The clock is ticking

With about one week left until the start of training camp, the Bears don't have Tommie Harris signed, but that shouldn't surprise anyone since almost every team is in the same boat.

In the world of professional sports, the word "collusion" is viewed as a dark and dirty slur that perks up the ears of anyone who hears it. But with less than a week before teams start showing up for training camp, one has to wonder if there is a leaguewide effort not to sign first-round draft picks early.

As of today, the only first-rounders to sign are Texans DL/OLB Jason Babin, the 27th overall pick, and Patriots DT Vince Wilfork, the 21st selection. Other than that, nobody else has been signed.

Harris was the first defensive lineman off the board and thus will command more dollars than Wilfork signed for with New England. The six-year deal is worth $18 million, including $5.5 million in bonuses.

The fact that Harris changed agents after being selected by the Bears with the 14th pick did concern some within the organization. The last such scenario with a first-rounder was Curtis Enis, whose decision was based on a religious conversion. Enis dumped Vann McElroy, a guy who was on close terms with then Bears personnel boss Mark Hatley, in favor of novice Greg Feste, who had the player hold out close to a month before eventually agreeing to terms on an undervalued deal. Enis went on to suffer an ACL knee injury as a rookie and wound up a medical bust.

The matter is of similar worry for the Bears because they had already agreed on some parameters of a deal with Harris' old agent, Chicago-based Kennard McGuire before selecting Harris last April. Bears general manger Jerry Angelo spoke to Harris' new agent, Eugene Parker, about the agreement that was in place and now financial guru Cliff Stein is in the process of working trying to finalize a deal.

Last year the Bears signed Michael Haynes to a six-year deal and are believed to be seeking a similar length with Harris. In a long-term deal weighing a higher signing bonus against voidable years become the key issue. Last month the Bears signed 2nd-round pick, Tank Johnson, to a five-year deal.

The bizarre thing about the whole situation is that teams, agents and players pretty much know what the parameters of their contract window will be. With about $1 million every slot has a projected money value and that's where teams come from.

In past years, July 4 has been the benchmark when the signings come fast and furious around the league. As of today, it's like the NFL has lost use of telephones.

That will change soon, but don't be surprised to see several first-round holdouts, which isn't good for the teams involved or the NFL.

Harris (1st round, 14th overall), wide receiver Bernard Berrian (3rd, 78th), defensive end Claude Harriott (5th, 147th), quarterback Craig Krenzel (5th, 148th) and cornerback Alfonso Marshall (7th, 215th) are the five remaining Bears draft choices that have not signed.


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