- The rookie wage scale has allowed teams to build super-teams around quarterbacks on rookie deals.
- We’ve seen the Los Angeles Rams and, now, the Chicago Bears follow similar paths as the Seattle Seahawks and Philadelphia Eagles in signing and trading for star players to build contenders around young quarterbacks.
- If the Rams or Bears succeed this season, expect more teams to follow the model.
The Seattle Seahawks were the first team to exploit the NFL CBA successfully, and more and more teams are starting to follow suit.
This past weekend, the Chicago Bears traded two first-round picks to the Oakland Raiders for star defensive end Khalil Mack. The move topped off an offseason that saw the Bears give $US42 million to wide receiver Allen Robinson, $US32 million to tight end Trey Burton, and $US27 million to re-sign cornerback Prince Amukamara.
These moves were all mostly overshadowed by the Los Angeles Rams’ loud offseason, which saw them trade for wide receiver Brandin Cooks, cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters, and signing defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. They also locked up DT Aaron Donald, running back Todd Gurley, and Cooks to historic contracts.
The things these two teams have in common – quarterbacks on their rookie deals.
One of the key changes to the CBA in 2011 was the implementation of the rookie wage scale. Previously, teams had a pool of money with which they could sign their rookies. First-round picks commanded a majority of the money, resulting in some holdouts and some huge contracts to players who hadn’t yet played a snap.
The owners changed that with the 2011 CBA, resulting in the rookie wage scale, which designated money for all draft picks, with the money descending with the order.
The Seahawks arguably became the first team to capitalise on this change. When they hit on Russell Wilson in the fourth round, they built a contender around him, signing key offensive and defensive pieces. The result was a Super Bowl win and a second Super Bowl appearance. Eventually, when Wilson was due for a new deal, that advantage went away.
Now we’ve seen the Rams, Bears, and Philadelphia Eagles do this with their quarterbacks, Jared Goff, Mitch Trubisky, and Carson Wentz, respectively, in recent years. If you have a talented quarterback on a cost-controlled deal with several years remaining, it opens up a window to build a contender.
Raiders head coach Jon Gruden even suggested this during his press conference following the Mack trade. He said paying Mack a historic contract was difficult because the Raiders had already given Derek Carr a five-year, $US125 million deal.
“Aaron Donald got signed; [the Rams] don’t have a quarterback that has been re-done yet. I think the Bears made this trade – Trubisky is still on his rookie deal,” Gruden said. “It’s tough when you have two players who are the highest-paid arguably, or close to the highest-paid at their positions. The economic part of it certainly weighs in.”
Other teams have made similar moves. The Jacksonville Jaguars loaded up their defence around Blake Bortles on his rookie deal – he signed a three-year extension shortly after the 2017 season. The Tennessee Titans have similarly made some big signings around Marcus Mariota, though “all-in” might be a bit of a stretch.
Not every team has this luxury, of course, and some of these teams will come up short. It doesn’t just take a quarterback on a rookie contract; it takes a quarterback capable of winning games and carrying a team (as Wilson showed and Wentz looked to be on the way to proving before his injury). The Bears and Rams will have to see this year if Trubisky and Goff are good enough to captain the offence through the playoffs, no matter how many talented players they have around them.
But if either team can succeed in the playoffs, it looks like a trend that will continue. This past draft saw five quarterbacks get taken in the first round. If any of those quarterbacks excel at a young age, expect to see those teams make big moves to build a contender around them while the window is still open.
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