Sam Bradford is coming back from shoulder surgery and has never taken a snap in the NFL. Yet the No 1 draft pick managed to get the St Louis Rams to guarantee him US$50 million (Dh183.7m) and a possible $78m over six years. Tom Brady has not had as much luck so far at the bargaining table with the New England Patriots. And that is despite three Super Bowl victories, a proven arm, and an uncanny ability to complete a pass when it means the most.
Not that Brady's wallet is not already fat. He is in the final year of a deal that pays him $60m so fund-raisers to help him pay his bills will not be necessary. To his credit, he is not complaining about not having a new deal. Brady is one of the rare athletes who seems to appreciate being able to become rich playing a game he loves. "I certainly don't think we have much to gripe about," he said.
But as the top draft picks hire investment managers for their new millions maybe it is time for some griping to begin. Darrelle Revis is doing his griping with his feet. Staying out of training camp is enough to let the New York Jets and the rest of the NFL know he is not happy with his $1m salary for the upcoming season. It is hard to blame Revis, who is in the fourth year of a six-year deal he signed coming out of college. Without their skilled cornerback, the Jets almost certainly would not have made the play-offs last season for the first time in three years.
It is even harder to blame Revis when Joe Haden, the rookie, signed on Saturday to play cornerback for the Cleveland Browns. His price tag? About $50m over five years, with $26m of that money guaranteed. Anyone get the idea there is something wrong here? NFL owners certainly think so, which is why the issue of a rookie salary cap will be front and centre if and when the league and the players get down to serious bargaining to replace the agreement that expires next year.
Roger Goodell, the commissioner, made that clear at the draft, even as he underestimated the amount of money Bradford would get from the Rams. "As much as I like these young rookies, and I do think they're terrific, it's crazy to give someone who hasn't proven themselves on the NFL field $45m," Goodell said. Goodell's point is well-taken, as any Raiders fan can tell you. Past performance in college guarantees nothing in the NFL.
That does not mean Bradford will be a flop in the NFL, but that is the risk teams take. They are rolling the dice, hoping all the tests and try outs will uncover a bust like JaMarcus Russell before $39m is wired into his bank account. But with hundreds of millions (Goodell estimated $600m for this year's rookie class alone) being given out in guaranteed contracts, there are going to be mistakes. And they will be costly, which is one reason owners will push hard for a rookie salary cap during the negotiations.
The players' union, of course, would rather have no cap at all. But DeMaurice Smith, the executive director, said last month that the union has already given the league a proposal that includes rookie contracts shorter than the standard five or six years - but only if the league agrees to take the money saved and give it to veteran players and to improved pensions for retired players. That is not likely to happen, given the increasingly loud griping from teams about escalating salaries. The owners would like to implement a rookie salary cap without promising too much in return on the other end.
But do not feel too sorry for the veterans. Brady will surely get his contract, and Jim Irsay, the Indianapolis Colts owner, says he intends to make Peyton Manning, his quarterback, the league's highest-paid player with his new deal. Meanwhile, Woody Johnson, the Jets owner, reached out to Revis on Monday and offered to sit in on negotiations with the cornerback to get him a contract he can live with.
Indeed, there seems to be no shortage of money around the NFL, no matter what the owners like to claim. They are awash in cash from hugely lucrative television deals and high ticket prices. Properly negotiated, a rookie salary cap could help ensure that cash is spread more equally around. And that could make a lot of veteran players as happy as a rookie on draft day. * AP