THE DAYS OF ROOKIES being among the highest-paid players at their position—if not the highest—are about to end. The new collective bargaining agreement will limit the money paid to first-year players and close loopholes (such as bonuses and escalator clauses) that allowed teams to circumvent previous attempts to keep down rookie salaries. There will be a limit on the total amount a team can spend on draft choices based on the number of picks and the round in which they were used. A club can divvy up its pool as it wishes, although there will be a ceiling (and a floor) on what its highest-drafted player can earn.
Also, first-round picks must sign four-year deals that include a fifth-year team option. That option, if exercised, would pay top 10 picks the average of the top 10 veteran salaries at that position. Players selected in slots 11 to 32 will earn an average of the top three to 25 salaries at their positions.
Instituting a hard rookie cap was critical for owners, who saw guarantees rise dramatically. In 2009, Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford signed a contract with $41.7 million in guaranteed money, and last season Rams quarterback Sam Bradford received a $50 million guarantee. In contrast, this year's No. 1 pick, Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, is expected to receive a deal that will pay him around $28 million over four years.