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Before taking a single snap in the National Football League, St. Louis Rams rookie quarterback Sam Bradford has signed arguably the most lucrative contract in NFL history.

I say “arguably” because there are two ways to view an NFL contract. And although Bradford’s reported six-year, $78 million deal isn’t the biggest in league history, the reported $50 million in guaranteed money would be a record.

Let me brag for a moment about the league I cover: The NFL is a well-oiled machine, and the most organized, structured, balanced and best operated professional sports league on the planet.

And yet despite being the model for what a professional sports league should be, the NFL’s biggest disgrace, its biggest blemish, has begun to threaten the league’s sparkling image.

Rookie contracts are an embarrassment. In fact, the outlandish deals being handed out to rookies as a result of an out-of-control system that has been hijacked by player agents might be one of the biggest jokes in all of professional sports.

I ranted about the CFL last week, stating that it was humiliating for the league that one man owns 25 percent of its teams. That is one of the CFL’s most noticeable bruises at this moment, but it’s only slightly more stunning than the NFL’s rookie wage debacle.

The current “system” reached a point of insanity mainly because there’s a somewhat inexplicable belief that every year’s draft picks have to make more money than the players selected in the same spots the year prior. On the surface, that makes sense. But the process significantly trumps inflation.

And this is the only reason why a looming lockout (the current collective bargaining agreement expires after the 2010 season) might be a good thing. No one — not the coaches, the players or even the agents themselves — can say with a straight face that a system that makes a fifth-overall pick the highest paid player at his position in NFL history is even remotely righteous.

And so naturally, the case for a rookie wage scale has become one of the key bargaining chips in CBA negotiations. And I can pretty much promise you that the first thing the NFLPA will concede in the negotiation process is the right to allow the league to structure rookie contracts using a slotting system.

So it’s almost certain that Bradford’s deal will be as bad as it gets. This is the climax, but the resolution appears to be right around the corner.

Nice timing, Mr. Bradford.

Poor timing, Mr. Locker.