The NFL wants to cut almost 60 percent of guaranteed pay for first-round draft picks, lock them in for five years and divert the savings to veterans' salaries and benefits.
More than $525 million went to first-rounders in guaranteed payments in 2010. The league wants to decrease that figure by $300 million, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.
The league's offer would free a total of more than $1.2 billion over four years through 2015 — $37.5 million per team overall — and slow the growth rate of guaranteed payments to first-rounders, which the documents show increased by 233 percent from 2000-10.
Such quarterback busts as JaMarcus Russell ($32 million), Matt Leinart ($12.9 million), David Carr ($15 million) and Joey Harrington ($13.9 million) received huge guaranteed payments that totaled $367 million in the last 10 drafts.
Of course, Eli Manning ($24 million), Philip Rivers ($17.9 million) and Matt Ryan ($34.7 million) have not done too badly for their teams.
Guaranteed money paid to top 10 selections since 2000 reached nearly $2 billion. Guaranteed payments for all first-rounders were at $3.5 billion. The average career length of a first-round pick since 1993 is 9.3 years.
Eagles president Joe Banner said the original aim of the draft is being compromised by the expenses associated with signing top picks.
"The whole concept of the draft and ordering of the picks is to maintain competitive balance in the league," Banner said. "Now teams get top picks who have become so expensive and there's the risk you can miss, and it makes the ability to trade in and out of those spots almost impossible. It can become a disadvantage to be in one of the top spots."
The owners, of course, are the ones offering the huge guaranteed bonuses.
During talks for a new collective bargaining agreement, the league also proposed eliminating holdouts by reducing the maximum allowable salary if a rookie isn't signed when training camp begins. The NFL also suggested eliminating holdouts for all veterans by prohibiting renegotiations of contracts if a player holds out in the preseason.
The compensation system would not include a rookie wage scale and would allow for individual contract negotiations. Contracts would have a fixed length of four years for players chosen in the second through seventh rounds and would not affect salaries for those rounds, the league said.
"From a fairness standpoint, the simple concept to drive this should be that the players who contribute the most to the league should get the most money," Banner said. "What this system does is ensures players playing well in the NFL and bringing in fans and driving TV (ratings) will get the money that went to players who turned out not to be so good. And that is good for everyone."
The NFL Players Association was not immediately available for comment.
Several agents said the proposals place unfair limitations on players entering the league.
"Five years and reduced pay is basically restricting players," said Ben Dogra, whose clients include Patrick Willis and Sam Bradford. "Roughly 68 percent of the NFL is comprised of players with five years or less of NFL experience.
"Even players from essentially picks 11 to 32 in the first round are good financial deals for the teams. If a player becomes a starter or an integral part of the team under the current system, the NFL teams have the player under a rookie deal that is favorable to the team."
Peter Schaffer, who represents Joshua Cribbs and Hakeem Nicks, called such a system "scouting insurance" for teams making bad selections high in the draft.
"It also makes the rookies more valuable when you reduce the amount you are paying to the young guy," Schaffer said. "This will eliminate the veteran middle class because teams can have younger players who are making less and are under fixed contracts."
A modified salary system for rookies was a negotiating point for a new CBA until talks broke off March 11 and the NFLPA dissolved as a union. The owners locked out the players hours later.
The two sides are scheduled for court-mandated mediation in Minneapolis beginning Thursday.