What Can and Can’t be Negotiated in NFL Rookie Contracts

Since the latest collective bargaining agreement, NFL rookie contracts have become very standardized.

There’s very little negotiating left for agents to do. However, there are still discussions to be had and slight variations depending on where a player is drafted. Here is an explanation of the NFL rookie contract as well as the negotiating agents conduct on deals for new players.

Rookie contracts are not what they used to be

NFL rookie contractsSince the CBA, the most substantial change to rookies’ contracts has been their size. Contracts for first-year players were on the rise up until 2012. The rookie wage scale was put in place to ensure that recently drafted players don’t collect on monster salaries.

Bleacher Report took a look at the difference between the contracts for the top picks in the drafts from 2008 until 2012. Seven years ago, Jake Long was drafted by the Miami Dolphins and signed to a five-year, $57.75 million contract. In 2012, Andrew Luck, generally considered to be the future of the Indianapolis Colts, was signed to a four-year contract worth $22 million. That wasn’t the fault of Luck’s agent, that was the effect of the rookie wage scale.

What can and can’t be negotiated

The value of rookie contracts may vary, but the amount any one player can make is capped in his first contract. Additionally, most rookie contracts don’t run longer than four years. The length of and cap on rookie contracts are two portions of these agreements that, usually, cannot be changed. However, there are some things that may be negotiated.

For example, players drafted in the first round, and only these individuals, may have a fifth year added on to their contracts, if an agreement for one can be hammered out, the news source explained. There are, however, restrictions on what a fifth year on a rookie contract can entail. The value is determined by averaging out the salaries other rookies chose in the draft.

The first half of the first round of the draft will, typically, have salaries guaranteed as well, according to Over The Cap. However, those guarantees start to fade as one moves further down the draft board. Starting around pick 19, the fourth year of a rookie contract will only have a partial guarantee. Then, around pick 23, guarantees only extend into the third year. Exactly which pick serves as a threshold for fewer years of guaranteed salary may vary, though, depending on negotiations and, subsequently, what the market dictates.

Players picked in the middle of the draft who have trouble getting full guarantees through the first four years of their contracts may work with their agents to try to negotiate a roster bonus out of their teams, the source explained. This will help players recoup most of their salary, despite not having the salary guarantees of a top-10 pick.

Things change a little bit for players who are drafted in the second round. These individuals see their guarantees end in the second year of their contracts, and for the most part, those guarantees are partial anyway. For this reason, players and their agents can try to work offseason bonuses into their contracts to ensure a little extra pay. These are earned when a player remains on the team up until a certain point, and are a fairly common form of bonuses.

The later a player is drafted, the more leeway he’s given (in some areas)

When it comes to rounds three through seven, there is a little bit more room for negotiation, though contract lengths remain set at four years. An agent can certainly have a bit more leeway in negotiating salaries in later rounds, however. For example, according to Over The Cap, pick seven in the third round of the 2013 draft actually signed a larger contract than pick six.

While NFL rookie contracts aren’t the most malleable of agreements, there are certain elements that can be changed for the benefit of the player. Small things such as fifth year options and offseason bonuses help rookies – depending on where they’re drafted – this makes up for the fact that the wage scale has placed substantial limits on what they can make, relative to contracts prior to the last CBA. For more on negotiating rookie contracts, speak with a knowledgeable sports lawyer or agent.

Email this to someoneShare on LinkedIn9Tweet about this on TwitterShare on Facebook1Share on Google+0Pin on Pinterest0Share on StumbleUpon0Share on Tumblr0Share on Reddit0

Anthony R. Caruso is a business transactional attorney in New York and New Jersey with experience in structuring, negotiation and completion of legal deals involving business, entrepreneurs, athletes and performers.

Comments are closed.