In 1978, the NFL started Free Agency. It existed for several years before the “powers that be” adjusted how Free Agency worked.
The idea was to make the competition in the NFL more balanced. This, along with revenue sharing would allow teams, even teams in smaller markets, the ability to be more competitive.
In this period of Free Agency, the players were allowed to go to the highest bidder once they were no longer under contract.
In 2011, the players and owners reached a new deal and began a new era with the Collective Bargaining Agreement. One affect of this agreement was to limit the amount drafted, unproven rookies could demand for their services. It was hoped that this would also cut down on the number of draftees holding out of training camp and demanding extreme contracts for their participation. It would make those newly drafted players have a pay guideline. The formula seemed to be that those first 16 draftee’s contracts could only be as high as the average of the top 10 players in the league at their prospective positions. In addition, the trend was set allowing a declining pay amount for each draftee after the overall number one pick. The first round draftee’s are limited to four-year contracts with a Club option for a fifth year. The players drafted in the second through the seventh rounds, including compensatory draft picks, may only sign four-year contracts. Free Agent rookies may only sign three-year contracts. These contracts lengths are to remain fixed and unalterable.
The veterans believed that this would bring about a change, which would allow proven NFL players to get a performance based pay and make Free Agency even more appealing.
It seems that this CBA would have a very different affect. This part of the agreement seems to have backfired on the Free Agents. Now, it makes more sense to develop rookies than to reach out and pay big dollar amounts to the older, proven players.
Even if a player has performed above his expected pay scale, he might not be able to collect as in earlier periods of Free Agency.
This is the reason, why should the owners pay huge dollars for a player, even though he may have performed around or above his expected levels, when you can pay a hungry rookie or a player with less than four years in the league, a lot less money? It now makes less sense to reward a proven player, who is thirty something, a long-term contract worth big bucks. It is a seemingly better business decision to let that aging player go and opt for the less expensive, younger, fresher bodies of the rookies. Thus, driving down the cost of Free Agents could also drive down the cost of rookies, as the top ten players in the league, at their prospective positions, may no longer receive huge Free Agent contracts.
Moreover, since the rookies’ pay is now more structured, it may be easier to meet set salary caps with Free Agents being less desirable and signing shorter, less lucrative contracts than in earlier times.