NFL Players

NFL Rookies: Big Money Spinners Or Big Waste Of Cash?

Johnny Manziel
Johnny Manziel

The Tennessee Titans caused debate recently when it was rumored that running back Bishop Sankey would take the coveted Offensive Rookie of the Year title.

Sankey’s skills on the field were the subject of much praise from Rob Rang of CBS Sports, who was confident that he might earn the accolade.

“I expect Sankey to take over as the lead back in Tennessee early and ultimately enjoy a similar rookie season as the back I compared him to in January, Giovani Bernard.

“Registering 1,209 all-purpose yards, eight touchdowns and helping push his squad into the playoffs would put Sankey in the running. Given his pro-ready game and mentality, Sankey may, in fact, be the favorite heading into the season for this award.”

But it was not so long ago that pundits were debating a very different name for the title. Though he is not that highly rated by some, Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel was also recently in the running. The issue was a tricky one, however – despite being nicknamed ‘Johnny Football’, Manziel was not the NFL’s first pick of quarterbacks.

The bigger question here is whether or not rookies are worth the money in the NFL.

Money is a contentious issue when it comes to rookies in the NFL – you’ve heard the stat originally reported by Sports Illustrated . . . 78% of former NFL players are bankrupt or nearly there. In 2012, changes were made to the structure of rookie contracts, with the CBA ruling that rookie salaries would be suppressed. Today, however, rookies can still earn a $570,000 salary if they make the squad as an active player.

Undrafted rookies have a much smaller paycheck in terms of signing bonuses, but it is ultimately down to them as to whether or not their team’s investment will be worth it. The better they do on the field, the more likely they will be to win bonuses – but is it worth the cash?

In 2010, Sam Bradford was drafted to the St Louis Rams, signing a six-year, $76 million contract. Since 2010, his performance has nowhere near matched his initial signing fee – he missed last year’s season with a torn ACL and failed to bring the Rams to the playoffs.

Hence, to avoid errors like this happening in the future, the rookie cap was brought in. It hasn’t been all bad news, however – Atlanta Falcons’ Matt Ryan’s $70 million fee has been more than justified.

While a multi-year commitment may be too many for some rookies, a salary cap is the best way of ensuring that teams can make a good investment without being too badly affected in the long term.

By Darren Heitner

Darren Heitner created Sports Agent Blog as a New Year's Resolution on December 31, 2005. Originally titled, "I Want To Be A Sports Agent," the website was founded with the intention of causing Heitner to learn more about the profession that he wanted to join, meet reputable individuals in the space and force himself to stay on top of the latest news and trends.

Heitner now runs Heitner Legal, P.L.L.C., which is a law firm with many practice areas, including sports law and contract law. Heitner has represented numerous athletes and sports agents as legal counsel. He has also served as an Adjunct Professor at Indiana University Bloomington from 2011-2014, where he created and taught a course titled, Sport Agency Management, which included subjects ranging from NCAA regulations to athlete agent certification and the rules governing the profession. Heitner serves as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Florida Levin College of Law, where he teaches a Sports Law class that includes case law surrounding athlete agents and the NCAA rules.