Titans beginning efforts<br>to lock up draft picks

While members of the coaching staff are squeezing in vacation time before training camp, Titans GM Floyd Reese will be busy getting rookies like Carlos Hall signed before camp opens July 24.

Negotiations between the Tennessee Titans and their rookie class of 2002 have already begun, and the agent for seventh-round pick Carlos Hall is hopeful of having his client signed as soon as this week.

"We should be able to finish it up before the Fourth of July," said agent Robert Alterman., who is representing the rookie defensive end from Arkansas. "It'll probably be a three-year deal. That's pretty much what all the seventh-rounders are getting."

Hall can expect to make the rookie minimum base salary of $225,000 his first year and have a signing bonus of around $25,000-$30,000, based on being the 240th overall choice.

Still, Alterman is hoping to get some incentives included in Hall's deal that will make the contract jump in value for his client if the unlikely happens.

"I'm trying to work on some major incentives. Some of the incentives are things regarding sacks, numbers of snaps and things like that — not likely to be earned incentives," Alterman said. "They've really only got Jevon Kearse and Kevin Carter. We want him to have some incentives in case one of them go down."

Teams are given a rookie pool to work with in accordance to the number of picks they have and where those picks were selected in the draft. Tennessee has 10 choices and about $4.149 million to work with for purposes of signing those players.

"They have all the draft positions slotted, and when you make your picks, they pull out that value and assign it to the team," Titans general manager Floyd Reese said. "You cannot go over your rookie pool."

Since the higher the pick the more complicated the deal usually is, many teams generally sign their lower-round picks first.

Reese has never had a holdout in his tenure as general manager, which began in 1994.

"We're talking with a bunch of them and when you get to the later round draft picks, there's not enough to talk about to be very far apart," Reese said. "Sometimes almost by default you're close to a deal."

The agents representing the Class of 2002 for the Titans don't appear to be worried, even though training camp is only three weeks away.

"Usually these thing take about nine minutes to do once you get going. It's not rocket science," said agent Joe Linta, who represents fifth-round wide receiver Jake Schifino.

Mike Bauer, who represents fourth-round cornerback pick Tony Beckham agreed.

"We represented Bobby Myers a couple of year ago, and when business has got to get done, they usually cut to the chase and get a deal done," Bauer said of the Titans. "They know how the system works and I know it works, and it shouldn't take too long to get Tony the kind of contract the system calls for."

However, one thing the system calls for this year is less money in that rookie pool. The total value of the pool stayed the same from last year, according to Reese. However, the NFL rookie minimum salary jumped from $209,000 in base pay last year to $225,000 for 2002.

Negotiations should speed up over the next couple of weeks as training camp approaches. Titans rookies are due in July 24 with their first workout set for July 25, the day veterans are expected to report.

Still waiting

The Titans are still awaiting the official word from 19-year veteran Bruce Matthews on his decision to retire. Most believe it is a foregone conclusion that Matthews will hang it up, something the Titans prepared for by bringing in free agents Jeff Smith and Aaron Graham to compete with Gennaro DiNapoli for the starting center/backup guard/long snapping positions.

Still, the Titans won't rush Matthews' decision and they aren't completely ruling anything out.

"The last time I talked to him, he was telling me that he was talking football with somebody and it kind of got the juices flowing a little bit," Reese said. "We didn't rush him to make a decision at the beginning of this, and we won't rush him at the end either."

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