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Richard Seymour Deal Highlights Truth Versus Fiction of Rookie Deals

This week, the Oakland Raiders re-signed Richard Seymour to a 2 year deal worth $30 million dollars. Seymour will be 32 years old this season. You might remember that Seymour was traded from New England to Oakland two years ago for a first round pick in the 2011 NFL draft.

When that deal went down, I assessed the deal by looking at historical comparisons using the Approximate Value at Pro Football Reference, by looking at similar star linemen at ages 24-27 who were still active at age 29 (for Seymour) and looking at all defensive linemen selected in the first 20 picks from 1990-2004 (for the draft pick). The bottom line: the production was similar, with the Seymour comps producing more early, and the first round linemen producing more late. However, that didn’t look at the salary differences. At the time, I said, “[d]espite the constant whining about first round rookie contracts, I have little doubt that a veteran like Seymour would cost more than the rookie first round pick.”

Now we have some concrete numbers to compare the deal from Seymour’s perspective versus a first round pick. Seymour’s 2009 base salary in the final year of his previous deal was approximately $3.8 million. In 2010, the Raiders put the franchise tender on Seymour, which was worth about $12.4 million for defensive linemen. And now, two more years at $30 million.

Add that all up, and we have 4 years of Richard Seymour at just over $46 million. Most rookie deals are five (some even reach six years) and we don’t know what Seymour will get in that fifth season, if he is still playing. But will go with this for now to compare.

Now, let’s compare that to some relevant rookie salaries. Since I used defensive linemen drafted in the first 20 picks to try to approximate the value of the pick New England was getting, we can split the difference and look at Tyson Aluala’s contract last year. Alualu was the 10th overall pick as a defensive linemen.

He signed a 5 year deal worth about $28 million. I would expect Alualu to provide roughly the same production of Seymour over the life of the contract, and you get one more year, at a cost $18 million less.

Ahh, but you say, New England ended up with the 17th pick because Oakland did a little better than we thought. That would lower our average expectation of performance a little because the pick is later, but the cost should also decrease. The 17th pick last year, Mike Iupati, got a contract of 5 years and about $18.25 million. For just a little worse production, the Patriots saved about $28 million with their ridiculously overpriced rookie.

Okay, but what about top picks, the ones most likely to be overpriced? Fellow lineman Ndamukong Suh signed a 5 year deal worth $60 million last year. That’s roughly the same yearly rate as Seymour during his time in Oakland. My estimates of the draft pick production were based on the top 20, though. A top 5 player would outperform a player like Richard Seymour from ages 30-34 on average over the life of the deal for the same money.

And now, the NFL is considering making drastic cuts to those salaries for rookies, not just the top 5, but everyone. The Patriots already got a pretty good deal by taking on one of those horrible rookie contracts and deferring it for two years, in place of a 30 year old pro bowl lineman. If the NFL cuts the rookie scale even lower, we should just put the handcuffs on Belichick now, and find a lawyer who isn’t conflicted by being a Jets fan.

A month ago, I talked about how the rhetoric about rookies being overpaid was just that. The Raiders and Richard Seymour provided just one example of why it is just rhetoric.

[photo via Getty]

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