CHAUTAUQUA, N.Y. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said its "ridiculous" to reward untested rookies with lucrative contracts and wants the issue addressed in contract talks.
"There's something wrong about the system," Goodell said Friday. "The money should go to people who perform."
Goodell referred to Michigan tackle Jake Long's five-year, $57.75 million contract with $30 million guaranteed. Long was the first overall draft pick by the Miami Dolphins in April.
"He doesn't have to play a down in the NFL and he already has his money," Goodell said during a question-and-answer period at the end of a weeklong sports symposium at the Chautauqua Institution. "Now, with the economics where they are, the consequences if you don't evaluate that player, you can lose a significant amount of money.
"And that money is not going to players that are performing. It's going to a player that never makes it in the NFL. And I think that's ridiculous."
Goodell said he favors lowering salaries offered to rookies, but allowing a provision for those players to renegotiate their deals after proving themselves on the field.
His statement was greeted by a long round of applause from the estimated crowd of 2,000 inside the amphitheater.
Speaking to reporters before his appearance, Goodell said he plans to open negotiations with the players union on a revamped labor deal this fall. He's listened to concerns from all 32 owners in meetings over the past month.
"We just finished a series of one-on-one meetings with all 32 teams, where I have a better understanding and people have a better understanding of the economics each team is facing," Goodell said. "I think we can identify what it is we need in a negotiation to continue to make the agreement work for the NFL and for the players."
Goodell said the key need is to have the NFL Players' Association appreciate the financial challenges owners face with rising stadium construction costs and a faltering economy. Those issues were not anticipated in the previous collective bargaining agreement, which provided players a 60 percent share of the league's gross revenues.
"As our costs increase outside of player costs, that other 40 percent ... squeezes the margins and just makes it financially unworkable," Goodell said. "There has to be some more recognition of the costs."
League owners, last month, voted unanimously to opt out of the CBA that was signed in spring 2006. The decision to opt out maintains labor peace through 2011, but will result in changes regarding the NFL's salary cap and contract signings if a new deal is not signed by March 2009.
Goodell referred to next March as a deadline, but "not the end deadline," but hoped a deal could be reached by then. If not, teams will enter the following season without a salary cap. While there are concerns some of the NFL's richer teams would use their vast resources to buy up star players, there's also a drawback for players.
Under the new rules, the time for free agency in an uncapped year would rise from four years to six and allow teams to protect one extra player with franchise or transition tags. In addition, the two-year lag would allow many teams to extend the contracts of their most important players, maintaining the continuity that is important to winning teams.
Goodell acknowledged the NFL and its owners failed to foresee the economic issues that would face the league when the last CBA was approved.
"There have been some things that none of us could've envisioned," Goodell said. "You have an economy that's weakening. You have aspects of the deal that we didn't realize that we were going to be building billion-dollar stadiums. ... Things happen. I don't look back at it as a mistake. I look back at it as what do we need to do going forward?"