I've had this idea rattling around in my head for a while, but don't know how to determine the real "value" of a position in relation to a team to make it viable.
What if, lets just say, current NFL players were allowed to keep their current contracts, but as of the 2011 draft each position was designated a base salary and all other pay was based on incentives. I'm not just talking about on the field, but off as well. Incentives for attending OTA's, finishing your degree, making weight, staying clean etc.
There are so many stats freaks today (thank you Fantasy Football) that football has begun to rival baseball. There has to be a way to statistically grade every position on a football team and adjust the salary, incentives and base salary to arrive at pay. With the known averages of any positions statistics, teams could easily arrive at an average payroll for their teams, so a surprise at the end of the season is eliminated. The team also is not blindsided by a player out performing his contract and asking for renegotiation, he just gets paid what he's earned.
Just like the NBA, positions base salaries could increase with each year of play, taking into account the average span of a career at that position. Obviously, an Offensive Tackles salary would increase annually at a lower rate than a Running Back that only averages 3 to 5 years in the league.
The players argument is that the signing bonus is where the money is at, not the contract. That is fine. Base draft picks signing bonus on the base pay of the position they are selected for and round they were picked. If there are seven rounds make it a multiplier of 7, for the sake of argument. A first round OT gets the starting salary for his position x 7, a second rounder x 6, a third x 5, and so on. If the draft pick makes his way onto the field he could earn an incentive just for that along with all the others of his position.
The confusion for me begins at determining one players value against another - and having the players buy into it. Some of it is easy, a RT is less valuable to a team than a LT, the Center is more valuable than the RG. How about specialists like Punters or Long Snappers? What is their value vs. a nickel corner? A lot of position players already buy into this theory, especially O-Lineman, but it gets slippery when you draft a linebacker to play mainly special teams. How do you justify paying Blake Costanzo the same base pay as D'Quell Jackson? His position is LB right? Maybe you make base pay commensurate with draft position until the player is a starter?
The other hole in my system that I haven't really put a whole lot of thought into is Free Agency. Just base it on years? Years by position? Make the signing bonus for a free agent equal to his draft positions current rate? What does that mean for a UFA?
Holes in my system to be sure, but I think it's better than Ryan Leaf and JaMarcus Russel getting more money than tenured vets at the same positions.
Lets build this idea and send it to the NFL and the NFLPA!