Pittsburgh Steelers

McMullen | Ryan Shazier off base on rookie contracts

Pittsburgh Steelers inside linebacker Ryan Shazier (50) walks off the field following an NFL divisional playoff football game against the Kansas City Chiefs Sunday, Jan. 15, 2017, in Kansas City, Mo. The Steelers won 18-16. (AP Photo/Ed Zurga)
AP Photo/Ed Zurga

Life is ultimately one big give and take, and the NFL’s current collective bargaining agreement is proof positive of that.

Most seem to focus on what the players don’t have and ignore the compromises DeMaurice Smith and the NFLPA negotiated in return, the most obvious of which is the dramatically scaled back offseason work that is the bane of any coach’s existence and has unquestionably damaged the product on the field.

Money is always the be all, end all, however, and things shifted in 2011 with the big bucks being limited to those entering the league under the rookie-wage scale and instead heaped on proven veterans on their second or third contracts.

From the NFLPA’s perspective, the goal is the get every player the most possible, but the new system certainly seems like the more common-sense way to distribute sweat equity.

The last big bonus baby under the old system was Sam Bradford, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 draft and a player some will say whose best skill set has been making money.

If that environment had continued, Myles Garrett, the top selection this year, would be getting paid significantly more than consistent, proven pass rushers who have been producing for years.

It’s not like Garrett will be starving, however, as he still got more than $30 million in guarantees, and the obscene money will still be there for him in the future if he lives up to the hype.

Logically the current system is one that makes sure distributions under the salary cap are distributed in a fairer manner than the previous one, but not everyone sees it that way, among them Pittsburgh Steelers star linebacker Ryan Shazier, who is still “suffering” through his rookie deal.

“Sometimes guys have to wait five years,” he told ESPN. “… But that’s what they agreed on in the past. Next time we’ve just got to do a better job of structuring what we want to do.”

This is obviously a situation of circumstance in that Shazier, a first-round pick in 2014, has lived up to his billing and now must wait a bit until he gets that second contract, a reality that can always skew in a sport with a significant injury rate.

Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier (50) celebrates during the first half an NFL football game against the Indianapolis Colts Thursday, Nov. 24, 2016, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

(AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

However, if Shazier makes it to the extension goal with the same reputation and all of a sudden finds the pot of the gold at the end of his rainbow has been rifled through by an unproven rookie, his world view will quickly change.

To be fair, Shazier understands the current system is a meritocracy.

“At the end of the day, if you play at a high level, things should pan out for you,” he admitted.

The bigger concern for Shazier is the time it takes to get there.

All first-round picks sign four-year deals with a team option for a fifth, and extensions are never in play until after the third season. That part of it should change, according to Shazier.

“At the end of the day, if you’re playing at that level, you should be able to get that opportunity,” said Shazier, who had his team option exercised this offseason. “At the end of the day, that’s between you and the team. If the team wants to do that, it’s great. … If you play at that level, you should be able to re-up whenever you want to.”

The unintended consequence of that, however, would be the return of the significant holdout which isn’t good for the league as a whole.

No system is perfect for either side. If anyone should be complaining about the structure of the current CBA, it’s not players like Shazier, it’s the league’s middle class which is moving closer and closer toward extinction because of the salary-cap realities.

You can’t find many nine-year veteran backups in the NFL any longer and it’s not because coaches don’t want them, it’s because the veteran minimum prices them out in favor of more cost-effective, later-round draft choices on those rookie deals.

So while the money for high-profile rookies isn’t what it once was during the halcyon days of Bradford, the job opportunities have actually increased for lesser-round players who might have been waived under the old system.

Give and take.

-John McMullen is a national football columnist for FanRagSports.com. You can reach him at jmcmullen44@gmail.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen


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