With training camps now in session for the NFL, the other spectator sport of early August can commence — the slow dance of agents and club general managers as agents try to wait as long as they can to get a better deal for their clients in the first round based on where the player is “slotted” and GMs try to get these rookies in camp with minimal lost practice time.
Last year, it was Joel Segal — Saints RB Reggie Bush’s agent — who held Bush out of camp for a few days until the No. 3 player in the NFL Draft, Tennessee’s Vince Young, was signed and his signing numbers were available to be analyzed. The No. 1 pick, Texans DE Mario Williams had signed just prior to the NFL Draft and his numbers were already known to the Bush camp.
The Ravens’ top pick this year, first-rounder G Ben Grubbs, signed a five-year deal on July 27 just before the start of camp.
This year, seven of the top 32 picks, including Nos. 1 and 2 (Raiders QB JaMarcus Russell and Detroit WR Calvin Johnson) and No. 5 (Cardinals T Levi Brown) do not have their deals finalized. That group also includes Browns QB Brady Quinn, who fell from a much-speculated No. 3 slot to No. 22 overall.
The devil in these situations is really in the details. There are two numbers to consider for agents and players. The total maximum amount of the deal are strictly for the agent’s ego and for recruiting purposes in the following draft when those agents are chasing the next set of potential stars. The player’s ego also gets a boost.
The total value can be looked at two ways — the value if the minimum qualifications are met and the max if every “escalator” is met. The minimum qualifications are also called “bonuses likely to be earned.” Those could be as easy as playing 35 percent of the snaps as a rookie or 45 percent later in a given season. The ones “not likely to be earned” are the difference between the real and the stated values of the contract. Players and agents look at the value of contracts based on the minimum qualifications, because barring injury or other circumstances, that is a value the player will earn over the course of the deal.
The numbers that players pay attention to is the guaranteed money and the total minimum value, not the total max amount – which they won’t see in the end.
The yearly salaries (not counting guarantees or any escalators) are paid over the course of the 17-week NFL season. According to WNST’s Aaron Wilson, Grubbs got $5.5 million guaranteed which included a $1 million signing bonus, a minimum contract value of almost $8 million and a max contract value of $10.6 million over five years at the No. 29 slot from the Ravens. His base salaries break down as $285k this year, $1.05 million next year, $1.26 million in 2008, $1.47 million in 2009 and $795k in 2010 — or $4.86 million in total salary over the life of the deal.
In the current case with both Russell and Johnson, each agent is waiting for the other to get their deal done so that they can look at the numbers. Both players have a floor to work from since Browns T Joe Thomas got his deal done already at No. 3. Of course, they will look at what No. 1 and No. 2 got last year — another ego point to both agents and players — and try to beat those numbers.
In the end, as contract negotiations drag on, players miss meetings and practice time. Coaches, GMs and teammates have to answer constant media questions about the “distractions” of not having said rookie in camp, especially when it is at a key or need position for the club. The rookie will say that he is letting the agent handle the business and getting him a “fair deal” while saying, “I want to be out on the field with my teammates,” etc.
In reality, if the player has participated in workouts, minicamps, etc., he will not be that far behind since the playbook was installed in the spring and more than likely, he is getting updated information from teammates or position coaches while he is at home. But, conditioning issues and getting up to speed quickly with teammates are a concern for everyone once the rookie signs his deal, especially in the case of a quarterback — which the Raiders acted on by their signing of veteran Daunte Culpepper as Russell’s agent and the Raiders continue to dance.
The rookie then talks about how happy he is to be in camp and hears the cheers of the fans who were grumbling about him earlier while he was sitting in the shade when his teammates were knocking helmets in the heat.