'Offset' Language Is Off-Putting

While draft picks are being signed at a record clip, there's a holdup atop the draft. The Sports Xchange's Len Pasquarelli explains in this national notebook.

With 2012 draft choices signing at a rate unprecedented for this early in the offseason, negotiating rookie deals seems to have never been so cookie-cutter, thanks in large part to a first-year wage scale that provides little wiggle room to either club cap experts or to agents.

The CBA extension of last summer has assigned a slotted 2012 cap value, a "year one allotment" for each of the 253 choices, and with a first-year minimum of $390,000 and everyone trying to maximize the upfront money, calculating the signing bonus is a pretty easy formula.

But there is one matter that has slowed the process at the top of the draft — so-called "offset language."

It seems to be a principle hurdle to the logjam in earliest quadrant of the first round, starting with Andrew Luck at No. 1 overall and including the top eight picks in April's draft.

The offset element has been, well, off-putting to the agents for the top eight.

The offset component — which, in most easily understandable terms, would grant relief to a franchise that releases a player, and then sees him sign with another team, usually in the final (fourth) year of a deal — is clearly a sticking point. It might, in fact, be perhaps the biggest one, and certainly the deterrent mentioned most frequently to The Sports Xchange in discussions with agents and team executives involved with top eight picks, that has precluded agreements for the premier choices.

As of Friday morning, none of the top eight prospects chosen in April had yet reached accords on their initial rookie contracts, and dickering over the offset language is believed to be a factor in all eight of those cases.

There was no offset language included in the contract awarded the 2011 top pick, Carolina quarterback Cam Newton, and agents seem to be referring to that when the matter of including an offset clause is broached by teams.

"I'm not familiar with every comma of what's going on with negotiations, but I do know that (the offset language) is a big, big sticking point that we haven't been able to move beyond," one owner with a top five choice confirmed to The Sports Xchange at a one-day meeting in Atlanta on May 22. "Hopefully, we can get past it and get (our guy) signed."

Said one agent: "If they made a mistake taking (my player), and they decide that's the case after three years, why should they get relief? That's on them."

Neither side in the negotiations for the top eight players has budged much.

Granted, there hasn't been as much discussion by Dallas about a deal for the No. 6 pick, cornerback Morris Claiborne, because the Cowboys could not sign him until they received a June 1 cap rebate for the release of Terence Newman, but there were some discussions with agent Bus Cook regarding contract structure, and it's believed the concept of offsets was included.

A dozen of the 32 selections in the first round have already signed, linebacker Luke Kuechly of Carolina the highest at No. 9 (a deal that includes no offset language), but it could still be a while before any of the top eight choices reaches terms.

It might be the only major haggling point remaining in a signing process that has lacked drama to this juncture and figures to feature few, if any, of the usual 11th-hour deals.

There has been some suggestion that all 32 of the first-round selections could have deals before the beginning of July, weeks before teams report to training camps, and probably the earliest date ever for completing all the contracts.

The battle over offset language, though, could add some intrigue to the process.

Extra points

— Indianapolis Colts' owner Jim Irsay told The Sports Xchange that, while coaches feel No. 1 overall pick Andrew Luck has a solid "mental picture" of the team's offense, new coordinator Bruce Arians "can't wait" to get the top overall choice on the field and involved physically with the team. Luck, of course, is the most notable of the rookies around the NFL who have not been able to participate in OTAs because the school year at their respective universities is not concluded.

— A source close to Minnesota cornerback Asher Allen insisted that concussions are only a part of the reason the three-year veteran abruptly retired this week, but would elaborate no further. As reported by Twin Cities-area media outlets, the Vikings will not pursue a portion of the $725,000 signing bonus Allen received in 2009.

— As noted here last week, the Denver Broncos have broached the possibility of an extension for left tackle Ryan Clady, who is entering the final season of his rookie contract, and the two sides have even exchanged a few proposals. But a deal isn't particularly close. The Broncos seem to feel that Clady, regarded by many as one of the game's top pass protectors, has slipped a bit the last couple seasons. The Clady camp has countered the fifth-year veteran has protected well despite playing with some quarterbacks who often held the ball too long, and that last season was an aberration with the midseason switch to Tim Tebow and an option-based attack. Clady feels the addition of Peyton Manning, who rarely takes sacks, will accentuate his protection abilities.

— On the subject of the Broncos and money: The team has yet to decide how to proceed with defensive lineman Ty Warren, who has declined a request to reduce his base salary for 2012 from $4 million to the $1.5 million range. Warren has missed each of the past two seasons, with New England in 2010 and the Broncos last year, because of injuries. But the Broncos want to evaluate some of their young lineman, in particular rookie Derek Wolfe, before deciding on Warren's future.

— Miami coaches haven't settled yet on where third-year defensive lineman Jared Odrick will line up — not even on if it will be inside or outside — but the sense is that the former first-rounder (2010) could have a breakout season in the 4-3 scheme being installed by new coordinator Kevin Coyle. Odrick played just one game as a rookie in 2010, and started only seven games last season.

— Not surprisingly, given his track record of shooting from the lip without all the facts, New York Jets linebacker Bart Scott was misinformed when he contended this week that commissioner Roger Goodell cannot cancel the Pro Bowl himself. The CBA affords Goodell and the league to suspend the game without the approval of the NFLPA.

— Even without a coordinator, in the absence of the suspended Gregg Williams, the St. Louis Rams have made it a priority to rebuild their linebacker corps.

— Rookie tailback Chris Rainey has impressed Steelers' coaches with his quickness in OTAs, but people have cautioned that the former Florida star and fifth-round pick hasn't put on pads yet. First-year offensive coordinator Todd Haley envisions Rainey in the same role in which he used Dexter McCluster in Kansas City, but Rainey will have to demonstrate he's a solid receiver. Although he had just 69 receptions in four college seasons, Rainey did have 56 catches total in his final two years with the Gators.

— In the wake of comments from Detroit vice chairman Bill Ford Jr., that some Lions players lack maturity and have brought criticism on the franchise with recent indiscretions, the Lions have asked some of the more senior players on the young team to shoulder increased leadership roles

The last word: "What else is he going to do? He can't sing or dance." — New Orleans interim head coach Joe Vitt, on his belief that franchise quarterback Drew Brees, who has been absent from OTA workouts, will be at training camp.

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