You try to save a buck here and there and look what it gets you.
A minor change in the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement with its players, which was signed in 2011, is being blamed for a shift so dramatic, some within the game are fearful that college football’s talent base and recruiting system may never be the same. Put simply: Players are rushing to leave school early and go pro like never before.
This year, there will be at least 98 underclassmen available in May’s draft, a 34% increase from 2013 and an 85% increase from 2010, the year before the latest collective bargaining agreement. The average age of an NFL player last season was 26 years 308 days, the youngest since 1987.
That “minor change” doesn’t sound so minor to me.
For the first couple of decades in which underclassmen were allowed in the draft, teams spent huge sums of money on the top picks. A high draft selection thus could leave a player set for life. For instance, the top overall selection in 2010, current St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford, got a six-year, $78 million contract before throwing a single pro pass. He received 13 times more guaranteed money than the second round’s top pick, teammate Rodger Saffold.
In an effort to fix the salaries of top picks—and thus prevent unproven players from getting so much money—the latest CBA called for reform. In the 2013 draft, the first pick, Kansas City Chiefs offensive lineman Eric Fisher, got a four-year, $22 million deal, a fraction of what Bradford received. There is also much less difference between picks. Fisher will make only double what the 15th pick in the draft makes, while the first pick in the second round received about a fourth of Fisher’s salary.
And evidently it doesn’t sound so minor to college players and agents. Which means it doesn’t sound so minor to college coaches, either.
LSU is an unfortunate example of the new world order. It was one thing for the Tigers to lose star receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry to this year’s draft; those types of departures are expected. But LSU also lost redshirt sophomore guard Trai Turner, who isn’t considered a top prospect. LSU coach Les Miles couldn’t be reached for comment.
Of course, the NFL isn’t willing to shoulder any blame.
An NFL spokesman said the league “does not agree with the idea that the system is the reason players are jumping early.” The league added that the spike in early departures can’t be explained by the change in pay scale because, after the first round, the majority of rounds in the draft saw few dramatic changes in the pay scale. The NFLPA and NCAA didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Must be a coincidence, I guess. Still, the pros are among the worried.
This makes for increasingly uneasy drafts, said Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert, who called this the deepest draft he has seen in 30 years of scouting. “Even though it’s the most talented group that I have seen, I am also worried that it’s probably the most immature group,” he said.
And as we all know, it’s not like there’s a minor league for NFL teams to park kids who need more time to ripen on the vine, so to speak. What to do? Well, ask a guy who knows what it’s like to find a place to park kids.
The situation worries Nutt, the ex-college coach, who said that in the late 2000s, a measure was floated at a Southeastern Conference coaches meeting to explore allowing players who left early to return to their teams if the draft didn’t work out. Nutt said the idea, which he agreed with, didn’t get very far.
The Nuttster was just a little bit ahead of his time there. The proposal makes too much sense now for too many vested interests to sit in a closet for much longer. I smell an NCAA rule change coming on. The hard part is going to be coming up with an amateurism fig leaf to explain it away.