Happy Wednesday, SporticoU readers, and welcome to draft week for the granddaddy of them all: the NFL.
Some 259 players will hear their names called in Kansas City during the seven-round, three-day extravaganza that starts Thursday night. The Panthers have the No. 1 pick—acquired from the Bears via trade—and are widely expected to draft a quarterback to be the face of the franchise moving forward. Alabama’s Bryce Young, Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud, Florida’s Anthony Richardson and Kentucky’s Will Levis are all among the former college signal callers projected to go in the first round. I’ll leave the pick speculation and mock drafts to the experts, but regardless of Carolina’s choice, I do think Chicago’s decision to trade away the top slot is fascinating from a financial perspective.
In exchange for the top selection, the Bears received the No. 9 pick, the No. 61 pick, a 2024 first-rounder, a 2025 second-round pick and wide receiver DJ Moore. Most people would agree that’s not a shabby haul—especially when you consider the No. 9 overall draft pick is significantly cheaper to add to your payroll than the No. 1.
Thanks to the rookie wage scale introduced in 2011, salaries for draft picks are predetermined by a formula tied to the NFL salary cap. The biggest contracts go to the earliest names called, but the decrease between selections is surprisingly steep.
Salaries for players picked in the first round bottom out just below $13 million, which is no small sum, but it pales compared to the contract the top overall pick will command. The No. 1 slot is worth around $41 million this year, including a signing bonus of around $27 million. The No. 9 pick that Chicago now has, on the other hand, will earn less than that bonus alone over his full four-year rookie deal, which will land around $23 million in total.
By trading down to No. 9, Chicago saved itself nearly $20 million. For eight spots!
Now, none of this is new. The total contract for the first pick in last year’s draft rang in at $37.4 million with $24.4 million in signing bonus. The ninth pick in 2022 earned $21.4 million with a $12.7 million bonus, while the sliding scale runs down to $11.5 million with a $5.5 million bonus for the last pick in the first round. But the drop-offs, which level off a bit in the later rounds, never cease to make me do a double-take.
Another draft fun fact for you: The minimum base salary for rookie players will be $750,000 this year, up from $705,000 in 2022. Not bad for your first gig out of school, eh?
To state the obvious, the draft is also a big recruiting tool for college football programs. It’s free marketing for the Kirby Smarts and Nick Sabans of the NCAA. Plus, with the second transfer portal window back open until April 30, ‘tis once again the recruiting season—and it’s a wild one.
Colorado, for example, leads the way with 46 scholarship football players in the transfer portal this year amid the Deion Sanders-led rebuild. The Buffs only had 83 scholarship players at the start of the 2022 season! What a stat.
Next time we chat, we’ll have a much better idea about where the hundreds of transfer hopefuls in the portal have landed and what the next college football season could look like. Until then, happy spring, everyone.