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NFL draft: which picks have guaranteed contracts?

For the 3500 players available to choose from in the NFL draft, their meal ticket for life has been punched when their name is called. Is it though?

Jeffrey May
For the 3500 players available to choose from in the NFL draft, their meal ticket for life has been punched when their name is called. Is it though?
Gary A. VasquezUSA TODAY Sports

With a full seven rounds of draft possibilities, college players would seem to have the world by the tail. Even the lowest drafted player, known as Mr Irrelevant, is expected to get a contract north of $3 million. But what about guarantees?

NFL contracts are famously, or infamously, not normally guaranteed. When a player gets a guarantee, it is usually wrapped up in performance-laced clauses. For example, if a player is cut because they are not good enough to make the team, then the money is not due them. This stands in opposition to getting injured or some other football-related reason that they can not perform, in which case the money is payable.

Rookies who are drafted, from the first overall to Mr Irrelevant, can only have four year contracts: no more, no less. A fifth year can be negotiated at the end of the third season, but even that has a few caveats associated with it.

If a player does get a new fifth-year extension, that season’s salary is fully guaranteed. At the point that the fifth-year option is picked up, his fourth-year salary becomes guaranteed as well. This will likely be the first time most of these draftees have had such a guarantee.

The amount offered for these extensions are strictly controlled by a Proven Performance Escalator, effectively tying the offer to certain criteria such as whether the player was a Pro Bowler or not, how many starts, tackles, yards, etc. they had, depending on their position. Generally, this escalator represents an average across the league for their experience and position.

Gone are the days when contracts were strictly controlled by the teams, as well as the days when it was a free-for-all and everything was on the table. The only real negotiable items left in the rookie contract are the schedule of payments for the signing bonus and the offset and voiding of any contract guarantees.

This has led to a reduction, almost to the point of elimination, of the rookie holdout. Most rookie contracts are signed by June. And when these holdouts do occur, the sticking point is not usually money, but the payment schedule.

For the past two draft classes, the entire contracts of the first 24 picks were fully guaranteed. This year we should expect this to be similar or possibly extended to cover the entire first round. For the remaining six rounds of players drafted, there are very few guarantees to be found. They will still need to perform for their supper.