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The Value of Going #1

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With yesterday's news that the Dolphins have set deadline for Jake Long coming to terms with the Dolphins before moving on to plan B, there is now a question Jake and his agent, Tom Condon, will be forced to answer.  That question is: what's the value of going first overall?  

Before really getting into it, though, let's first lay out the ground work by taking a look at the 3 most recent NFL Drafts and the contract that the top 4 picks in each draft signed:

2007

  1. JaMarcus Russell - 6 yr/$61 mil, $32 mil guaranteed
  2. Calvin Johnson - 6 yr/$55 mil, $27.7 mil guaranteed
  3. Joe Thomas - 5 yr/$42 mil, $23 mil guaranteed
  4. Gaines Adams - 6 yr/$42 mil, $18.56 mil guaranteed
2006
  1. Mario Williams - 6 yr/$54 mil, $26.5 mil guaranteed
  2. Reggie Bush - 6 yr/$52 mil, $26.3 mill guaranteed
  3. Vince Young - 6 yr/$58 mil, $25.74 mil guaranteed
  4. D'Brickashaw Ferguson - 6 yr/$37.5 mil, $17.9 mil guaranteed
2005
  1. Alex Smith - 6 yr/$49.5 mil, $24 mil guaranteed
  2. Ronnie Brown - 5 yr/$34 mil, $19.5 mil guaranteed
  3. Braylon Edwards - 5 yr/$40 mil, $18.5 mil guaranteed
  4. Cedric Benson - 5 yr/$35 mil, $17 mil guaranteed
The first thing that jumps out at you, besides the ridiculous increase in salary for these top picks, is that the Dolphins made a very good deal with Ronnie Brown back in 2005.  Just consider that the Dolphins had to just guarantee Ronnie $1 million more than Braylon while paying Ronnie $6 million less than Edwards over the life of the contract.  Not too shabby.

Next thing to point out is just how inconsistent the increase at #1 has been.  Consider this: the increase from the total money that the 2004 first overall pick (Eli Manning) to the money that Alex Smith got was $5 million, or an 11.1% increase from 2004.  Then in 2006, Mario Williams got a $4.5 million increase, a 9.1% increase, over Smith's deal.  In 2007, JaMarcus Russell was given a $7 million increase over Williams' deal, an increase of just under 13% from the previous year.  But even more ridiculous is the $5.5 million increase that Russell got in guaranteed money compared to Mario Williams, which represents an increase of just under 21%.

Of course, one reason why Russell's increases in the total value of his contract and in the total guaranteed money in his deal is so high is because of the position he plays.  It's safe to say that 2008's #1 pick, whoever he is, won't see an increase like Russell saw.  However, the agents for the potential #1 picks will be looking for some kind of increase from 2007.  However, as reported by Peter King, Bill Parcells and company are actually looking to get a deal done that pays the #1 pick less than Russell got last year.

Crazy?  Some might think so.  But I don't.  Why?  Because it all comes down to the fact that there really is no separation between the top 4 or 5 guys in this draft and every team could very well have those top players ranked in different orders.  Because of that, if a player can't come to terms with the Dolphins before the draft, then he risks falling as far as pick 4 or 5 (possibly even lower).

So now let's talk dollars and cents.  If the Dolphins final offer to Jake Long is, for example, a 6 year, $60 million deal which features $30.5 million in guarantees, would it be wise for Jake and his agent, Tom Condon, to pass it up?  Well, the answer for Jake is simple: no.  If you look at the increase from 2006 to 2007 for the #2 overall pick, you'll notice a 5.7% increase in total value and a 5.3% increase in guaranteed money.  If you project that to 2008, and even increase it by 1%, the #2 pick would receive a deal in the neighborhood of $58.68 million over 6 years with $29.4 million in guaranteed money.  As you can see, that's still less than what my hypothetical offer was at #1.  And that's if Long was to be picked by the Rams at #2.  If he fell even further, then he'd lose even more money.  So it would be wise for Jake to take that deal.

However, as some have stated, it wouldn't be wise for the agent to take that deal.  Or would it?  As pointed out by some people, it would hurt the agent's marketability in terms of signing future clients who could potentially be the top pick in future drafts.  Why would a top prospect want to sign with an agent who got his client a deal lesser in value to the previous year's #1 pick?  That's a fair argument.  But what happens when it gets out that Jake Long could have went #1 overall, but instead fell to 2nd (or even lower) because his agent was too greedy, therefore costing Jake a couple of million?  Would a top prospect want to sign with an agent like that?  And there's no guarantee that Jake would even go #2 even if the Rams have Jake atop their draft board.  What if the Rams see Condon turn down Miami's offer and decide that it might be too risky to draft Long because he might be a pain to get to come to terms?  Then Jake could fall even more, though probably not past the 3rd pick.

The bottom line here is that the agent's job is to get the best possible deal for his client, not for himself.  And I think the potential fallout for the agent in taking a lesser deal at #1 is far less damaging to that agent than causing his client to lose money because he falls to number 2, or potentially lower.

One other thing to also consider is the prestige and marketability of being the first overall pick in a draft.  Don't discount that aspect of it.  To the agent, it may not seem that important to be the first overall pick, but you can bet the player probably understands the honor of being selected first.

When you add all this up, you can see why I do think a deal will get done between the Dolphins and whoever it is they really want with the #1 overall pick, whether it is indeed Jake Long or if it's anybody else.  Bill Parcells and company have the leverage here and I'm confident that they will indeed get the player that they want, and likely at a price that they will be more than happy about.

Thoughts?