In Sunday's Telegraph, I have a story about the potential rookie salary cap and how it may affect the decisions made by several underclassmen who may stand to lose some serious cash if they stay in school an extra season. For the story, I spoke at length with ESPN's John Clayton, who gave me some insider knowledge on how the cap might work. Below is the complete Q&A.
NOTE: ESPN's Chris Mortensen talks with Roger Goodell, who says there won't be a cap in place before 2011.
John Clayton: I still say it's speculative. Here's what the problem is: What chip do the owners give up to get it? Obviously there's a lot of incentive to do it because it paralyzes your team when you give up a $60-million contract to a player that you either cut or want to cut by the third year. But also, do you trade a point in the revenue sharing to get rid of it, which is a lot of money? It's one of those economical things that seems easy to eliminate but it really isn't because again, what you're dealing with, and this is the union's position, you're talking about 10 to 12 players that really get affected by it. Obviously as time grows, that number is going to increase as it keeps going down the first round, but it's one where the players can't give it up easily because that's a left tackle, a defensive end, a quarterback – a high paid position and there's no guarantee that if you put that money into the veteran pool that it's necessarily going to go to a veteran.”
DH: So how concerned should underclassmen considering leaving after this season be?
JC: It's one of those things that seems like it should get fixed, but it's one of those complicated things in the salary cap that still might not go away. There's definitely going to be a major effort to do it, and if you're a player making a decision, particularly for the 2010 draft – because obviously it won't happen in 2009 – you have to worry about it because the losses are significant. If they go to a hard cap, all of a sudden you go to a $2.5-million contract from a deal that could have made you $10 million or $11 million a year.
DH: Do you expect many underclassmen to come out early then?
JC: The money risks are too big. Now there's only like about 12 players that will be hit, and you have to really think about what is the real advantage or disadvantage of doing it because if you're gambling, you're going to gamble on the chance to make more money. And naturally, when you're talking to agents, they're going to encourage players to want to try to go out because that agent's going to get the player.
DH: OK, so hard numbers, how do you think a cap could impact the top picks?
JC: What they'll end up doing is if they do put a hard cap in, they'll put some kind of a pool together of what the money would have been and do it that way. For example, the first pick, Jake Long, got a deal for $57.75 on the max over five with 29.25 guaranteed. Go down to Jared Mayo at the 10th pick. His max deal is 13.3 over five and the deal behind him is Leodis McKelvin at 11 makes 12.5. So that's 2.5 a year, and that's the max. He'd have to do everything to achieve that. Then the cap number at the top is $3 million. So they would probably take in 2010 make that like $3.25 million, so it would be the average of $3 million or $4 million on paper all the way down. You take the average of five years for $20 million, look at the difference on that (from Long's deal).
DH: That seems like a lot for the players to give up. Do you expect the union to put up a strong fight?
JC: It's a nice carrot because the owners want to get rid of it. I don't know if there's going to be enough offered to the players to get rid of it with the number of players who are affected.
DH: You mentioned that only the top 10 to 12 picks would be affected by the cap. How so?
JC: Everything else is in the slot right down the line. It's just those top eight or nine players. The ninth pick maxed out at $15.45, the eighth pick is 17.4.
DH: So for a guy like Knowshon Moreno who might go later in the first, is the cap not really a big deal?
JC: If you're told that you're going to go 23 or 24 overall, you're better if you're an offensive lineman, a quarterback, a defensive tackle, you're probably better served to stay. Now if you're a running back, that's different.
DH: So if you go by money, you think it makes a lot more sense for Stafford to go now?
JC: If you're telling Matthew that he's going to be top five, economically, it might be better to go. Playing-wise, it's definitely better to stay because most of the quarterbacks who have stayed have wound up doing much, much better. Financially though, if you're going to crack the top five, you've probably got to go now.
DH: There are those longterm ramifications to leaving early though, as you said. That still makes a difference, right?
JC: You're not going to hold him for five years. You're going to let him go after three or four or put him up for some way to get that big contract. Look at Aaron Rodgers. Ultimately if you're good, you'll get your money. And if Matthew thinks he's good, even if he's slotted in 2010, within three years he can come up and get that big deal making $15 million or $16 million. But if he wants the money now, he'll be in position to get the money now. I just don't know if he's going to be top five.