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Compensation issues in the NFL

Today's Baltimore Sun had articles on two distinct compensation issues for NFL players. The first article is about signing draft picks and the practice of "slotting". The idea is that one team determines the pay for its draftee by comparing to the salaries paid to those drafted just ahead and just after that player. The issue is, apparently, more complicated if the player drafted ahead of your guy was a quarterback and you have drafted a defensive tackle, as is the case with the Baltimore Ravens. Of course, all teams cannot practice this "slotting" strategy or no draftees will ever be signed.

This whole thing strikes me as excessive concern with ex post regrets on the part of teams. The management will feel better paying a player some league wide notion of his worth when that player turns out to be a bust than they would feel if they paid what they thought the guy was worth and were wrong. Of course, delaying signing your first round draft choice this way raises the possibility of that player missing some training camp time, and ultimately being less prepared for the regular season than otherwise. Since 2001, the Ravens' first round pick has not been signed by the start of camp. Clearly the team has decided that the benefits to the team and the player of the first round pick being in camp on time are small compared to the costs of over paying for that player.

The second issue in NFL compensation concerns pensions for retired players. The retired players are asking for a larger share of current revenues. One has to feel badly for many of the old-timers who lack medical insurance and who cannot live on the pensions they recieve from the NFL, especially those who played at a time when salaries were low and players had to have off season jobs to support themselves. Many of these fellows are severely crippled from their playing days. For example, John Mackey was a tight end for ten seasons, 9 with the Baltimore Colts. He played in five Pro Bowls and was the all league tight end three times. Mackey was also a prominent leader in the NLF Player's Association in the 60's and 70's. In 2001 he was diagnosed with Frontal Temporal Dementia, a condition linked to his playing days but for which his family had no insurance.

The pension issue is entirely a player matter. The question is how today's revenues will be divided among current and former players. A sticking point is that the NFLPA represents the current players but not the retired players. It will be interesting to see how today's players respond to the needs of those that went before them.