Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins ended his holdout and reported yesterday for the second day of training camp. Fortunately, the situation is no longer a current distraction, but the scenario for players such as Hopkins who outperform under rookie contracts remains the same - it literally is not possible to pay a player who performs at an elite level what he is actually worth under a rookie contract as a result of the 2011 NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement.
Texans fans have expressed their anger, mostly targeted at General Manager Rick Smith, about "not paying Hopkins what he is worth." Allow me to explain why you can't blame Rick Smith for the DeAndre Hopkins situation.
First and foremost, according to the Collective Bargaining Agreement, top-shelf first round rookie contracts are established at four years, with a fifth year team option. Additionally, NFL teams are limited in regards to how much they can spend on rookie contract salaries. There is a pool of funds that is shared by the teams and split based on how many draft picks a team has. I will not attempt to get into the granular details. If you are bored enough to read it for yourself, it's under Article 7 (Rookie Compensation and Rookie Compensation Pool).
Without question, we all know that DeAndre's talents are worth much more than his base salary of $1 million plus a $445,000 roster bonus. It's basically chump change to pay for one of the top five receivers in the league. Rick Smith has been the primary target of frustration about the situation, but he shouldn't be blamed for this situation. He was not representing the players when this agreement was established.
DeMaurice Smith, then Executive Director of the NFL Players Association, led the negotiations on behalf of the players during the 2011 NFL lockout. The players are experiencing a serious case of buyer's remorse after allowing this agreement to end the lockout.
The players walked away from the table with two major flaws in the agreement that they're now suffering through. The first flaw is that contracts are not fully guaranteed as they are in Major League Baseball and the NBA. The other major flaw in the agreement is what Hopkins is dealing with. The rookie wage scale cannibalizes a player's ability to get fairly compensated based on his performance under his rookie contract for up to five years, which is actually about two years longer than the average career of an NFL player.
Some fans have said that Hopkins should have a new deal extended to him to bypass the rookie deal. While that certainly is possible, you have to ask yourself: Is it feasible for the business? For starters, let's not forget that these teams are owned by some of the wealthiest guys on earth. They didn't become mega-rich entrepreneurs by being softies in negotiations. Regardless of what industry they acquired their wealth in, these owners are in the business of acquiring assets at a low price and getting the most out of them. NFL talent is no different than any other commodity in that regard.
For now, the Hopkins contract issue is on the shelf, but the situation itself begs the question: What happens the next time that a young player outperforms his rookie contract? Will this happen again if Kevin Johnson or Will Fuller emerge into first team All-Pro caliber players? Will they find themselves in a situation similar to Hopkins? Absolutely it can happen. The compensation to performance balance for young players will continue to be one-sided in favor of the team owners until this is hopefully addressed in 2021 when the current CBA expires.