Over the last thirty years, most rookie deals were negotiated within about two weeks prior to the start of pre-season camp. In 1996, I got Eagles’ 1st rounder Jermane Mayberry done about mid-June. He was only the 2nd pick done in the round, only one of about ten within the first four rounds and the media was shocked we got a deal done so soon.
As of this post, we have over 60% of the draft picks signed and I suspect it will be 75% plus by the end of May. 80% of first round picks, prior to the new CBA, usually got inked right before or after the start of camp.
So why is this happening?
1) For one, the new CBA signed in 2011 has been streamlined and simplified the rookie deals. Previously, agents could negotiate multiple components of the contracts. Today, there are only a few worth haggling over. Secondly, the variance between slot/pick to slot/pick is tightening up and becoming more and more predictable each and every year. For example, if the rookie pool of dollars allocated by the agreed upon (NFL and NFLPA) formula barely increased by a percent or two, then the rookie deals will have a built in increase in the minimum base salaries only and the signing bonuses will remain static. So for simplicity reasons, in 2014 a mid-second round pick will have an identical signing bonus as that same slot received in 2013. The only change in his year one formula allotment amount will be $15,000, the amount the minimum base increased from 2013 for a rookie ($420,000 in 2014).
2) Salary cap managers and agents are both incentivized by the marketplace to build congruency and consistency of all slots’ specific compensation for each pick. In doing so, we get draft picks under contract quicker, less time is spent haggling and front office execs can have vacations in late June and July without having several deals still hanging over them. Head coaches don’t have to wonder if their top picks will report on time and it also eliminates media circuses that come along with holdouts.
Now don’t get me wrong, negotiations between teams and agents aren’t easy lay-ups. A disagreement on splitting contracts amounts for a player being on the Injured Reserved vs the 53-man roster, the payout schedule of signing bonus, what determines if a player receives a credited season when put on injured reserve and if there is a $1,000 difference or a $100,000 difference, trust me, it will be fought over.
3) Theoretically speaking, rookie deals should get done earlier and earlier every year going forward under this CBA. However, when a substantial double-digit bump comes to the salary cap and the rookie salary pools, the margins will substantially widen from one year to next, thus giving agents and cap managers more dollars to haggle over.
Furthermore, as what happened under the last CBA, over time, more and more dollars migrated from the overall pool for all picks into the first round. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this slowly happen again. It only takes one outlier deal to start a trend and/or disturb the rhythm or dollars distributed fairly.
As a side note, ironically, owners still aren’t quick to dish out the signing bonuses earned by the players. Many owners and top execs don’t want to see 22 year old players running around all summer with cash burning a hole in their pocket for the first time in their lives. Even liberal owner Jerry Jones believes keeping money out of the players’ pockets will also keep them out of trouble.
4) Many of the agents and salary cap managers have pretty much grew up in the business together. We know each other well, socialize at the Combine and all star games and most likely have done many deals before so there is an element of trust that already exists.
To date, I have half of my rookie deals done. One deal is being held up because it is an “outlier”, meaning there is a component of the proposed contract that the team wants in there but no other pick in that round has the same component. The team says they have always done the deal this particular way in that round. However, as the agent, it’s still not fair for the player to have something less than what his peers will/did get. This is an example of what holds up deals from getting done. All other terms may already be agreed upon but it can be just one term that prevents the deal from being signed.
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