Ever since the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement in 2011, the rookie wage scale has had a tremendous impact on the game due to the salary cap requirements. Those rookie deals along with the rebuilding project in Oakland allowed the Raiders a few years of cap flexibility to add big names in free agency. Now with large contract extensions recently handed out and more on the horizon, Oakland must look to the draft more than ever.
Before 2011, NFL draft picks were paid a fortune; often accruing a majority of their contract in guaranteed money. Sam Bradford — the last number one overall pick before the collective bargaining agreement — was signed right out of college to a monster six-year, $78 million dollar deal including $50 million guaranteed.
Compare that to the Browns 2017 first overall pick Myles Garrett who signed a four-year contract (including a fifth-year option) worth $30 million with a $20 million dollar signing bonus.
In Sam Bradford’s first season with the Rams, the rookie quarterback accounted for approximately 11.6% of the cap. Garrett on the other hand will take up just 4% of the Browns cap after the league salary cap has skyrocketed to $177 million for the 2018 season.
The Raiders have been the beneficiaries of acquiring elite talent for pennies in terms of market value. General Manager Reggie McKenzie enjoyed the spoils of Carr’s rookie contract, which paid the second-round pick a bit more than $4.3 million over his first three seasons, according to Spotrac.com. A year before Carr was set to become a free agent, the Silver and Black extended him to a five-year deal worth $125 million with $40 million guaranteed.
Still playing under their rookie deals, former defensive player of the year Khalil Mack and two-time pro bowler Amari Cooper -- both top five picks — accounted for just $12 million against the cap last season, with their combined cap figure jumping to $21 million in 2018. Carr accounts for $25 million all by himself.
As a result of these low numbers, McKenzie has had a surplus of cap money to spend in free agency which he used to make Rodney Hudson and Kelechi Osemele the highest paid players at their position at the time of their signings.
With Mack now due for an extension that will likely be worth at least $20 million per year, the Raiders will no longer have the luxury of plunking down big money on talented players in free agency. If Cooper produces this season, he too will demand a big extension.
The Silver and Black are about to become one of the most cash-strapped teams in the NFL which limits their options in free agency going forward.
For that reason they absolutely must add talent in the upcoming drafts who are playing under their more affordable rookie deals. It’s perhaps more a must for the Raiders than any other team in the NFL.