Could Smart Teams Exploit the Rookie Wage Scale?

The new rookie wage scale offers ridiculous value for teams.  Consider that none of the following players are making more than Pierre Garcon:

  • Cam Newton
  • Von Miller
  • AJ Green
  • Julio Jones
  • Ryan Kerrigan
  • Patrick Peterson
  • Aldon Smith
  • Blaine Gabbert (ok, fine, bad example.  But the rest of the list should prove the point)


I purposely used the example of Pierre Garcon because I think the tradeoff between the cost of veterans and the cost of rookies is where the exploitable value of the rookie wage scale becomes important.

To look at this issue further, let’s look not at a mediocre WR who took advantage of the first year of a collective bargaining agreement to get overpaid (that would be Garcon).  Let’s look at the median salary for the top 10 salaries at each position.

Position Median of Top 10 Salaries
Quarterback $15,056,714
Defensive End $12,227,666
Wide Receiver $10,928,536
Cornerback $10,218,016
Defensive Tackle $10,203,400
Tackle $9,387,200
Linebacker $9,034,071
Running Back $8,634,928
Safety $7,811,250
Guard $7,173,333
Tight End $6,439,683
Center $5,484,940

Basically the top position in salary terms is quarterback and the lowest is center (not counting special teams).

Now let’s compare those salaries with a graph that shows an approximation of the rookie wage scale.  As we’ll see, the very top of the scale is in the $5.5MM to $6MM range.  You can basically get the best player in the draft each year for about top 10 center/tight end money.  That’s ridiculous.


Teams should be exploiting what are huge cost savings that the draft now offers.

To see how teams might incorporate the information on relative value of positions from the table above, with the wage scale graph, consider Cleveland’s choice at the fourth overall pick.

The rookie wage scale says that pick will make a little less than $5MM per season.  But Cleveland can essentially choose the top player in the draft at all but the QB and Tackle positions (Luck, RGIII and Kalil will be off the board.)  They could have top running back Trent Richardson, top cornerback Morris Claiborne, top receiver [insert your preferred WR], or top defensive end Melvin Ingram.

Below is a table that shows the difference in salary between the median salary for the top 10 at those four positions, and the 4th pick in the draft.

Position Savings from Top 10 at Position
Defensive End $6,800,000
Cornerback $5,056,000
Wide Receiver $4,587,000
Running Back $3,275,000

As you can see, the savings at the running back position are the smallest.  The savings at the defensive end position are the greatest.  You could even look at the savings of $6.8MM as being equivalent to another good player.

But because someone might argue that Trent Richardson is a lock to be a top running back, and maybe the other players aren’t locks to be tops at their position, let’s think about this another way.

If the 4th pick in the draft were a running back, there would be about 12 running backs who would make more than that player.  But if the top pick were a defensive end, there would be about 24 players at that position that would make more than the player taken with the 4th pick.  If the 4th pick is a wide receiver, there would be about 22 wide receivers making more than the 4th pick.  If the 4th pick were a cornerback, then there would be about 29 corners who would make more than the 4th pick.

Basically, by taking a defensive end, corner, or receiver, the Browns (or any team picking in that spot) can build themselves a cushion.  They’re taking the best player at the position in the draft, and yet all that player has to do to justify their salary is perform like an NFL starter.  They don’t have to be top 10 at their position because the salary savings are so great.  If the Browns were to take Justin Blackmon for instance, he would be making about the same amount of money as Santana Moss.  If the Browns took Morris Claiborne he would be making about the same amount of money as the Drayton Florence.  But if the Browns took Trent Richardson, then he would be making more than Ahmad Bradshaw and Ryan Mathews.

It’s not that it’s impossible that Richardson could outperform Bradshaw and Mathews.  It’s just that if the Browns select a receiver, corner or defensive end, the bar that player has to get over is much lower.