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Originally published December 2, 2009 at 10:01 PM | Page modified December 2, 2009 at 10:31 PM

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Jake Locker's payday could be affected by NFL negotiations

A rookie wage scale in the NFL could affect Washington quarterback Jake Locker if he waits for the 2011 draft.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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The size of the signing bonus quarterback Jake Locker would receive as a top-10 draft pick in 2010 could be large — an eight-figure jaw-dropper, even.

The degree of uncertainty over the financial future of the draft after this year is just as big.

The potential that the NFL will change the way its draft picks get paid is the wild card in Locker's decision to enter the 2010 draft or return for his senior season at Washington.

Returning to school is a decision that could cost Locker millions, and it has nothing to do with his skills, experience or anything else.

There is a push from the league's 32 teams to implement a rookie wage scale, altering the current status in which negotiations are a financial free-for-all. Players are free to ask for as much as they want, teams free to hold fast to a given offer.

Seahawks president Tim Ruskell was asked in July if he supported a rookie wage scale similar to the NBA's. In that league, the length of contract and salary are calibrated according to where the player is drafted.

"That's what everybody is talking about," Ruskell said. "We're in the midst of a negotiation. I'm sure that's going to hit the table. I would be for that. You know how the veteran players feel about that. I'm optimistic that [we'll have] some form of that because it seems to work."

Under the current situation, a rookie like Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez, the fifth pick in April, signed a five-year deal for $28 million guaranteed that could pay him up to $50 million. Compare that to Matt Hasselbeck, a three-time Pro Bowl quarterback whose current contract is a six-year deal that pays him $47 million.

"It just seems a little out of whack right now," Ruskell said back in July.

There is sentiment that the current system is structured so players who have yet to play a down in the NFL receive larger deals than players who have already proven themselves.

"I don't know what will happen," said receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh, the Seahawks' union representative with the NFL Players Association, "but I will say the majority of guys would prefer that it is something like the NBA. But the money that is saved, where does it go? That's the bigger key. If it's not going to the players that have already proven themselves, then just leave it the same."

The issue will come to a head over the next few months because last year the NFL's owners voted to opt out of the current collective-bargaining agreement. The league's owners and the Players Association are negotiating a new deal.

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It's possible — and some would say even likely — that no deal will be reached before March 2010. At that point the salary cap would be scrapped and next season would become uncapped. What would affect Locker is if a new labor agreement is reached before the 2011 draft because at that point, a rookie wage scale could be in place and the free-for-all negotiations of today would be history.

"I don't know if one will be coming or not," Houshmandzadeh said of a rookie wage scale. "I don't know if it's as big an issue as they want to make it seem it is. It really only affects seven, eight, maybe nine guys."

With Locker's status in the draft, though, he figures to be one of those players.

Danny O'Neil: 206-464-2364 or doneil@seattletimes.com

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