A few minutes means millions for NFL draft picks

By - Last modified: May 4, 2012 at 8:50 AM

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Last Thursday night, over the course of about two hours, close to 50 young football players, having never played a minute in the NFL, became instant millionaires. They were selected by their future teams at the NFL draft, a live TV event where you watch fortunes change in an instant, or fail over hours.

Imagine sitting outside your first job interview after college, waiting for your name to be called, knowing that your salary is melting away with every name called. With millions watching.

A select few players were already counting their money. The Colts knew they had the first pick and that they were going to use it on Stanford QB Andrew Luck before last season even ended. All Luck had to do was finish his bowl game without injury, and he was in line for a $22 million payday. Guaranteed, without having played a single pro game.

Baylor’s Robert Griffin is a great example of how the unpredictability of the draft can mean the difference of several million dollars. Griffin is a QB, a position that most teams don’t need or aren’t willing to speculate on with expensive, untested draft picks. While Griffin was almost certain to be picked somewhere in the first round, the exact position, and his resulting payday, were incredibly wide open. After Luck at the first pick, the difference between the contract value of the second and 10th pick is around $10 million. In guaranteed money.

Before Griffin could get too nervous, the Redskins made a very expensive trade to acquire the rights to the second overall pick, with the intent to use it on Griffin. With that move, Griffin knew he was looking at around $20 million. Others would have to play the waiting game.

Every year there are players picked much earlier than expected, thus hitting the jackpot. The first real surprise pick this year was West Virginia linebacker Bruce Irvin. Heading into the draft, Irvin was expected to be picked somewhere in the second round, which would earn him a contract around $4 million. With the 15th pick of the first round, the Seahawks shocked football when his name was read out loud. In an instant, Irvin rocketed up to $8 million, guaranteed.

That means there are also players falling much further than they thought. These players watch the clock as well as millions of dollars tick away. LSU WR Reuben Randle was predicted to be picked around the end of the first round, and it was such a sure thing that he was one of a few players invited to attend the draft in person. Randle ended up sitting in the green room at the draft, waiting more than an hour longer than he expected, watching his contract value sink by several million dollars. One pick at a time, someone else’s name was called.

Look up “Brady Quinn NFL draft” on YouTube and find the videos of him as he falls from top 10 certainty all the way to the 22nd pick. While it’s a monstrous sum of money, it’s no position that I’d like to be in.

Bill Sayer is a financial analyst in the insurance industry and holds a degree in economics. A native of Upstate New York, Bill enjoys watching college football, the NFL, NHL and Premier League soccer from his home in Palmyra. Have a suggestion, link or question?

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