Jul
26

Sign Here Please: Are NFL Contracts Getting Harder to Negotiate?

Finally!  Three months after the 2010 NFL Draft, the first contract for a first-round draft pick has been signed. On July 22nd, Dez Bryant, the 24th overall pick, reached an agreement with the Dallas Cowboys for a five year contract worth up to $11.8 million, including $8.5 million guaranteed. According to the National Football Post, the deal has a signing bonus and first-year roster bonus totaling $2.52 million. It also includes a $3.185 million one-time incentive clause and no second-year option bonus. The wide receiver  will earn a base salary of $320,000 this year and has several escalators and bonuses tied in to playing time.

Dez is at camp and has already caused a ruckus. Here is a video interview with Bryant from Dallas camp over the weekend, where he states that he will not carry Roy Williams pads or do any of the other traditional rookie chores or gags. Dez says that he was brought to Dallas to win games, not to carry teammates’ pads.

At a press conference the day after Bryant signed, Jerry Jones thanked Bryant’s agent Eugene Parker of Maximum Sports Management for working with the Cowboys to help make a deal before camp possible. Parker represents Michael Crabtree, the 49ers WR that held out well into the regular season last year. Parker had also represented previous Cowboys first-round selections Felix Jones and Mike Jenkins, and had both reporting late to Cowboys camp. With reports claiming that Parker wanted to make a deal with the Cowboys ASAP and ultimately signing a contract only a few days later, it looks like he learned some lessons from the Crabtree holdout and his previous dealings with the Cowboys in Jerryland.

And since the NCAA started investigating several schools last week for impermissible agent/player benefits, let’s not forget what happened to Dez Bryant last season when he only played in three games because of an NCAA suspension for lying to NCAA investigators about dinner and a meeting with Eugene Parker’s former star NFL client, Deion Sanders. Did Parker try harder to get Bryant into camp with a contract and no holdout because he felt responsible for Bryant losing his eligibility last season? Maybe the NCAA even learned something from Dez Bryant’s dilemma at Oklahoma State, and has picked up the level of enforcement this year (or maybe they stumbled upon these NCAA violations from a student athlete’s Tweet about a trip to Miami with the boys).

Anyway, with Bryant’s contract negotiated, the Cowboys began training camp this Saturday with a full roster and no worries about a potential hold out by the player they moved up in the draft to grab. But will Bryant’s signing spur other first round picks to finalize their contracts in the near future? Are NFL contracts getting harder to negotiate? Are agents demanding more money and holding out, or are contract terms and clauses delaying the process or even causing an impasse?

This year’s first overall pick Sam Bradford and his agent Tom Condon recently started negotiations with the Rams. Condon and Bradford are looking to negotiate the richest contract in NFL history.  One worth around $45-$50 million in guaranteed money.

The sooner Condon can work a deal, the better for Pro Bowl veteran quarterbacks Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, who will be using the numbers from Bradford’s expected large rookie deal as a barometer for their own contract negotiations. Peyton is even represented by Condon. Brady is rumored to be looking for somewhere around $20 million a year. He is set to make $6.5 million this year($3.5 base) after a negotiating a $3 million bonus in March.  Perhaps Brady wants to beat Peyton in next year’s Fortunate 50 US Athletes. Peyton is the only NFL player in the top ten (#9) of the list, earning a total of $30.8 million including endorsements ($15 million).

Condon surely isn’t the only agent attempting to finalize a contract for his clients. With training camps rapidly approaching for all NFL teams, we will likely see a barrage of draft picks signing contracts and rolling in the “quam,” as Rod Tidwell would say. We all know Drew Rosenhaus and the RSR crew are out there working hard and smart for Terrell Owens and the many other NFL clients on their high profile roster.

According to NFLLabor.com, through Saturday (based on official notification to the league office), 71 percent of the players selected in the 2010 NFL Draft (182 of 255) have signed contracts. Through Thursday, July 22, 163 of the 255 players selected in the 2010 NFL Draft had signed contracts, up from 126 of 256 draft choices signed as of July 22, 2009.  As of July 24th, among players selected in the first three rounds – 26 have signed this year vs. 20 at this time last year, an increase of 30 percent. Through midnight on July 25th, a total of 33 players selected in the first three rounds have been signed.

Although the velocity of overall players signing contracts has increased this year, the number of first round players signing contracts early has certainly not followed suit.

Before Dez Bryant signed, Vlad Ducasse, the 61st overall pick by the New York Jets, was the first second-round draft pick to sign a contract (Props to Mike Tannenbaum, Ari Nissim and the rest of the Jets management for doing a great job with so many contracts this off-season. There’s still a couple more BIG deals to negotiate). Only four other second-round picks have signed since Vlad. Two of them signed over the weekend. Here is an up to the minute, team-by-team list of all the players drafted in 2010 who have signed with their clubs.

While some people are shocked and amazed when they hear that Bryant was the first first-round pick to sign a contract, and that it was so close to the beginning of camp, this is not the first time the first contract has been negotiated so late. Logan Mankins, the 32nd pick of the Patriots in 2005, was the most recent first first-round draft pick to have signed this late- and he signed on July 25th of 2005.

NFL executive vice president Jeff Pash said Thursday (July 22) that it’s normal for so many top draft picks to remain unsigned at this point, and used as evidence the fact that only two first-rounders (pick #1 Matthew Stafford and Mark Sanchez ) were signed at this point last year.

Even if it is “normal” nowadays for rookie draft picks to sign deals late into the summer, there has to be some reason why the agents for so many of the top NFL rookies and veterans are hesitant to sign contracts this season.

According to ESPN’s Adam Shefter, this is because of the uncertainty that remains with option bonuses in contracts, and relies on the fact that the 2011 season is still not 100% guaranteed because a new (CBA) Collective Bargaining Agreement has not been reached yet.

Agent Jack Bechta from the National Football Post and JB Sports Inc brings up a great point about the flow of cash from signing bonuses in Keeping the rookies hungry. Bechta said:

“Although the pace of signings for later round players is moving about 15% faster than last year (from data turned in to the NFL as of July 16th), it doesn’t mean that the flow of signing bonus cash is moving at the same rate. Usually, when a player signs his deal, it can take up to 10 business days to get the signing bonus check. Furthermore, teams rarely pay out the whole bonus at once. For example, the Cardinals, who have just two late picks signed thus far, have been known to painfully prolong the bonus payout over three years. The Eagles, on the other hand, are more generous and are all about getting the deal done and trusting their player to do the right things. For the majority of first- and second-rounders, of which only one has signed (Vlad), only a portion of their signing bonuses will be paid right about the same time camp begins. Several GMs and head coaches believe that once their players get a pocket full of cash it could mean party time, lots of time cruising in their new ride, sharing the wealth with the boys and cutting back on the workouts.”

Jack Bechta was told by a General Manager he knows, that he likes keeping the rookies poor and hungry until camp. Therefore, he directs the salary cap manager to hold off negotiating until after the July 4th weekend.

Additionally, Bechta stated “If it were up to the agents, all the rookie deals would be done within a few weeks after the draft. The players would have their money, the financial consultants could start their planning, and the players could get set up in their new city.”

I’m not sure if I agree with Shefter regarding the uncertainty of the 2011 season and the issues surrounding the CBA (although a rookie wage scale is one of the topics on the bargaining table), and their effect on the timing of negotiations; however, I do believe that option and signing bonuses in contracts play a huge role in the timing of players signing contracts. The earlier a team negotiates and signs a contract with a player (once which includes a signing bonus and an option bonus), the earlier that team is liable and on the hook to that player if anything happens to him. A prime example of this is the Giants early signing of Chad Jones and his unfortunate car accident earlier this summer. As Bechta points out, the G-men worked out a deal for Jones before he was injured, giving him an $826,000 signing bonus. After a serious car accident at 5AM in New Orleans, Jones may have career-ending injuries and is not likely to return to the G-men anytime soon. He will likely spend the Giants money on doctors bills and rehab before even playing a down for the team.

The Dolphins negotiated a deal with Jake Long in April of 2008, before they had even drafted him with the first overall pick. Long was given around$30 million guaranteed. Could you imagine the amount of criticism Parcells and the Dolphins management would have received for signing a rookie that early if Long was injured shortly after he was drafted, like Jones was?

I think that the uncertainty of the 2011 season (because a new CBA has not yet been agreed to) may have some influence over the terms of individual contracts and could cause for a delay in making an agreement; however, that could also cause some agents and players to crave a deal even more, and is not why early round draft picks and others aren’t signing in 2010.

Whatever reasons NFL management and agents have in delaying signing of rookies and free agents, with the amount of money being offered to players in the NFL, the trend is likely to continue. Every agent is going to try his/her best to bring in the most money for their client(s) as soon as possible, while GM’s and team management are going to save as much money and limit the clubs liability as much and as soon as possible. Even if it means scaring fans and negotiating contracts right before the season begins.

Here is a complete list of all the locations and dates that training camps begin.  All 32 NFL teams open camp by Saturday, August 1.

Feel free to comment and explain why you feel early round NFL contracts are getting negotiated later and later.  Is it uncertainty of the Collective Bargaining Agreement looming overhead?

You can follow Zak on Twitter @ZaKurtz

  • http://sportsagentblog.com Dominic Perilli

    I think it’s a mixture of fearful agents and the CBA issues. With salaries increasing almost every year, a newly drafted player is going to expect his contract to go higher than the previous year. Agents are feeling the pressure to produce that for the client or face being fired. That’s my opinion. Also, agents may want to get a nice chunk of money up front for the client just in case there is a lockout next season. I can’t blame them for trying to do that. It’s just playing smart.

  • Zak Kurtz

    Do you think a rookie wage scale would help?

  • http://sportsagentblog.com Dominic Perilli

    Well I definitely think the rookie wage scale would get all players in camp on time