Rookie signings front-and-center


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Back from vacation, and the countdown’s on … The Browns rookies will be the first to report to camp, a week from Friday; The Cowboys are the first to start full-tilt, with all the vets there, a week from Saturday in San Antonio; And the Patriots kick off camp 15 days from today.

Shalise and I, as we went off on our respective breaks, tried to start ramping you guys up for that (Part I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, X). And we’ll have more today, as we kick off a second pre-camp series, aimed at studying up on the Patriots’ 2010 opponents.

Here’s one thing we didn’t cover: Rookie signings. To start, here’s the rundown on the even split between signed and unsigned Patriot draft picks (6 and 6) …

SIGNED:
WR Taylor Price, TE Aaron Hernandez, P Zoltan Mesko, C Ted Larsen, OT Thomas Welch, DE Brandon Deaderick

UNSIGNED:
CB Devin McCourty, TE Rob Gronkowski, OLB Jermaine Cunningham, ILB Brandon Spikes, DE Kade Weston, QB Zac Robinson

First, let’s take Weston (selected with the pick after Deaderick) and Robinson (two picks after that) out of it. With Deaderick signed, the framework’s in place for those deals to get done and it shouldn’t be too complicated.

That leaves the team’s first four picks: McCourty, Gronkowski, Cunningham and Spikes. Could we be waiting a while on them? Well, Pro Football Talk astutely pointed out this morning that progress on most first-round deals has been painfully slow to this point (Something that Andy Simms, McCourty’s agent, seconded on Twitter.) And just before I left for vacation, I wrote about it in the section of my Sunday NFL Notes.

The problem is, in part, a logistical one that affects the first 45 or so picks in the draft.


For along time, in order to circumvent the limits of the rookie salary pool, teams have split the bonus money for such high picks into a first-year signing bonus and a second-year option bonus.

The problem? Those second-year option bonuses now will be due on the first day of the 2011 league year. Or, if you’re pessimistic about it, the first day of the lockout. So that money won’t be paid on time, and now agents have to find a way to protect their clients so that cash, part of the contract’s guarantee, isn’t put into some kind of peril.

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So agents have to find a way to insert “CYA” type of language into those deals and teams, of course, are going to be careful about adopting new language into deals in an environment that is, by definition, uncertain at this point.

Right now, the highest drafted rookie signed is Jets G Vladimir Ducasse. He was the 62nd pick, which is outside the group we’re talking about. Conversely, a high-than-usual number of lower picks are signed, which is, in essence, a clearing of the decks for the more difficult negotiations.

Eventually, someone will be the first to sign — it’ll take some guts to be that guy or his agent — and then others will examine the deal and then maybe a few more might sign, and then the problem could be buried under an avalanche of contracts.

But for now, it’s a complicated situation for those drafted in the first round-and-a-half or so. Luckily for the Patriots, Cunningham and Spikes are just outside that group. Gronkowski and McCourty, on the other hand, aren’t. So those negotiations will be interesting ones.

There’s a little more detail in that section of the July 4 NFL Notes. You can check it out for yourself. And like I said, it’s not like we’re going to get to October or November and have a draft class full of Michael Crabtrees on our hands. But what is relevant, and worth watching here, is how long it take for the ice to break on these talks league-wide, because training camp time is so valuable to rookies.