SBJ/August 13-19, 2012/Labor and Agents

Unique Dolphins deal benefits player, team

Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill was the only player selected in the top nine spots of this year’s NFL draft who did not avoid offset language in his contract with his club, but what he got in exchange was increased cash flow allowing him to get large chunks of his pay earlier than some other players.

This year provided the first real test of how the new rookie pay system put in place through last year’s collective-bargaining agreement would work. The system was meant to reduce the amount of money paid to high draft picks who had never played in the NFL. It also was meant to prevent rookie holdouts by eliminating a lot of contract language that agents and clubs could haggle over before agreeing to a deal.

Dolphins rookie Ryan Tannehill is set to get $2.9 million in training camp bonuses.
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
For the first time in years, clubs started signing their top picks weeks after the draft, rather than waiting until mid-July as they have done in past years. But signings eventually hit a snag, especially among first- and third-round picks. In early June, 18 first-round picks and 17 third-round picks were unsigned.

The holdup for the third-rounders typically involved disagreements between agents and general managers over the amount of money a player would receive compared to a club’s slot number for the pick. In the end, three third-round picks got 99 percent or 100 percent of the maximum compensation allowed, sources said: tight end Dwayne Allen, who was taken by Indianapolis as the first pick of the third round; cornerback Trumaine Johnson, the second pick of the third round, by St. Louis; and quarterback Russell Wilson, selected by Seattle with the 12th pick of the third round.

Agents Pat Dye and Michael Perrett of SportsTrust Advisors represent Allen; agents Joel Segal and Chafie Fields of Lagardère Unlimited represent Johnson; and agent Bus Cook represents Wilson.

In the first round, the disagreement typically was over offset language, which agents were trying to get removed and clubs were trying to keep in the contracts. The language would offset the amount of money the original club would have to pay the player if he were to be cut and signed by another team.

One prominent agent, when asked why the language mattered, said, “It only matters if you are a bust.” Still, the argument over the language held up a number of deals for first-round picks. The last first-rounder to sign, wide receiver Justin Blackmon, signed a deal with Jacksonville, who selected him No. 5 overall, on Aug. 6. He missed 11 days of training camp.

All players selected in this year’s draft have now been signed.

Tannehill, the No. 8 overall pick, did not want to miss a day of camp with the Dolphins, said Dye, his agent, but he held out in hopes of getting the offset language out of the contract. He was with the team, contract signed, 72 hours after camp began.

In the end, he signed the deal because of a compromise Dye worked out with the Dolphins that would allow Tannehill to get his money quicker. “The deal is unique and unprecedented in terms of its cash flow, and those were the terms the Dolphins made to make it palatable,” Dye said.

Under the terms of the deal, Tannehill will get his entire $7.65 million signing bonus within the first 60 days. The contract also pays him about $2.9 million in training camp bonuses in years two, three and four of the deal. Normally, he would have to receive those future bonuses in game checks over the 17 weeks of the regular season, Dye said.

A number of agents have said that NFL clubs don’t like to cut high-first-round picks, even if they are busts, for years anyway. Asked about that, Dye said, “As the owner said to Ryan directly during the holdout, ‘The likelihood of you being released in the first four years is akin to the likelihood of you getting hit by a bus.’”

The NFL CBA was agreed to last summer, so this year was the second year of negotiating rookie deals under the system, but agents said this was really the first year in which the market really played out. Clubs and agents last year scrambled to sign all of their rookies as well as both restricted and unrestricted free agents in about a week’s time in order to open training camps after the NFL lockout ended.

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