How high will player salaries get?
As we all know, player salaries have skyrocketed in the last decade. The NFL finally put a rookie salary cap in place so that players would actually have to earn these great rewards, but with several $100 million-plus contracts in the league now, I got to wondering how big this snowball will get before it melts.
One of the things that caught my attention this offseason was the backloading that agents have done with player contracts, specifically Calvin Johnson and Mario Williams. While this tactic requires patience on the part of the player, it pays off bigtime when their contract year comes up in terms of leverage.
When a player's contract is finished, the team has the right to place the franchise tag on him at a value of either the average salary of the top 5 highest paid players at his position, or 120% of his cap number that year, whichever is greater. Because of the backloaded contracts, both Johnson and Williams had franchise values of over $20 million. This gave them a huge amount of leverage when it came time to renegotiate. In the end Detroit gave Johnson the huge deal he was seeking, while Houston was forced to let Williams walk and he got his deal from Buffalo.
Take a look at the situation Drew Brees is in right now. Due to his contract NOT being backloaded, the Saints are not behaving in the same manner as they would if he had a huge franchise number. You better believe that every agent for a starting QB in the league is paying close attention. I don't see many similar contracts coming about in the near future.
Another thing to consider is the possibility that more and more underclassmen will declare for the draft rather than returning to school. Since the inception of the rookie cap, it has become the wiser move to come out early. The sooner you finish your rookie contract, the sooner you get the big bucks.
I don't know if I'm looking for answers here, or if I just find the money side of the game fascinating. In any case, I would like to know how everyone else sees this. Just seems like the kind of thing we all like to talk about around here:)