By now you know about the extraordinary good fortune of St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford – the last No. 1 overall draft pick to truly strike gold with a six-year, $78 million deal ($50 million guaranteed) after the Rams selected him out of the University of Oklahoma in 2010.
Auburn Cam Newton (four years, $22 million) didn't see anything close to that kind of money when he went first to Carolina a year later. But the headline guys weren't the only ones affected by the new collective bargaining rules that curtailed the rookie salary pool. The Jacksonville Jaguars, drafting 10th last year, paid quarterback Blaine Gabbert $12 million over four years after drafting him out of the University of Missouri. Picking in the same spot the year before, Jacksonville lavished more than double that amount on Cal defensive lineman Tyson Alualu.
As in 2011, pay packages for this year's crop will be linked to a rookie pay pool that's tied to the NFL salary cap. As first reported by Mike Florio of NBC Sports, league sources have indicated that this year's pool will drop a bit from 2011, even as the NFL and the Players Association agreed to a slight bump in the overall cap. If that happens, expect top picks Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III to make slightly less than the two corresponding players from last year's draft, Newton and Denver linebacker Von Miller ($21 million).
Add it all up, and the total haul for this year's first 10 picks projects to $164 million (about $4 million apiece for four years). That's 67 percent less than the $505 million the top 10 players signed for in 2010, and even 45 percent less than those players' guaranteed portions, which totaled $313 million. The league is expected to announce the rookie pool sometime in the next few days. Whether it winds up growing or dropping, everyone agrees the contracts will be similar to last year.
The new alignment does turn the top picks into more cost effective players, which gives teams less incentive to trade them (the Rams did trade the No. 2 pick, Griffin's expected slot, to Washington only because they already have Bradford). Not only are the first-rounders making less overall, the money is spread around more evenly. In 2010, the gap between Bradford, taken first, and Alualu, who went 10th, was a whopping $50 million (even the guaranteed portions were $43 million apart). This year, expect a gulf between No. 1 and No. 10 of roughly $10 million, or about $2.5 million a year.
The projected top five: