Compensation System for First-Round Selections Needs to Change, Polian Says
INDIANAPOLIS – As Bill Polian sees it, the NFL Draft needs fixing.
And needs it relatively soon.
As the Colts' President believes it, the high cost of signing rookies selected in the first half of the NFL Draft each year has spiraled so out of control that it negatively affects the fundamental concept behind the process.
"In my humble opinion, it needs to change," Polian said Sunday during the NFL Scouting Combine, which is ongoing through Tuesday at the RCA Dome in downtown Indianapolis. "The draft was designed to positively affect the game on the field and create competitive balance.
"Now, we find that it's doing just the opposite."
The Colts last April traded their first-round selection to the San Francisco 49ers for the selection they used on offensive tackle Tony Ugoh.
Still, Polian said not having a selection among the top 50 selections doesn't change his view.
The idea behind the draft, Polian said, was to have teams with the worst records be able to improve by selecting the best college players. That was the premise when Chicago Bears Founder George Halas and then Commissioner Bert Bell implemented the draft in 1936, and Polian said it has been a cornerstone of the league since.
But in recent years, signing bonuses paid to the No. 1 overall selection have risen dramatically, and the cost of signing players in the Top 10 and even the Top 15 has followed.
Raiders quarterback JaMarcus Russell received about $31 million guaranteed last off-season, continuing a recent trend in which the guaranteed money for the No. 1 selection has risen significantly each off-season. Houston Texans defensive end Mario Williams received $26.9 million guarantee in 2006 and San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith received $24 million guaranteed in 2005.
New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning received $20 million guaranteed in 2004.
Polian said such high salaries guaranteed to unproven rookies can cause teams to make decisions early in the draft based on factors outside how much a player might help on the field, thus circumventing the spirit of the draft.
A major topic during the combine this weekend has been the difficulty a team holding the first overall selection in the draft – this season, the Miami Dolphins – faces if it wants to trade the selection.
"The one is very tough to move, depending on what the draft class looks like,'' said San Francisco 49ers General Manager Scott McLoughan, the team's director of player personnel when it selected Smith No. 1 overall in 2005. "The amount of money and what you're investing … it's very tough. There is no way around it. You're not going to pass on the pick. And if you can't trade out you've got to take somebody. So you're guaranteed to have to pay so much money."
As worrisome as it may be, Polian said the problem is fixable, and further, he said Sunday he believes it will be fixed at some point because "I think most of you (the media) and most of the fans agree with the premise I just stated."
"Our game is based on competitive balance, the fact that every franchise believes they can win, unlike other s," Polian said. "Every team in our league enters training camp saying, 'Hey, we've got a chance.' You can go from worst to first in one year, sometimes based on how well you draft.
"When that is skewed and changed because of the agents, then that isn't good for the game."
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell recently said the issue has been addressed with the NFL Players Association.
"We think it is an important thing," Goodell said. "We're not trying, in this case, to pay players less money. What we're trying to do is make sure that the money that is allocated to the salary cap goes to the players that have earned that, that have done it over a period of time. So I think we want to talk about the impact of the rookie pool, what it should be, how it should provide opportunities for players that come into the league and be paid appropriately and be paid fairly, but also make sure that that money goes to the players that really have performed on an incredible level.
"I think that's something that we'll continue to engage in with the Players Association."
Polian said Sunday there were several options to control first-round salaries, including rolling back what the selections are paid and instituting a slotting system.
Whatever the alternative, it's one Polian said needs to be addressed, not as a money-saving issue, but as one that will influence the game.
"The draft is designed to either allow the weakest teams based on record to choose the best players, or – if they choose not to take a particularly player – to gather a bunch of picks to further accelerate their growth and competiveness," Polian said. "That's what Mr. Halas and Commissioner Bell intended way back when. That has now been skewed completely by the cost of the picks in the Top 15 picks in the first round.
"Now, you face the prop of saying, 'If I'm after the first pick and I have to pay 30 million for it, how much do I want to give up in addition to that?' And if you fail with that pick, your franchise is saddled with an albatross that you can't get rid of for who knows how long? It's completely changed because fo the cost of those picks. In my view, that's wrong and should change.
"That's bad for the game, it isn't about money. It's about the integrity of the game on the field."