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Volume 21 No. 1

Labor and Agents

Liz Mullen
Since the new NFL collective-bargaining agreement was signed last year, there has been a public perception that deals for newly drafted rookies would require little to no negotiation and that player holdouts from training camp would be a thing of the past.

Historically, most draft picks taken in the first three rounds of the draft did not sign deals until July. Under the new deal, NFL club general managers started calling agents days after the draft in late April, many wanting to get all their rookies signed. And while there have been a slew of top picks who have signed since then, many others are still without deals — especially players selected in the first and third rounds of the draft.

As of early last week, 18 first-round and 17 third-round picks had not signed with the clubs that selected them, according to Mark Levin, director of salary cap and agent administration for the NFL Players Association. Four second-round picks had not signed contracts, either.

For the first-round players, many agents are not signing deals because they are fighting to get language out of the contracts that would offset the amount the original club would have to pay the player if he were to be cut and signed by another team. If the player gets cut and there is offset language, it reduces the amount the original club owes the player by the amount the player got from the new club. If the contract doesn’t have offset language, the old club is on the hook for the old amount under the old contract, and the player can keep that money as well as whatever he gets from the second club.

The fight between agents and clubs regarding third-round picks is about maxing out the amount of money players can get in the second through fourth years of their deals, through base-salary increases and other components of the contract.
“The third round is a tough area to get a deal done because there are a lot of variations on how the teams have done those deals,” said agent Drew Rosenhaus. “It is a trickier area of the draft.”

Rosenhaus represents defensive end Olivier Vernon, who was drafted by Miami in the third round, and cornerback Josh Robinson, a third-round pick by Minnesota. Both players were unsigned last week. “We are working on getting both of those guys signed before training camp,” he said.

Most clubs have signed their lower-round draft picks. As of early last week, the only players that remained unsigned in those rounds were three in the fourth round, two in the fifth round, one in the sixth round and two in the seventh round.
One club, New Orleans, had not signed any of its draft picks as of early last week.

Despite the number of deals still to be done, many more first-, second- and third-round picks have signed with clubs to date this year than in years past, including the last comparable year, 2010. As of June 14, 2010, no first- or second-round picks had signed deals with their clubs, and only five third-rounders had signed.

Last year, with the lockout, does not serve as a fair comparison, as rookies and free agents signed deals with clubs in a mad dash during the week or so between the end of the lockout and the start of training camp.

Most agents said last week they expected clubs ultimately to work out deals with most of their unsigned picks. The real drama this summer, agents said, could come with the eight of the 21 players on whom clubs used a franchise tag who had not yet signed deals with the tag. Those players include New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees, Baltimore running back Ray Rice and Chicago running back Matt Forte.

The key date in the negotiations for franchised players, both those who were tagged and accepted the tag and those who were tagged and did not, is July 16. That is the last date on which clubs can sign a multiyear deal with a player.

CSE SIGNS HARDING: Atlanta-based sports marketing agency CSE, owned by veteran agent Lonnie Cooper, has signed Atlanta Dream point guard Lindsey Harding for off-the-court work, including endorsements and speaking engagements as well as future broadcasting work. Bobby Height, director of marketing, client representation, will lead the team representing Harding, who was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2007 WNBA draft.

Liz Mullen can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @SBJLizMullen.