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Chargers have most rookie money

In the wake of the strange juxtaposition of Eli Manning and Philip Rivers during the first hour of the draft on Saturday, people wondered which of the prospects in the unparalleled swap of highly-regarded quarterbacks would eventually sign the more lucrative contract.

The answer: It certainly appears, based on the rookie pool numbers allocated to teams by the league, that Rivers will profit most financially from the unusual trade that sent him to the San Diego Chargers and the top-picked Manning to the New York Giants.

So, a draft in which the first actual player chosen overall does not land the best contract, huh? Hey, after the wackiness that transpired over the weekend, why not?

According to documents obtained by ESPN.com from NFL sources, the Chargers were allocated the most money in the league, $6.024 million, to sign all of their draft picks and undrafted free agents. By contrast, the Giants received a rookie pool allocation of $4.37 million, or about 27.5 percent less than San Diego was awarded.

Despite choosing fourth, in fact, the Giants have just the ninth-highest rookie allocation.

That will make it difficult for Manning, who decided before the draft that he did not want to begin his career with the Chargers, to secure the top deal financially. It could also make for some difficult negotiations once the bargaining commences, since the Manning camp might claim that, despite the subsequent trade to the Giants, who chose fourth overall in the first round, the former Ole Miss star was still the initial prospect off the board.

The top choice in the 2003, quarterback Carson Palmer, received 47.7 percent of the cap room in the Cincinnati Bengals' rookie allocation of $5.238 million. The fourth choice in the 2003 draft, defensive tackle Dewayne Robertson of the New York Jets, got a deal that represented 52.7 percent of his team's rookie pool. But even with a larger percentage of the pool, Robertson landed the lesser deal in terms of hard cash.

Applying those same percentages to this year's rookie pool, which may not necessarily be the case, Rivers could end up with a cap number that is a half-million dollars more than that of Manning, even though he was chosen three slots lower. There are, however, many variables, and this is also a season in which a prospect's signing bonus can be prorated over six years. In the '03 draft, bonuses could be amortized over seven years, a significant difference, and one that will also impact negotiations this spring and summer.

The rookie pool is, essentially, a cap within a cap. A team's rookie pool allocation is part of, not in addition to, its overall spending limit of $81 million.

The formula for deriving each team's rookie allocation is regarded as Byzantine, barely understood by most franchise officials, and is basically a function of how many selections are exercised by a team and where those choices are slotted in a given round. In addition to the top overall choice, for instance, the Chargers made 11 selections, tied for second-most in the league, and that contributed to their high rookie allocation.

Conversely, the Atlanta Falcons made the eighth overall choice in the first round, gained another first-rounder later on, but have just the 10th-largest rookie allocation. Likewise, the Buffalo Bills exercised the 13th overall choice, also secured another first-round pick, and have only the 18th-largest rookie pool.

Tennessee, on the other hand, benefited from a weekend of wheeling and dealing which netted the Titans a league-high 13 choices. The reward for the Titans, who began the draft with the 27th choice, but traded down out of the first round, was a rookie allocation of $4.702 million, the fifth highest in the league.

The lowest rookie pool award went to Baltimore, which did not have a first-round choice, and made just seven selections.

The total rookie pool for 2004 is $120.763 million, or about $3.77 million per franchise. There are 15 teams that received more than the average. As anticipated, the allocation is basically "flat" for a third consecutive year, with an increase of less than two percent over the 2003 rookie pool.

As of Thursday morning, NFL salary documents indicated there was $157.4 million of aggregate cap room available leaguewide.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.