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NFL draft will operate under standard rookie salary pool

While the NFL will almost certainly enter its long-anticipated "uncapped" year next month, the league's 2010 draft will continue to operate under the rookie salary pool and slotting system that have been staples of the current collective bargaining agreement, a league spokesman confirmed to SI.com on Wednesday.

The rookie salary pool -- which previously functioned as a salary cap for first-year players under the NFL's soon-to-expire overall salary cap -- could have been dropped at the league's behest in an uncapped year, as the CBA stipulated. But the league decided to retain the rookie salary pool for 2010, even though it hopes any new CBA negotiations will address what it believes are the inequities of its rookie salary structure.

As has been the case with each draft class under the current CBA, this year's crop of NFL rookies will see their potential contract value determined by their draft spot -- the so-called slotting system. Had the league intended to opt out of the rookie salary pool in 2010, it would have had to notify the NFL Players Association by Feb. 20.

"The rookie pool is on under the normal formula,'' NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said. "That has been communicated to the clubs. It's part of the CBA, and there's no reason to discontinue that. There will be no notification to the union, because it's not being cancelled.''

Most analysts believe the 2010 draft will be one of the deepest in years, with a record number of juniors expected to infuse the first round (as many as 20-24 by some estimations). Many in the league believed the potential lack of a rookie pool in 2010 would coax even more underclassmen into April's draft -- especially given the uncertainty surrounding the potential rookie salary structure any new labor deal may produce.

Aiello said the league's clubs were made aware of the intention to have a rookie salary pool at the NFL's annual labor seminar in December. That occurred the month before a mid-January deadline for college juniors deciding whether to declare for the 2010 draft.

But a club executive told SI.com on Wednesday he still hadn't heard any definitive word from the league regarding whether it intended to have a rookie salary pool this year.

"I think everyone's planning as if there will be a rookie pool, but there's not been any word from the league,'' the club executive said. "Everyone's just operating on the assumption there will be a pool. I always figured if it was going to be different, they'd tell us.''

Some league observers felt the absence of a slotting system could result in more Michael Crabtree-like contract stalemates, in which agents try to assign value to a player without adhering strictly to where the player was drafted. That could have led to a greater emphasis on "signability'' in this year's draft, with teams eager to identify which highly-regarded prospects might have tried to capitalize on the one-year absence of a draft slotting system.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has been out-spoken in his desire to change the league's rookie salary structure, and last month the NFL reportedly proposed to the players union a new rookie wage scale for this year's draft, with players paid a fixed amount based on draft slot. The NFLPA responded with its own rookie salary proposal, but tied it to a two-year extension to the current CBA -- an idea which went nowhere. The NFL seems willing to deal with the rookie salary question separate from the looming labor talks.

The league's rookie salary pool is determined each May, following the NFL draft, and is based on that year's overall salary cap. It is in part determined by how many draft picks a team has and where those picks are located.

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