The NFL Draft is great TV, but it’s also an anti-free market program
The NFL Draft is amazing. The draft is glorious. The draft is beautiful. The project is not American.
The draft, for its wonder and spectacle, is the most anti-capitalist thing in the NFL.
You can watch. I will look. While we’re doing this, we should remember that one of the main reasons it exists is because owners wanted to save money, and it’s possible that the lack of a free market system may have saving homeowners hundreds of millions of dollars over the last decade or so.
Add salary restrictions for rookies, and that number could run into the billions.
“Hard to know a cumulative number,” former Packers executive Andrew Brandt told USA TODAY Sports when asked how much money owners have saved with the current draft structure. “But the real value is the last years of those rookie contracts, players earning peanuts while veterans in the same situation earning $20 million a year and more.”
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In other words, a player declares himself for the repechage. There is no bidding war like there are with many other high paying jobs across capitalist America. Money saved by owners.
Then comes the draft itself. At this point, players face restrictions on their salaries due to the rookie cap.
Veterans became free agents earlier in this equation, but that doesn’t come close to countering the other advantages owners have when it comes to the draft.
“While the draft structure has saved owners a significant amount of money since its inception,” former Raiders team manager Amy Trask told USA TODAY Sports, “a seismic shift has taken place. is produced when collectively negotiated changes to recruit pay have been implemented.”
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The 2011 collective agreement put restrictions on how much recruits can earn.
“While changes to rookie compensation have certainly resulted in substantial savings for team owners, a reduction in the number of years of free agency benefits players (some more than others, of course),” Trask said, “and should be taken into account when assessing the overall financial impact of these collectively negotiated changes. That said, the cost savings resulting from the agreed change in recruit salaries are invaluable to team owners.
We celebrate conscription (and I will do it too, like a hypocrite) while forgetting, very conveniently, that it is intended to cuff wages. In many ways, we celebrate players who stiffen up.
When choosing a job, you can go to the highest bidder. An engineer leaving college can make warp drives for any company he wishes. It’s the free market.
A football player should be able to do the same. Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson, perhaps the best player in this draft, should be able to hold a combine for the teams. Then, on draft day, each team would have to bid for their services.
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The first pick in last year’s draft, Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence, was handed a four-year contract worth around $34.7 million with a signing bonus of around $22. .6 million. The No. 1 pick before that, Joe Burrow of the Bengals, was given a four-year contract worth $37.1 million with a signing bonus of $23.9 million.
That’s a lot of money, but if not for the rookie salary restrictions, Lawrence and Burrow would have earned a lot more than that. Hutchinson would be too.
Sam Bradford was the first overall pick in the 2010 draft and landed a six-year contract worth $78 million with $50 million guaranteed.
Bradford was a bust, but so what? This is the price to pay for doing business. If you don’t want bad writing, hire better scouting departments.
The roots of using the project as a wage depressant run deep and go back decades. We don’t need to revisit this whole story, but the point is that owners have long opposed the notion of a free market when it comes to the draft as they use the concept to make billions, their to buy NFL teams in the first place.
Draft supporters will say it helps balance the league competitively, allowing the worst teams to become contenders by getting the best picks. The only problem with this is that there’s really no proof that it actually works. If so, the Lions, Jaguars and Browns would have 17 Super Bowls each.
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“Clearly, the college draft had no immediate impact on league parity,” wrote historian Craig R. Coenen in the book “From Sandlots to the Super Bowl: The National Football League, 1920- 1967”. “Its biggest effect was to stop the bidding wars for talent, causing a general reduction in player salaries.”
This remains one of the two main functions of the project. First, keep recruit salaries as low as possible. Second, entertain us.
The usual response to criticism of how the draft works is that a truly open bidding process would bankrupt the league. Sportico estimates the total value of the league’s 32 teams to be $112 billion. It would take a lot to ruin this mountain of money.
Also, when the best technicians graduate from college (or not), companies bid for their services. Did Apple go bankrupt? To Facebook?
To be fair, the owners aren’t solely responsible for the suppressed wages. The union agreed to a problematic pay scale for recruits in the old collective agreement that was supposed to transfer more money to veterans. Instead, the NFL has sneakily, and in some ways cruelly, created a system where, in many cases, teams are hoarding young talent, cutting older players, and pushing younger ones into the ground before they cannot obtain second, more lucrative contracts.
I was reminded how humiliating the draft process can be for players with this quote from the late George Young, the former Giants general manager, who talked about evaluating players in the Senior Bowl:
“It’s cattle exposure, and it’s dehumanizing, but it’s necessary. If we’re going to pay a very expensive child to play football, we have the right to know as much as possible. If we want to buy them, we should see what we’re buying.”
And the goal is to “buy” them as cheaply as possible with lots of help from the draft we all love.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: The NFL Draft Is Great TV, But Also Football’s Anti-Free Market Program