The 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement drastically reduced salaries for early first-round picks by implementing a rookie wage scale. It also changed the timing for when draft picks could sign contract extensions. Draft pick contracts can't be renegotiated until the conclusion of a player's third NFL regular season. This means 2019 draftees like Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray, who was the first overall pick, aren't eligible to sign new deals until Jan. 10, 2022.
Prior to the 2011 CBA, draft picks could sign extensions after two NFL seasons. The 2010 draftees were the last group to get extremely early deals before the rule change. In 2012, the Patriots made 2010 second-round pick Rob Gronkowski and 2010 fourth-round pick Aaron Hernandez the NFL's two highest-paid tight ends. Gronkowski and Hernandez signed six- and five-year extensions, respectively. Cardinals inside linebacker Daryl Washington, a 2010 second-round pick, signed a four-year extension right before the start of the 2012 regular season.
Antonio Brown, a 2010 sixth-round pick, was the beneficiary of the Steelers and restricted free agent Mike Wallace's contract stalemate. Once there was a contract impasse with Wallace, the Steelers gave Brown a five-year extension. Brown had his first 1,000-receiving-yard season in 2010 as a second-year player.
The 49ers made NaVorro Bowman, a 2010 third-round pick, one of the NFL's five highest-paid inside linebackers during the middle of his third NFL season. Bowman signed a five-year extension.
Four-year deals in the first round, before the rookie wage scale was implemented, were virtually nonexistent. Most first-rounders got five-year deals, except quarterbacks selected early in the draft, such as Matthew Stafford in 2009 and Sam Bradford in 2010, who signed six-year contracts.
Several 2019 draftees who may have already gotten paid if still allowed have been identified based on team conventions and circumstances. First-round picks wouldn't have reaped the benefit of the earlier paydays.
There wouldn't have been any urgency for the Cardinals to reward Murray like Washington. Early first-round picks used to be paid like Pro Bowlers before playing a down in the NFL.
Bradford's six-year contract as 2010's first overall pick had a base value of $78 million where $50 million was fully guaranteed. He was the NFL's 10th-highest-paid quarterback as a rookie. Stafford, 2009's top pick, was the league's eighth-highest-paid quarterback as a first-year player.
A continuation of this trend where Murray had a similar place in the quarterback salary hierarchy would have put his six-year rookie contract in the $25-million to $27-million-per-year range. Instead, Murray signed a fully guaranteed four-year, $35,158,644 contract with the Cardinals having a fifth-year option for 2023, which surely will be exercised in the upcoming offseason.
Maxx Crosby, EDGE, Raiders
The Raiders selected a player in the 2019 NFL Draft to consistently put pressure on opposing quarterbacks. It was expected to be fourth overall pick Clelin Ferrell instead of a fourth-round pick.
Crosby easily leads the NFL with 66 quarterback pressures (combined sacks, quarterback hurries and quarterback hits), according to Pro Football Focus. Browns defensive end Myles Garrett, the NFL's third-highest-paid defensive player at $25 million per year, is second in the league with 54. Steelers edge rusher T.J. Watt is the NFL's highest-paid non-quarterback with the four-year, $112.011 million extension averaging $28,002,750 per year he signed as the regular season was about to begin. He has 28 quarterback pressures this season.