49ers taking lead in dealing with draft picks

Though the Seahawks have signed none of their six 2005 draft picks as of June 20th, other teams around the league are taking a more proactive approach. In San Francisco, where personnel needs abound, the new 49ers regime has been among the most aggressive suitors. SFI Illustrated's Craig Massei and his staff take a look at how, and why, they're saying "better sooner than later".

With almost six weeks still remaining before the start of training camp, the 49ers already have the larger half of their 2006 draft class under contract. Fifth-round selection Parys Haralson became the fifth of San Francisco’s nine draft picks to sign with the team when he inked his rookie deal Monday as the Niners continue to go about their new way of conducting business.

In previous years, the 49ers typically waited until the week before training camp rolled around in late July until they started making serious efforts to get their draft picks signed.

But that approach has changed under the Mike Nolan regime, which has taken the lead among NFL teams in getting its draft picks signed early this spring. Haralson’s deal follows the contract signed recently by sixth-round pick Marcus Hudson and the deals inked last week by sixth-rounders Delanie Walker and Melvin Oliver and seventh-rounder Vickiel Vaughn.

Even though its their later picks – which come cheaper and ostensibly are easier to get under contract – the 49ers have been proactive in dealing with their draftees instead of waiting around for other NFL teams to set the market for what players should be paid for where they are slotted in the draft.

That the 49ers have even been negotiating with their draft picks, not to mention signing them, this early in the game is another indication that the team’s new structure under Nolan and vice president of player personnel Scot McCloughan is producing positive results.

Under former general manager Terry Donahue, the 49ers never were in a hurry to get their draft picks signed until the team had an opportunity to see what kind of deals the players drafted in front of and behind San Francisco’s picks were getting from other teams.

The Niners rarely began signing any draft picks until the week training camp opened, and occasionally did not even begin negotiations with some first-day picks until comically late in the game. Donahue, however, most often managed to get all his picks signed and ready for work by the time training camp started.

The new regime is making certain that will be the case with its draft classes, beginning last year by getting three of its later-round choices under contract in June and another by mid-July. The Niners even forked over a record-breaking $49.5 million deal (which could increase to $57 million with contract escalators and incentives) to get No. 1 overall pick Alex Smith signed several days before training camp began, assuring that the then-21-year-old quarterback wouldn’t miss a practice with the team.

The Smith signing was followed by contract agreements between the 49ers and second-round pick David Baas and third-rounders Frank Gore and Adam Snyder as the team had its entire 11-player 2005 class signed days before summer camp began.

It was the third consecutive year the Niners entered camp with all their draft picks under contract and ready to participate, going back to 2002, when first-rounder Mike Rumph didn’t make it to the start of camp after the team reportedly made its first phone call to negotiate with Rumph’s agent just a few days before camp was scheduled to open.

Getting everybody signed before training camp practices begin on the morning of July 28 may be a bit trickier this year, since the team has two first-rounders to deal with, including the No. 6 overall pick in tight end Vernon Davis, who will command a hefty sum. Representatives for No. 22 overall pick Manny Lawson also will be waiting over the next month to see where the money falls in the first round.

Unless, that is, they end up setting the standard by dealing early with the Niners. Davis’ agent, Ethan Lock, has publicly postured that a summer holdout is no big worry while a contract is pounded out, but expect the Niners to work earnestly on a deal that prevents Davis from missing even one snap of the team’s first camp practice. Last year, however, another first-round Lock client, Erasmus James, held out of Vikings training camp for 10 days before inking his rookie deal, so its possible Lock may make it difficult on the Niners.

But so far, the 49ers have taken the initiative, and only Davis, Lawson, third-rounder Brandon Williams and fourth-rounder Michael Robinson are not under contract with 10 days still remaining in June. According to NFL Players Association salary data, the league has allocated the 49ers $5,646,962 under the 2006 rookie salary cap pool. That’s the amount of salary cap space the team will be allowed to use to sign the nine players it selected in April.


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