Weekend Mailbag: Part I

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert
NFC North teams are continuing their rookie camps this weekend, and we'll jump on the blog if any major news erupts. For now, however, let's get back to our weekend mailbag. Look for Part II on Sunday -- if you dare.

Denzel of Milwaukee, Wis., asks: With Aaron Kampman switching to OLB does he have to change his number from 74?

Kevin Seifert: Denzel, I've gotten this question probably on a weekly basis all offseason -- or at least since Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy confirmed his plans to switch to a 3-4 defense. From what I've been told, the Packers have not received final word on how the numbers of their defensive ends-turned linebackers will change.

NFL rules are quite specific on this issue. Defensive linemen must have numbers between 60-79. If none are available, they can pick one from between 90-99. Linebackers, on the other hand, must have a number between 50-59 but can also pick from between 90-99 if none in the first group are available.

Here's what the NFL rulebook says about situations similar to Kampman's: "If a player changes his position during his playing career in the NFL, and such change moves him out of a category specified above, he must be issued an appropriate new jersey numeral."

In a strict interpretation, Kampman would be forced to change his number if he in fact becomes a full-time outside linebacker. But the NFL does make some exceptions to this rule. Most recently, the league ruled that Chicago's Devin Hester could keep No. 23 even though receivers must wear numbers between 10-19 or 80-89.

McCarthy and defensive coordinator Dom Capers have talked about using elements of the 4-3 defense in their scheme, and Kampman almost certainly would play defensive end in that scenario. Because of that dual role, it's possible the NFL will allow Kampman to keep his original number. But as of Friday, there had been no final ruling from the league. We will await word with bated breath.

Jobu in Chicago writes: Nothing urgent but I have a small confusion which might be something you understand. I was looking at the rookie pool amount allocated to Detroit and it comes to about $8M. I think Matthew Stafford's contract is a 6-year contract with a guaranteed money averaging close to $7M/year. The total value of the contract is as high as $78M which comes to an average of $13M/year. How is it that the Lions are allotted about $8M/year and that is sufficient for their needs? This math escapes me. Do you understand how this thing works? Thanks.

Kevin Seifert: Good question, Jobu, because I think a lot of people are confused by this. I'll try to lay it out without making this worse.

Think of the rookie pool as a secondary cap within the primary salary cap for each team. It defines the total amount of cap space that can be used to sign a rookie class, and varies from team to team based on the number of draft choices and what position they were selected in the draft.

Each team must fit its rookies' first-year cap numbers under the rookie pool allotment. In the Lions' case, their draft picks must have first-year cap figures that add up to no more than $8.074 million. That number might seem small, especially including Stafford's monster contract. But keep in mind there are many ways to artificially reduce a first-year cap number and push a larger cap hit to the back of the contract.

One technique is to give the player a small base salary combined with a large signing bonus, which can be spread over the life of the contract. You could also push a portion of the guaranteed money entirely out of the first year by making it a roster bonus payable in Year 2 and/or Year 3 of the contract. (Roster bonuses don't pro-rate. They count entirely in the year they are paid.)

The very specific terms of the Stafford deal have yet to be laid out. But let's lay out a rough example.

Let's say Stafford's base salary for 2009 is $1 million. His signing bonus is worth, say, $20 million and he has roster bonuses of $11 million in 2010 and $10 million in 2009. In this example, his first-year cap number would be $4.3 million. ($1 million base plus $3.3 million of a pro-rate signing bonus.) That leaves almost $4 million for the remainder of the rookie class, whose cap numbers will decrease dramatically relative to their draft status.

As we all saw with the size of Stafford's deal, the rookie pool hasn't done much to control the cash value of contracts at the top of the draft. I suspect the concept will be adjusted if the league ever addresses this issue in a substantive way.

More to come Sunday.