“Pulling An Eli …”

A while back, Coach Prime offered his opinion that the Chicago Bears might want to think twice about drafting Caleb Williams in this year’s draft.  Sanders’ reasoning was that Williams had grown up and had played his college football in warm weather zip codes and that Chicago was a cold weather venue.  Indeed, Williams grew up in the DC area which is not a tropical clime but is warmer than Chicago and he spent his college days playing for Oklahoma and USC.  About a week later, Coach Prime said that his two best players at Colorado – – his son Shadeur and two-way player, Travis Hunter – – just might decide for themselves where they play in the NFL referring to the maneuverings that got Eli Manning to the Giants and not to the Chargers.  Those utterings led to this comment from Bob Molinaro in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:

“But what if the Colorado kids are on to something? What if pulling an Eli Manning, like the quarterback did in 2004 by refusing to go to the Chargers though they chose him No. 1, is the next wave of player empowerment? We may already be approaching the point where NIL money would allow a top prospect to remain in school and wait for the following year’s draft rather than be shipped off to the Carolina Panthers. Who could blame a kid for that? We’re not there yet, but it’s on the frontier.”

I am glad that Professor Molinaro used the word “frontier” and not “horizon” because I think those circumstances might be a bit further in the future than as presented here.  There is a big difference between “pulling an Eli” and ”waiting a year” because the NFL Draft is set up to give bad teams the highest picks.  So, a bad team picking Joe Flabeetz in 2025 may or may not be a better option than another bad team picking Joe Flabeetz in 2026 after he refuses to report and goes back to school.  Moreover, that act of defiance might not sit well with NFL coaches and execs and give them pause about drafting him at the top of that second draft go-round.

I am not an expert in the interpretation of the NFL/NFLPA Collective Bargaining Agreement but from my non-learned reading here is what I believe are the options for a player who is draft eligible:

  • If a player is taken in the draft and does not sign with the team that took him, he can sit out a year and re-enter the draft in the next year.  Obviously, he gets no salary from the NFL for his “sit out year”, but he can earn NIL money – – or any other legal form of recompense – – in that “sit out year”.
  • If that player is then drafted a second time by a team not to the liking of the player, he may sit out a second year and thereby become an undrafted free agent who can sign with any team that wants him and that he wants to play for in the season following his second “sit out year”.  Again, no NFL salary for “sit out year number two”.

Yes, the player can likely find a way to survive on NIL money but there is no guarantee that his contract with the NFL team of his choice is going to be lucrative.  The CBA allots each team a pool of money that can be used to sign undrafted free agents just as that CBA allots contract conditions for players taken in the first round of the draft.  Not surprisingly, a high draft pick in Round 1 will make a lot more money in his first four years under contract than any undrafted free agent will make.  The only contractual advantage for a “sitting out player” who goes the undrafted free agent route is that undrafted free agent contracts are for 2 years meaning the player gets a bite of the free agent apple in his 3rd NFL year while drafted players must wait four/five years (if taken in the first round) or three years if taken in lower rounds.

So, if my interpretation is correct – – and it may not be – – a player would take a significant risk in sitting out two years and then playing two more years in the NFL at minimum salary in order to “pick his team”.  I am not saying that will never happen; I am saying that the financials for a top pick are going to be difficult to turn down.

Here are data from last year as people who know far more about the NFL cap and contracts than I do projected what the overall #1 pick would get:

  • Signing bonus of $26.9M and a total contract value over 4 years of $41.2M.
  • If the team picked up the “fifth year option” the salary in that fifth year would be more than $20M.
  • Ergo… Caleb Williams would have to go back to college and earn quite a bit of NIL money in 2024 to come close to matching the approximately $30M he would earn with the Bears – – if they take him.

What is it they say about a bird in the hand …?

And while I was musing on the subject of NFL salaries for top draft picks, I happened to notice this juxtaposition:

  • Nine NFL QBs have contracts in hand that earn them an average of $43M per year or more over the life of that contract.
  • Four NFL QBs have contracts in hand that earn them an average of more than $50M per year over the life of that contract.
  • On MLB’s Opening Day, the total value of the contracts for the 26 players on the Oakland A’s roster was $43M.

Today’s rant began with Coach Prime offering opinions about players and the NFL Draft.  Staying on that vector heading, let me say that I have reached my lifetime exposure limit to “Mock Drafts” and particularly “Mock Drafts” that involve concocted trades which allow this day’s “Mock Draft” to look different from the one produced three days ago.

Moreover, sometime before the 2024 NFL season begins, someone somewhere will put out a “Far Too Soon Mock Draft for 2025” which is stupidity squared.  Look, no one knows who will draft where before the season begins nor does anyone know what might happen in free agency after the season and before the Draft.  That sort of “Far Too Soon …” nonsense should be grounds for boiling the author in oil – – unless of course he/she is about 80% accurate or unless the author publishes a post-mortem on his/her projected selections…

Finally, much of today’s rant has been related to financial risk and projection.  So, let me close with these observations about “risk” by the economist, Peter Bernstein:

“The more irreversible the decisions, the more expensive the consequences of being wrong.”

And …

“In the end, risk management is about consequences.”

And …

“Many years ago, an older partner taught me to distinguish between outcomes that are unlikely and outcomes that are catastrophic.  The latter are to be avoided even if the odds on them are tiny.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………



6 thoughts on ““Pulling An Eli …””

  1. I have frequently pondered over the question of how the NFL and NFLPA could legally negotiate future contract limits on “behalf” of people not in the union. It seems like a severe restraint of trade.

  2. I have a lot more sympathy for the players (I think Elway was one?) who say “Not THAT team!!!” and want to avoid a train wreck franchise and go ANYWHERE else than the ones who want to pick their own out of college.

    1. Ed:

      In the Eli case, the Chargers managed to get a good QB (Rivers) in return and LaDanian Tomlinson in the same draft. Not awful …

      In the Elway case, the Colts got an OT who was good but not nearly “legendary”. Not so good …

  3. Will you provide names of the nine NFL QBs earning $43 million and four NFL QBs earning $50 million? I am all for labor empowerment, but these QB salaries are getting on my nerves.

    1. TenaciousP:

      These are data for 2024:

      1. Joe Burrow – – $55M
      2. Justin Herbert – – $52.5M
      3. Lamar Jackson – – $52M
      4. Jalen Hurts – – $51M
      5. Russell Wilson – – $49M
      6. Kyler Murray – – $46.1M
      7. Deshaun Watson – – $46M
      8. Patrick Mahomes – – $45M
      9. Josh Allen – – $43M

Comments are closed.