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Lowballing: What if the Rams try to buck precedent in contract talks with the first pick?

Though the trade talks continue, like they do every year, it's highly unlikely that the St. Louis Rams will be moving down from the first overall pick in this year's draft. Oklahoma QB Sam Bradford, barring a last minute shocker, will be their pick tomorrow night, and he'll also become the highest paid player in the NFL. 

At the National Football Post, Andrew Brandt has a post today wondering if the Rams might spurn the contract demands of Bradford and his agent and hold the line on a more reasonable deal. A cool $50 million in guaranteed money is believed to be Bradford's asking price at this point, representing a 20 percent increase in the deal the Lions gave Matthew Stafford, last year's first overall pick and also represented by the same agent as Bradford, Tom Condon. 

That's a pretty steep increase for just one year, a year when inflation has barely budged thanks to the recession and decreased, stagnant aggregate demand. But set aside the Econ 101 lesson for moment, because NFL economics are a different animal. Stafford got approximately 20 percent more in guaranteed money than Matt Ryan, the top QB taken in the 2008 draft, so the $50 million figure being tossed around now does not represent an unprecedented increase for the QB picked first in the draft. 

But should and will the Rams offer up a contract along those lines? 

The truth of the matter is they don't have much choice. Having the man who they expect to carry the franchise forward for years to come sitting on the bench...and possibly even re-entering the draft next year (when rookie pay could change significantly) would not put the Rams on the path toward improvement. In fact, it would really set them back, by at least a year. 

Or, they could draft him and trade his rights to another team that would be willing to pony up that kind of money, which would still leave them searching for a QB. They could draft Colt McCoy with their second round pick, if they felt like this was a possibility, but why spend your two highest draft picks on a QB? The best option they'd get via this route would be a fill-in like Jason Campbell

Perhaps a deal loaded with incentives, with something south of $50 million in guarantees? Unlikely. Why would Bradford take that deal? Why would any player drafted at the top of the first round take a discount, especially when they have a team in dire need of a QB for their efforts to rebuild a team and start selling tickets again over the barrel? It just doesn't make sense. 

It's possible that a deal could get done for something less than the $50 million figure, but it would still be something pretty close to that, or they could try and hold out and get absolutely nothing for their first pick. Face it, the Rams are paying the price for years of neglect, and find themselves needing a QB just one year before the rookie salary scale likely undergoes a major change. One more legacy of the Jay Zygmunt era. 

[Note by VanRam, 04/21/10 5:27 PM EDT ] If a guy really has the moxie to turn around a team and be the QB they need, $50 million becomes just another number. It's a gamble to be sure, but sometimes that's all you've got.