Wage of words

Posted: 9:10 a.m.

T.J. Houshmandzadeh is known for finding holes in the defense. And as the Bengals player representative, he can find plenty of holes in both sides of the debate concerning salaries for rookies.

"I'm torn," Houshmandzadeh said Thursday of an issue that launched the first missile of an escalating skirmish between owners and players over a collective bargaining agreement that has two years left.

"There's no way that Matt Ryan should make more than Tom Brady and that Jake Long should be the highest-paid offensive lineman. But if they can get it, they should get it."

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Houshmandzadeh

Houshmandzadeh is waiting to get paid. If not by the Bengals than by somebody else next year in free agency. But he's not exactly embracing the idea of a rookie wage scale.

It doesn't bother him that Bengals first-round draft pick Keith Rivers stands to get about $14 million guaranteed before he makes his first NFL tackle while Houshmandzadeh is working on the final year of a deal that paid him about $12 million over a stretch that saw him come within three catches of third place on the Bengals all-time receiving list.

"If he could get $20 million, I would hope he would get it," Houshmandzadeh said. "It's not unfair if somebody is willing to give it to you."

Houshmandzadeh also doesn't buy the belief that the rookie dollars drive the veteran market because the system pits veterans against veterans in stat comparisons.

"Keith Rivers' deal doesn't affect me; that money is allocated," said Houshmandzadeh of the rookie pool. "I've always been a firm believer that if a team wants to sign you, they'll sign you. It doesn't matter. They'll find a way. They'll give you a reason and you'll put it on your Web site, but if a team wants you, it doesn't matter. They'll sign you."

He also says the NBA rookie wage scale can't be used as a comparison because an NFL contract isn't guaranteed.

That said, he thinks the rookie deals that have an impact are those in the top 10 but he also hopes both sides don't lose sight of the big picture.

"Something ought to be done. But from what I understand, that's not a major issue," Houshmandzadeh said. "If you can't agree on anything, just keep it the way it is. The big thing is (the owners) don't want the salary cap to keep going the way it's going."

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell recently called rookie salaries "ridiculous," as he called on the players to realize that owners face escalating stadium costs during a depressed economy in a CBA that gives the players 60 percent of gross revenues.

Houshmandzadeh isn't exactly buying that, either.

"The Bengals are worth $975 million. I bet they weren't worth $600 (million) when I got there. I'd like to be part of a business that grew $300 million in seven years," he said.

"The Packers made what? $22 million in one of the (smaller) markets? They want to make $32 million and they want us to give it to them."

But Houshmandzadeh sounds like one of the moderates.

"At the end of the day," he said, "we're both making money so hopefully everybody just sits down and figures out a way to make it work so it keeps going."

Houshmandzadeh said he wants Gene Upshaw to stay on as the NFL Players Association executive director until the CBA negotiations are complete.

"I think that's what everybody wants," he said. "You look at what has happened since 1983 and he's obviously done a great job."

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