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Rookie salaries a key item on NFL owners’ agenda

Thirty-five newly minted millionaires -- the cream of the NFL rookie class -- gathered in Los Angeles over the weekend to pose for their trading-card photos.

On the opposite coast this week, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., the league’s 32 owners will gather for their annual May meetings and talk about ways to keep those rookie salaries in check.

Among the many topics up for discussion in the two-day meetings, which begin Tuesday, is a rookie salary cap that probably will be part of a new collective bargaining agreement. After all, where’s the justice in a rookie who has yet to take a snap earning more than a perennial Pro Bowl player?

No one is going to negotiate to make less money, but even some rookies see the inequity of it all.

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“If you look at it, it’s kind of a shame for the guys who have been in the league for eight, nine years and have really established themselves,” said running back Donald Brown, drafted 27th by the Indianapolis Colts. “The rookies come in and they haven’t done anything. . . . But it’s part of the game.”

Owners also are expected to talk about increasing the regular season by a game or two by eliminating one or two exhibitions. Although NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell hasn’t taken an official position on the issue, he has talked about a “flight to quality” in these tough economic times, and how making more games matter can only help improve the product.

If the owners decide they’re in favor of making a change, that’s only the first hurdle. The players’ union must go along with it, and that would only be one of many items on the table as part of CBA negotiations.

But even more games would be an additional challenge for first-year players bracing for the so-called rookie wall, the physical and mental test of making the adjustment from a shorter college season to one that, when you count training, is virtually year-round.

Former USC quarterback Mark Sanchez, picked fifth overall by the New York Jets, started just 16 games in his college career. The Jets are hoping he starts at least that many this season.

“I’m one of the lucky ones; I’m not 300 pounds,” Sanchez said. “Those guys are where the money’s made. They do a great job, so for them to weather through a season like that is pretty intense.

“You’re never 100% after the first game. There’s always aches and bruises or you’re doing something wrong, you’re not playing hard enough. And sometimes it could just be a jammed finger, or you stubbed your toe, or that tackle hurt pretty bad and I got a bruise. You just learn to live with it. But 16 games down the road, that’s when you really earn your contract money. That’s when the team sees how tough you are.”

The only firm development expected out of these meetings is the awarding of Super Bowl XLVII, which will follow the upcoming Super Bowls in South Florida, Dallas and Indianapolis.

The three finalists being considered for Super Bowl XLVII are New Orleans, South Florida and Arizona.

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sam.farmer@latimes.com


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