Once upon a time, the only goal that a talented college quarterback had would be to get drafted in the first round, preferably in the top-10. If a young man was talented enough to convince a team to take a chance on him early in the draft, he was basically set for life. All he had to do was show up for work on a daily basis and he would collect more money in a five- or six-year stretch than most Americans could dream of earning in five or six lifetimes.
Well, those days are over. Today, thanks to the new rookie wage scale implemented in the latest NFL collective bargaining agreement, the contracts that are given out to rookies aren’t anywhere near as exorbitant as they used to be. Instead, the big money is given on the second contract, the one that the player has earned in the actual NFL rather than the NFL combine.
That means that young college quarterbacks must be concerned with not only how high they will be drafted, but with how well they will perform once they get to the pros. This has led to more and more potential top draft picks opting to stay in school for another year of seasoning, rather than making the jump to the NFL before they are ready to play well once they get there.
The latest to do so is Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota. Mariota, who has led one of the best offenses in the country for two years and was a Heisman front-runner just a few weeks ago, has let the world know that he feels he isn’t ready for the NFL. And while he is the most recent potential millionaire to go back to school, he isn’t the first and he certainly won’t be the last.
In the end, both college football and the NFL are better off when players like Mariota opt for another year of playing for free over taking the money before they are ready to truly earn it. College football gets to keep a star player, and the NFL gets quarterbacks who are ready to play right away once they get drafted — something that is required of rookie signal-callers these days.
Some other sports (I’m looking at you, NBA) could take a page from the NFL playbook on this one. You don’t need to open yourself up to legal issues by limiting the age a prospect player can enter your league — you just need to make it more profitable for him to wait until he is truly ready to be there.
All football fans are better off with the new system. College teams and pro teams are better off with the new system. The players are better off with the new system, even they don’t realize it at their young age.
The NFL gets — and deserves —plenty of criticism from players, fans and especially writers like me. They deserve all the credit on this one.