Contract Negotiations Change Questioned

Around NFL training camps, the ambition was to get rookie players signed to long-term deals and in camp on-time. Through numerous discussions with representatives and team officials over the past month, it comes of no surprise that rookie players are sitting out the opening of training camps at an alarming rate.

Around NFL training camps, the ambition was to get rookie players signed to long-term deals and in camp on-time. Through numerous discussions with representatives and team officials over the past month, it comes of no surprise that rookie players are sitting out the opening of training camps at an alarming rate.
As we noted here at the NFL Insiders at the end of June, the period leading up to the training camp season could be a trying experience, not only to the interest fan, but the front offices of NFL teams across the country.
The first couple thoughts that comes to mid when a drafted rookie does not agree to terms are that the team much be low-balling the player in the offer or the player representative is keeping the player on the shelf waiting to receive every last penny an organization has to offer. This training camp season, the story behind the holdout situation around the NFL is a different story.
After watching the New York Jets lose key players in free agency with three years of service at the end of the 2002 season, namely wide receiver Laveranues Coles and return specialist Chad Morton, teams began to formalize a game-plan to secure the rights of their players for a longer duration.
While the common negotiating practice attempted throughout the league this off-season is to lock up a player to a contract of five-years in duration or longer, notion has not been received well by the player representatives. Not only does this attempt by the team negotiators draw out the negotiation process because of the relative foreign ground of the issue, this ploy is causing players to sit of training camps due to the notion of the players that the teams are attempting to hold them hostage and minimize their future earnings opportunities.
Though the negotiating philosophy of the teams has changed, this negotiating theory can also backfire on the shrewdest of NFL salary cap experts throughout the league. Indications coming from both team front offices and player representatives are that the trade-off for agreeing to the longer-term deals, players are being compensated with larger signing bonuses and playing incentives to enhance strictly a financial gain for the player that are easier to achieve. Granted, if a player does not perform, the team has the ability to release the player and only be penalized by taking a salary-cap hit over a two year period, as well as paying out the actual bonus itself.
Especially regarding the first and second round draft selections, NFL team negotiators have been reluctant to agree to terms with player representatives on contracts that have numerous and easily achieved escalators in the deal that can provide the player with an opt-out option towards free agency status.
What is being seen in the league heading into training camp is that lower round draft selections are holding out at a record pace. Again, the increased duration of the contracts being offered by the teams is basically the only issue. One team that immediately must be looked at regarding this touchy with player representatives is the Cleveland Browns.
Heading into training camp this weekend, the Browns are the only team in the league that does not have one drafted rookie under contract. According to the team and representatives for all of the draft selections, contract offers of no less than five-years were forwarded to representatives rather early in the process, this caught many player representatives by surprise for their lower round draft clients.
Throughout the negotiating process, the Browns position has not changed regarding the duration of the contracts offered to their draftees. Player representatives for the entire Browns draft class all claim that the team has offered the players a financial increase in base salary and/or bonus compensation for the players selected in the 2003 draft in comparison to those selected with the same selection in prior drafts. Despite the Browns offering of increased compensation, the players are holding out of training camp. The Browns and representatives for the unsigned rookies are optimistic that the contract negotiations will conclude by early next week.
For better or worse, the game within the game in the NFL is changing. Below is a summary of the first round draft selection that have not agreed to terms and the latest update on contract talks.

6. New Orleans   Johnathan Sullivan   DT   Georgia
    Close to agreeing to terms.

7. Jacksonville    Byron Leftwich        QB   Marshall
    Expected to agree to terms by Monday.
10. Baltimore      Terrell Suggs          DE   Arizona State
     Contract negotiations making minimal progress.

12. St. Louis       Jimmy Kennedy      DT   Penn State
     Expected in camp no later than Monday.

15. Philadelphia   Jerome McDougle   DE   Miami, Fla
     Progress made over past 48-hours, possible signing within 72-hours.

16. Pittsburgh     Troy Polamalu         S   USC
     Numerous contract terms agreed upon, length, bonus, opt-out in question.

17. Arizona        Bryant Johnson       WR   Penn State
     Status unknown

18. Arizona        Calvin Pace             DE   Wake Forest
     Expected to be in camp no later than Tuesday.

19. Baltimore      Kyle Boller             QB   California
     Close to an agreement.

21. Cleveland      Jeff Faine               C   Notre Dame
     Expected in camp no later than Sunday.

23. Buffalo          Willis McGahee     RB   Miami-Florida
     Minimal movement, major differences in bonus structure, length of years, buyouts,.

24. Indianapolis    Dallas Clark         TE   Iowa
     Status unknown

25. NY Giants      William Joseph     DT   Miami-Florida
     Significant progress over past 24-hours, agreement could come by Monday.

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