Pasquarelli: "25 percent rule" causing logjam of third-round picks
More than a week after wide receiver T.J. Graham signed his
initial NFL contract with the Buffalo Bills, an agreement completed
July 9, the deal has yet to impact the logjam at the top of the third
The presumed reason: While the four-year, $2.9
million contract appears to be market value, or even slightly better in
some ways, Graham's deal does not address the stated aim of agents who
have clients in the early part of the round.
That is, the goal of maximizing the so-called "25
percent rule" on annual base salary increases.
The four-year, $21.09 million contract that
quarterback Robert Griffin III signed early Wednesday, with the second
overall choice and Heisman Trophy winner winning the "offset language"
battle with the Washington Redskins, could spark action at the top of
the first round, where seven of the initial eight choices remain
unsigned. But the Graham agreement so far hasn't precipitated other
movement at the beginning of the third round.
With camp openings looming, nearly 89 percent of
the 253-player draft class have deals already, but the third-round
A former North Carolina State standout and the
sixth pick in the round, the 69th overall selection, Graham remains the
only pick among the top nine players taken in the round to reach a
contract agreement. None of the five prospects drafted ahead of Graham,
nor the three directly after him, have contracts. Of the 29 draft picks
who were still unsigned on Wednesday morning, a dozen are in the third
round, just one fewer than in the first round.
Graham's contract includes some concessions from
the Bills, like base salaries that are slightly higher than the league
minimums in 2014 and 2015 and $90,000 total in offseason workout
bonuses for the final three seasons of the deal, but falls short of the
goal articulated by many agents with clients representing top nine
players in the round. The Sports Xchange reported two weeks ago that
the unusual impasse at the outset of the round was a result of players
and agents attempting to maximize the 25-percent annual salary bumps
permitted by the CBA.
Agents for most of the unsigned third-rounders
acknowledged that as the primary hang-up to agreements.
All 32 teams will be in camp by the end of the
According to the formula for determining the
maximum 25 percent raises -- 25 percent of the player's signing bonus,
added to his first-year base salary, and then 25 percent of the total
of the two -- Graham was eligible for annual increases of $139,453.
Based on his first-year league minimum base salary of $390,000, Graham
would have subsequent salaries of $529,453 (for 2013), $668,906 (2014)
and $808,559 (2015) if the 25 percent was "maxed out." Instead his
bases for the final three seasons, 2013-2015, were $480,000, $580,000
and $690,000 respectively.
The salary of $580,000 for 2014 is actually
$10,000 higher than the NFL minimum for a player in his third season
($570,000), and the $690,000 base for 2015 is a $30,000 bump over the
fourth-year minimum of $660,000. The Bills sweetened the pot as well by
including workout bonuses of $30,000 each for 2013-2015.
Including the workout bonuses, the Graham contract
totals $2,901,252. Had he been able to "max out" the 25-precent salary
increases, the total would be $3,068,170 even without the bonuses, a
difference of $166,918.
The last of Buffalo's draft choices to sign,
Graham received a signing bonus of $671,252, exactly the bonus pegged
for his slot under the rookie wage arrangement that is part of the new
CBA, and a $4 increase over the signing bonus for the player in the
same slot last year, Kansas City linebacker Justin Houston. Graham's
per-year average of $725,313 represents a healthy 12-percent increase
over Houston's deal, a function, in part, of the increase in minimum
salaries from a year ago and also the workout bonuses, which Houston
did not receive.
But the contract numbers on the Graham deal,
disseminated to the agent community this week, were greeted less than
enthusiastically by some of the representatives with unsigned players
in the third round. Said one: "It's a nice enough deal, definitely, but
it doesn't get done what we've been shooting for."
Notable is that only one player in the third
round, Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson, has received maximum
25-percent salary increases so far. The 12th player chosen in the
round, Wilson clearly received a "quarterback premium" on his deal, but
agents for other players above him want the same accommodation. It has
created a sticky situation in the round, where such impasses are
On the other hand, the Griffin contract provides
the agents with clients at the top of the first round with considerable
ammunition. Last month, The Sports Xchange reported that the stalemate
at the top of the round was attributable to the agents' contention that
"offset language" -- which would permit a team to reduce its liability
if it released a player and he signed with another club -- not be
included in contracts for those top players.
The top overall choice in 2011, Carolina
quarterback Cam Newton, did not have "offset language" in his contract.
Likewise, Panthers' linebacker Luke Kuechly, the ninth pick this year,
did not have the language, prompting agents for players above him to
demand the same.
As was the case with Griffin, who received a
signing bonus of $13,799,344, the money figures for the first picks are
pretty much settled, with little wiggle room. Griffin, for instance,
received exactly the signing bonus slotted for him, with base salaries
of $390,000 (for 2012), $1.34 million (2013), $2.3 million (2014) and
$3.26 million (2015). All four seasons are fully guaranteed.
The contract should clear the way for other
first-round agreements, although there still exists a mini-logjam at
slot Nos. 22-25, because of a stalemate between players and teams over
salary guarantees. It will be interesting, though, in light of the
Graham agreement, to see how the rest of the third round shakes out, to
see if the agents for players there remain stubborn in pursuing
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Len Pasquarelli is a Senior NFL Writer for The
Sports Xchange. He has
covered the NFL for 33 years and is a member of the Pro Football Hall
of Fame selection committee. His NFL coverage earned recognition as the
winner of the McCann Award for distinguished reporting in 2008.
Contract Clause A Hangup In Signings
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