sherrod was the first Packers player to be drafted under the new CBA and obviously due to injury his option was not picked up. Next in line would be Nick Perry and while he hasn’t been a complete disaster at outside linebacker, he certainly hasn’t performed at a level that would make sense for the Packers to pick up the option so he will play out his rookie contract and hope for a strong season this year. For the Packers 1st round pick this year, Damarious Randall, his 5th year option would equate to about $7 million as a cornerback and $5 million as a safety (current projections have him at cornerback, so that’s the numbers I will be using), though with the increase in broadcasting revenue the salary cap is likely to rise significantly in the next 4 years so these numbers will likely be higher.
From a NFLPA perspective, it’s a somewhat cheap way to recoup some of the value lost during CBA negotiations when rookies were essentially thrown under the bus (and understandably so when you see the ludicrous rookie contracts Sam Bradford and Ndamkong Suh signed). But when the new CBA was signed, it was thought that the NFL had pretty much won on every count and that included the 5th year option. But was this actually true?
The closest comparison to Damarious Randall that makes sense is Devin McCourty of the New England Patriots, who was drafted in the last year of the old CBA (2010) with the 27th pick of the 1st round and was sort of a cornerback/safety hybird coming into the league. Randall hasn’t signed his rookie deal yet (I assume they are negotiating offset language at the moment), so I’m going off the contract that Stephone Anthony signed with the Saints(who was drafted right after Randall and whose contract will be be about $200,000 less than Randall’s) what is surprising is that in actuality Randall stands to make more money on his rookie deal than McCourty, even with Randall being drafted in the new CBA and McCourty in the old CBA.
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* Projected as of 2015 and if the Packers pick up Randall’s 5th year option
Naturally Randall on stands to make more only if he plays well enough to justify the Packers picking up the option, but if they do he stands to make $5-7 million more over his 1st contract that McCourty did, which is more than what would be expected from just players salaries rising for 5 years. Another comparison I looked at was Clay Matthews and Nick Perry since they were both drafted by the same team in roughly the same position (26th overall for Matthews, 28th for Perry) and if Perry had had his option picked up he would have made more money than Matthews over their rookie contracts as well. One caveat is that McCourty’s rookie contract was a little anomalous in that it contained less money than it should have; the only reason I can think of is that the Patriots signed him as if he was going to be a safety (which is a less expensive position). Nevertheless, even if McCourty’s rookie deal slotted more closely to where he was drafted, Randall still would come out on top.
What this really means is that the new CBA does not make rookie contracts cheaper for everyone; I think the real point of the rookie cap in the new CBA was to curb the ridiculous contracts handed out to top 10 picks (hence the split on value based on draft position); whether or not the CBA or NFL was fully aware that it would be paying more to 1st round rookies outside of the top 10 I’m not sure of but it does mean that 1st round picks not in the top 10 are in essence likely worse value than what they were before.
A NFL “famous” paper from Thaler and Massey states that the actual best value in the NFL draft was somewhere in the 2nd round due to high 1st round picks destroying the salary caps of teams drafting them (which would in essence self-perpetuate, see Detroit Lions) and it was assumed that the new CBA would rectify this. However now it seems like there is a split in value, with great value at the top 10 due to the rookie cap and then a grouping of mid to lower picks in the 1st round that actually got worse in value then followed by good value again in the 2nd round (as the new CBA only really effects rookies drafted in the 1st round).
To be honest, the only real way for the Packers to break even is if Randall plays up to the level of the 15th overall pick in the old CBA (and I’m rooting that he does). Perhaps the flexibility of securing a player for another year without having to resort to the acrimony that is the franchise tag is worth it or in the situation where a player severely outplays his draft position (Aaron Rodgers or Clay Matthews for example) it allows teams to retain their players for an extra year at a lower base value but I would think that these situations are actually quite small. Add to that the general consensus that this year was weak in overall 1st round talent and maybe Ted Thompson should have traded back even when the deals weren’t exactly the most favorable for the Packers.
Thomas Hobbes is a staff writer for Jersey Al’s AllGreenBayPackers.com.