Santa came early for Washington football fans. Husky quarterback Jake Locker announced today that he'll be returning to Montlake for his senior year . Which

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How Much Money Will Jake Locker Lose by Returning to Washington?

Santa came early for Washington football fans. Husky quarterback Jake Locker announced today that he'll be returning to Montlake for his senior year. Which means, barring injury, 12 more games of whoa that guy's fast for a QB runs like the one you see above.

But rather than focus on the positive (because who needs more of that around the holidays), I decided to ask a slightly negative question: By postponing his entrance into the NFL by a year, how much money does Locker stand to lose?

The obvious response is why would Locker lose money by waiting one more year?

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"Must...have...Lombardi Trophy!"
It would seem only natural for NFL rookie contracts to continue getting richer over time. Rising in concert with inflation or Living Mummy Al Davis' increasing desperation to win another Super Bowl before dying.

But the steady rise of money given to top picks in the NFL draft isn't a sure thing. In fact, it may be making a move in the opposite direction.

The reason: The increasing clamor for a revised NFL rookie draft scale.

Most people agree that the system as it currently exists is broken. As it's currently written, the top 16 picks can be signed to a maximum of six years. The next 16 (meaning the lower half of the first round) can get a max of five. And any player taken afterward can only be signed for four years.

Football scouting is an inexact science. And the violence of the game ensures that many top picks will end up busts because of injury. So what you're left with is a system that, in some cases, actually punishes the worst teams.

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Draft bust JaMarcus Russell's footwork leaves something to be desired.
Take Davis' Oakland Raiders. When they picked LSU quarterback JaMarcus Russell first player in the 2007 NFL draft, the Raiders signed him to a six-year deal with $32 million guaranteed. Even if Russell had turned out to be a decent player, the Raiders would have still been hamstrung by the size of his contract.

As it turned out, Russell is not a good quarterback. In fact, he's a very bad one. Which just means the Raiders (who are just as at fault for failing to properly value their picks as the system is for forcing them to pay Russell a ton of money) are still crappy, will have another high pick in 2010 and may very well make a similar mistake.

On the flip side of that coin are players like St. Louis Rams' guard Jason Brown. Yahoo! Sports Jason Cole used Brown as an example of how the current wage scale screws lower-round draft picks in an April column.

In three years of play, Brown, a fourth-round pick of the Ravens, started 44 of 48 games. He also emerged as one of the best interior linemen in the game.

During that time, Brown earned less than $3 million. That makes him wealthier than most Americans, but, relative to the riches thrown at top picks like Russell, it also makes Brown a relative bargain.

To figure out how all this effects Locker we have to take a very large leap of faith.

Before he decided to return for his senior year, ESPN.com's Todd McShay and other draftsperts had Locker going in the top five of the 2010 draft. Some even put him as the number one pick.

Assuming Locker avoids a catastrophic injury (like the separated shoulder that dropped Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford from the top of the draft boards). And assuming he continues making progress in UW Coach Steve Sarkisian's NFL-style offense, Locker might too be considered a top pick in 2011.

So, with the Walter Jones-sized assumption that Locker gets taken first in 2011, how much does he stand to lose?

The answer: Probably not enough to make it not worth being BMOC for another year. As Cole points out, the easiest, and most likely solution, is to make all rookie contracts shorter.

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Q: Was this post just a long-winded way of saying Locker made the right decision by coming back? A: Absolutely.
That way, teams like the Raiders will only be on the hook for draft busts like Russell for a couple years. And success stories like Brown will be able to apply for free agency earlier, thus getting us closer to the day when guaranteed money more closely reflects a player's level of talent.

Which means, if he ended up going number one, Locker might not end up inking a deal like the one the Detroit Lions gave 2009 first pick Matthew Stafford. (With a record $41.7 million guaranteed.) But if he ends up being as good as scouts predict, what Locker ends up losing in immediate gains he might more than make up for with his second NFL contract.

 
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