I've developed a strategy to maximize your money if you're one of the 20-40 best college football players entering the NFL draft. Seriously, I did. The catch? It's not longer feasible thanks to the new collective bargaining agreement. But it would've worked. Here's how (Scott Boras, eat your fucking heart out):
Say the new CBA didn't happen - there is no cap on rookie salaries and rookies aren't subject to large fines for holding out and not reporting to mandatory training camp (current cost: $30,000/day). We're talking the days when the best college players could be found holding out all summer to secure contracts worth more than proven NFL stars. Your earning potential is limited by employer's willingness to pay.
Now say you're a player like K-State's Arthur Brown - projected to go somewhere around the 30th pick, maybe in the high 20s, but also the potential to drop to the low 30s. You can command great, but not elite money. That's fine. Figure out what you're worth/willing to sign for under normal circumstances. Add 5-10 percent. Then proclaim that you will not sign with a team that doesn't give you that amount of money. You will be drafted by a team willing to pay that much money.
This strategy would not cause the Vikings to select Brown at #23. Or the Ravens at #32. Or even the Steelers at #48 - despite each team's need for LBs. What plays out is you drop to the fifth round, and two things start happening. First, the available talent around you is diminished and you look more enticing in comparison. Secondly, teams begin panicking because crucial needs were not met in the early rounds while pressure mounts to take the best available player. And this is where the beauty of game theory begins to unfold.
I understand that if I'm the Vikings and take Brown in the fifth round, I'm not paying for the #23 (we'll pretend Geno Smith was taken here) player in the draft and the #155 player (should the Vikings take Brown in the 5th round) in the draft - I'm paying for what I consider the #23 (Smith) and the #30 (the real ranking we assign Arthur Brown) in terms of rankings, but paying the equivalent of drafting #23 (Smith) and #15 (say, Georgia LB Jervis Jones). It's costing me more money than if I took Brown at #30, caeteris paribus, but I'm ok with that - it's the price I pay for being able to take two first round quality players. At this point, Minnesota is not paying what it believes Brown is worth on the open market - it's paying for his worth PLUS the value of being able to take another highly talented player. And the farther he drops in the draft, the greater that value becomes.
Some experimentation is needed here. What price would cause teams to drop you into the sixth round without completely scaring them away? There must be a sliding scale model that could be developed. There's also the issue of credibility - are you seriously willing to hold out? It worked for douchebag Eli Manning and forced the Chargers to scuttle him for Phillip Rivers, but Eli is supported by a successful family - this only works if you can demonstrate the ability to support yourself through other means while not collecting a paycheck from the NFL. Additionally, you must assume that the marginal benefit of your additional demand is greater than the loss of revenue from holding out a season (multiplied by the odds of having to hold out).
I think this could've worked. It would've brought the system crumbling down in two years and brought along a CBA structure similar to the current one a lot faster, but there was a window of opportunity. Teams will overpay players in the face of necessity - does anyone really believe Dwayne Bowe is worth top five money? But the free agent market for wide receivers is lousy, the draft ain't any better, and Kansas City has to have a #1 option at the position to be successful. So as of this offseason Bowe now makes top five money. Faced with the prospect of taking a player in the sixth round that likely won't make the team or a potential Pro Bowler who'll command more salary cap space than you'd prefer, if the need is great enough, you go Pro Bowl every time.
Every system can be unexpectedly manipulated through unconventional means, all we lack is insight and the courage to follow through.