SBJ/September 1 - 7, 2003/Labor Agents

NFL teams trying to lock up lower-round picks with longer deals

In the wake of a couple of blockbuster deals for NFL restricted free agents, some NFL teams have been pushing for — and getting — longer deals for players who were drafted in the late rounds of this year's NFL draft, agents say.

In most cases, players drafted in the third to seventh rounds are still signing three-year deals. But the average length of a deal for a 2003 rookie went up 4 percent from the 2002 NFL rookie class, from 3.1 years for late-round 2002 rookies to 3.23 years for 2003 rookies drafted in the same rounds, according to the NFL Players Association.

The number of players drafted in the third to seventh rounds who signed five-year deals has risen this year to 11 from three five-year deals for late-round 2002 NFL draftees.

Average NFL late-round signing bonuses
Average length of deal
3.23 years
3.10 years
Source: SportsBusiness Journal research
As the length of deals increased in the third to seventh round, the average signing bonus increased by 3 percent to 10 percent in four of those five rounds. The average signing bonus in the fourth round this year stayed the same, at $302,000.

Whatever the numbers, agents say clubs are trying to get longer deals for third to seventh rounders.

NFL player agent Peter Schaffer said some teams want "to lock up young players for longer periods of time to protect the team's future."

Schaffer said some team officials figure that it's "easier to get him an extra $100,000 [in signing bonus now] than to pay him millions in three years."

The clubs' need for longer deals this summer comes after several big deals were signed this spring for restricted free agents who were drafted in the later rounds of the 2000 NFL draft.

Laveranues Coles, drafted in the third round in 2000, left the New York Jets to sign a seven-year deal with the Washington Redskins valued at $35 million, including a $13 million signing bonus.

Green Bay Packer Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila, a fifth-round pick in 2000, re-signed with the Packers for seven years for a reported $37.3 million, with an $11 million signing bonus and $2.25 million in additional guaranteed money.

"Because of the explosiveness of the restricted-free-agent market this year, clubs adopted a policy of insisting on more lengthy contracts for lower-round draft picks," said agent Leigh Steinberg, who worked with agent Bruce Tollner on Gbaja-Biamila's deal.

The longer-term deals can hurt rookies who become stars, Steinberg noted.

"For a player drafted in the lower rounds, a shorter contract always offered light at the end of the tunnel and the opportunity to be compensated quickly as a veteran," he said. "The shorter contract afforded the later-drafted player the opportunity to prove the draft process faulty."

Players drafted in the third to seventh rounds have little leverage in trying to fight a team's insistence on a lengthy deal, Steinberg said.

"These are the players who can least afford to miss any training camp," he said.

OCTAGON SIGNS TRACK STAR: Octagon has signed Kelli White, winner of the 100-meter title at the world track and field championships in Paris last month.

White will be managed by Renaldo Nehemiah, a former track star and NFL player who heads Octagon's track and field division.

  VISION THING: Vision Sports & Entertainment Partners has signed Boston Bruin Doug Doull and former Merrimack College goalie Joe Exeter for representation.

Vision is a Concord, Mass.-based company started two years ago by former NHL vice president of business development Bryant McBride. The company specializes in representing hockey players in contract and marketing negotiations.

Liz Mullen can be reached at

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