They chose early and they chose often and so it is only fitting, it seems, that the San Francisco 49ers would have the highest rookie pool allocation for 2005.
With the league's second-largest draft class, an 11-player bounty that includes top overall selection Alex Smith, the standout Utah quarterback, San Francisco has been awarded an NFL-high rookie pool of $6.168 million, according to documents obtained by ESPN.com through league sources.
San Francisco's allocation is more than 55 percent higher than the leaguewide average.
The rookie pool is, essentially, a cap within a cap. It represents the maximum amount that a team can spend, in terms of salary-cap room, on its draft choices and undrafted rookies. A franchise's rookie allocation is part of, not in addition to, its overall spending limit.
The formula for deriving each team's rookie pool is regarded as Byzantine even by the most astute team officials and is basically a function of how many choices are exercised by a team and where those selections are slotted in a given round.
It is hardy surprising, then, that the 49ers would be awarded the highest pool. Only one team, Tampa Bay, with 12, made more choices. And San Francisco made the initial pick in five of the seven rounds, including in four of the first five stanzas. That included, of course, the selection of Smith to lead off the lottery. The 49ers had at least one choice in all but the fourth round and multiple picks in three rounds.
While the San Francisco rookie allocation is one of the largest in league history, Tampa Bay was not far behind, with a pool award of $6.037 million. Like the 49ers, the Bucs had a high first-round choice, selecting Auburn tailback Carnell "Cadillac" Williams with the fifth pick overall, along with a surplus of draft slots. Tampa Bay had at least one pick in every round and multiple choices in three stanzas.
In all, there were eight teams which exercised 10 or more choices each and, reflective of that, all eight ranked among the top half of the league in rookie allocations. All four of the teams that had two choices in the first round were in the top half of the league and two of those franchises, Minnesota and Dallas, were among the six highest awards.
Conversely, there were four teams that made picks among the top 10 of the first round -- Chicago, Arizona, Washington and Detroit -- but who did not receive top 10 allocations. The Lions, for instance, had the 10th overall choice in the draft but only the 19th highest rookie allocation.
The New York Giants, with a league-low four choices and no first-round selection, also had the lowest rookie pool, at $1.688 million. The three teams with the lowest rookie pools, and four of the bottom five clubs, are all franchises that did not have a first-round selection this year.
The '05 rookie pool totals $126.92 million, an average of about $3.966 million per team. There are 15 clubs with allocations higher than the league average. The pool represents a five-percent increase over the 2004 rookie limit of $120.76 million. That is significant, since last year's rookie total showed a bump of only two percent from the previous one.
Five teams received rookie allocations of $5 million or more this year, an increase of two over 2004. Those five franchises account for $28.2 million in rookie pool funds, or roughly 22 percent of the leaguewide allocation.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.