Rookie wage scale means draft whoever you want

One of the things I keep seeing in our draft talk here is this idea that certain positions should be off the board at #2, because the position itself isn’t worth the value of that pick. I think this is dead wrong–an artefact of the pre-rookie wage scale days, and we need to jettison that idea.

Back before the rookie wage scale, through 2011, this argument totally made sense. At that time, when you took someone at the top of the draft, you were committing to pay them among the highest-paid players in the league. In 2009, Stafford got a 6 year deal worth $72 million. In 2010, Sam Bradford got 6 years, $78 million.

But starting in 2011? The top rookie contracts suddenly looked like this:

  • 2011: Cam Newton, 4 years, $22 million
  • 2012: Andrew Luck, 4 years, $22 million

A decade later, the contract numbers are higher, but still nowhere near what guys like Stafford and Bradford signed coming out of college. Today, even top-drafted rookies are still paid like rookies, not elite pro-bowlers, and they’re signed to shorter deals. Last year, Trevor Lawrence got 4 years, $36 million. Zack Wilson got 4 years, $35 million. Trey Lance got 4 years, $34 million.

These deals aren’t peanuts, but they’re NOT the anchor around a team’s neck that a top-5 rookie contract used to be. Not remotely. Even at the very top of the draft, these guys get reasonable, very team-friendly contracts.

The upshot: teams should forget about old ideas of which positions are “worth” those top picks. No matter who you sign, they will have a palatable contract. If they prove to be an elite player, they’ll be making half of what a vet at their position would get on the free market–and you’ll have a huge bargain. If they totally bust, it’s the equivalent of a mid-tier free agent not working out. The financial/cap risk is just not a big deal.

So pick whoever you want! Get the guy you think is the best pick there, regardless of position. You like the safety? Take the safety! If you think he’s going to be among the top safeties in the NFL, you’d be an idiot not to. Here’s what those guys are getting on the free market:

Jamal Adams, 4 years, $70 million
Harrison Smith, 4 years, $64 million
Justin Simmons, 4 years, $61 million

If you think Kyle Hamilton can be in that class, guess what? You can sign him right now for half of what those guys are getting. (Again, last year Zack Wilson got 4 years, $35 million.)

THAT’S what you’re deciding: which of these players do I think can be truly elite, that I want to sign at a half-off discount for four years? If you think Hamilton is more likely to be that guy than somebody like Thibodeaux or Willis, there is no reason whatsoever not to take him.


I don’t disagree, but the argument still comes on the back end, that the cost of elite level free agents at premier positions makes drafting those positions smart money.

The success of other positions vs qb is generally going to favor other positions. Teams still draft qbs, so odds of success is just one factor of many.

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And if the pool of guys you’re considering at the top of the draft all grade out relatively equally, then sure, take the DE or QB. But DO NOT take a DE/QB with bigger question marks over a cleaner prospect at safety because of some Platonic ideal of what those positions are “worth.”


Agreed man. Im on the Hamilton bandwagon. For some reason I still wouldn’t mind KT. He’s a weirdo, but he is gifted and I think he will ball out in the NFL.


Wanted to respond to this a little more fully, because for the most part I agree with you. There’s an opportunity cost to factor in, in the sense that a top QB or top DE is much harder/more expensive to acquire if you don’t take them in the first round. No argument from me on that. And that’s where the hard part comes in–e.g., do I take a higher risk guy like Malik Willis because I think he can work out and the upside will be huge, or the safety with less upside but a higher chance of becoming an elite player?

I don’t envy our front office having to make those calls, but that’s why they make the big bucks. My point is just that no player should be off the board at #2, solely because of this idea that their position doesn’t warrant a top pick.

That said, I do think certain positions can be off the board for a given team because of their existing roster and commitments. Jacksonville should not draft a QB first overall this year, unless they’re convinced that Lawrence is a bust. And Detroit should not draft OL at #2 this year, because we’ve devoted enough top picks to that group and should be looking to use those resources elsewhere.


Revolutionary thinking rarely works out…

K2- Winslow jr
Vernon Davis
Michael Huff
J Adams- *
L Landry
Q Jammer
T Newman-*
Ramsey- *
S Taylor- *
A Curry
Q Nelson- *
B Scherff- *
C Wormack
J Cooper
D Ward- *
J Gilbert
D Milliner
J Horn
M Claiborne
E Berry-*
M Barron
P Peterson- *
J Haden- *
D Whitner
I simmons
R Smith-*
D White-*
L Keuchly-*

So of Guards, LB, CBs, Safeties, and TEs taken in the top #9 overall…. About 13 of 35 weren’t complete let downs. That is awful ROI…

So not only paying a guy (s, LB, TE, OG) top 5-10 money at their position, it’s 100% guaranteed with a
4-5 year deal.

Trade down- the rumor floating out there is #2 and a late pick for DK, #9 and #41….

If that’s is even close to possible, it would be absurd not to take that now!!!

DK is worth #32 and #66 for sure, at least…

I would take #9 and DK alone for #2

M Corral
K Walker
——- J Johnson, K Hamilton, D Lloyd.

I would take any of those players plus DK vs anyone in the draft period…

How does the success rate for those positions compare to the success rate for top-drafted QBs and DEs? I doubt it’s any better. So I’m not sure what lesson you’re drawing here.

Draft picks are a gamble, that’s not new. The rookie wage scale doesn’t erase the risk of busts, just makes them less harmful for your future. And, I’d argue, puts guys at other positions in play that would not have been considered when you had to hand them a $70 million contract before they’d played a down.


I agree with everything you said above, basically about everything. But to add to this important thought…. This specific quote is why I’m ok with the Lions taking Willis. I keep seeing people on here saying they don’t want Willis because if he’s a bust “it will set the rebuild back by 5 years.” But to me that’s still archaic thinking based on the old CBA. The Cardinals already showed this with Rosen. You aren’t giving rookie QBs franchise altering contracts any longer. If a guy doesn’t work out, you just move on like the Cardinals did with Murray. It didn’t set them back at all. If the Lions draft Willis and he’s not “the guy,” cool he’s only making 8-9 million a year. That’s solid back up QB money. Not the 80 million dollar Stafford/Suh type crap from before.

My point isn’t that the team should draft Willis. My point is that missing on a guy at #2 doesn’t “set the franchise back 5 years” like it used too.


sign me up.
where is that from?

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I agree 100%. The rookie cap really did change how you can approach the draft. A top 5 bust isn’t any where near as painful as it used to be.

Btw just saw Walker slotted #1 in MJD’s mock. Feeling like the Lions are in a great place at #2. And I absolutely see little chance we end up trading out of the spot. No way Seattle is giving up Metcalf.

I have to disagree with this. In fact the rookie wage scale did the opposite; it made the bargains at high-value positions even greater than they used to be. The difference between Trevor Lawrence and Aaron Rodgers is like ~$40M/year. You couldn’t get that kind of bargain before the rookie wage scale. Just imagine what you could do with the rest of the roster with those savings.

Granted QB is something of an outlier, but the discrepancies at edge, OT, WR, etc… are fairly robust as well. Zadarius Smith is the 20th-highest-paid edge at $14M/year, for example, while the 20th highest-paid safety is Tracy Walker and he makes $8.3M. The 20th-highest-paid tackle (Dion Dawkins) makes $14.6M. At receiver, Robby Anderson is 20th, making $14.75M/year. You can extrapolate those comps over a 52 man roster and see pretty easily where the value lies.

Now I don’t necessarily mind paying a safety a lot of money if you already know he’s a difference maker. The Ravens signing Ed Reed to a second contract was a no-brainer, for example. But that’s the inherent problem with draft picks, you don’t know how good they’ll be, no matter how highly you have them graded. Remember how safe Aaron Curry was supposed to be as a draft pick (at a low-value position)? He was a catastrophic bust.

And if they do turn out to be as good as you hoped, well then you’ve commited yourself to paying highly for a low-value position, which means you’ll need to be able to find bargains at the high-value positions. Something that is becoming increasingly difficult as their contracts go up and up and up. Woe the team who needs a WR.

Also I think it needs to be said that while I’m calling safety, LB, iOL low-value positions, I only mean that from a roster-building, monetary perspective. A good safety/RB/LB is incredibly valuable on the field. It’s just that they can generally be had at cheaper prices. That’s just the way the market plays out.


Wow that would be nuts not to take that.

I agree with the OP’s post but what you are saying shouldn’t be overlooked.

At one point there were many teams who won the SB with a QB on a rookie contract and haven’t won after the second contract was signed.

A top QB on a rookie contract is a huge advantage.

So, I’m with you in general that, if you think a QB has a real shot to be your guy for the next decade, you should be more willing to take a risk. The ceiling/floor equation has to be considered, and the upside of finding your QB is much higher than the upside of finding a good safety. Again, that’s why GMs get paid, to make those calls.

But this idea that if you take a safety (or LB, or guard), you’re committing to paying highly for a low-value position, doesn’t make sense to me. I mean, there’s a fixed salary cap. If you’re getting elite play for pennies at one of those positions, it just means you have more resources to use somewhere else. If we can get all-pro safety play for half what other teams are paying for that, then that’s a 3-year period where our defense is better, plus we have more cap and draft resources to devote to other positions. So we could, for example, afford to sign a top free agent DE to get us over the top, where a team that just signed a top FA safety probably couldn’t.

Sure, ideally, you’d like your roster to be made up entirely of late-round draft picks playing like pro-bowlers. But the reality is, ANY draft pick that plays well is a huge bargain, including first-rounders, including at the top of the draft.

Yes, QB is a unique position with a unique impact on your team, so maybe you accept more risk if you think a guy has a shot to be something special. But IMO that has nothing to do with the rookie wage scale discussion. That’s just one of those first-round questions you’ll always have to answer if you don’t already have that guy on your roster.

Just don’t handcuff yourself, is all I’m saying. Rookie contracts are your friend, lowering risk and commitment across the board. So even if you’re picking near the top, there is no reason to pass on a player you think can be elite at a position of need, just because that position hasn’t usually gone that high in the past.

Are we assuming DK wants anything to do with Detroit? He shot KC down for crying out loud. lol

We can keep dreaming.

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So this is another theoretical thread that isn’t based on real life?

I wouldn’t take dk in a trade. He’s got one year before he’s looking for $30M per year. One year rental.

Season 18 Episode 20 GIF by The Simpsons

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Amazingly, this one time I am actually talking about something concrete! That is: if the Lions think Kyle Hamilton is a better bet than guys like Thibodeaux or Willis, they should draft him, and we shouldn’t worry about whether second overall is too high to draft a safety.

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