First-Round Freeze-Out?

The Houston Texans are the only team that has signed a 2004 first-round draft pick. Their generosity to defensive end/linebacker Jason Babin and the lack of an extension to the collective bargaining agreement could hurt other teams' ability to get deals done quickly.

As of early July, only one first-round pick had been signed, Houston defensive end/linebacker Jason Babin of Michigan, No. 27 overall.

Normally, getting the process started greases the skid for more deals because of the NFL's "slotting" system of paying draft picks based on where they are chosen, but the Babin deal could actually slow things down.

It's been reported that Babin received a lot more than the incremental bump from last season's 27th pick, Kansas City running back Larry Johnson (seven years, $1.2 million average, $3.3 million bonus). If the Texans overpaid Babin, the domino effect could filter through the entire first round.

Meanwhile, with no extension to the collective bargaining agreement, agents and teams are working under the constraints of six-year minimum deals instead of seven.

With less time to spread out a signing bonus, each year's cap figure will rise for that player. While Babin's deal could make it more difficult for the Vikings to sign their first-round draft pick, Kenechi Udeze, the Vikings have one of the best salary-cap situations in the league. The NFL's rookie allocation cap for the Vikings will likely be more of a factor in Udeze's deal than the salary cap.

The salary-cap factor didn't stop the Texans — maybe because they traded their second-, third- and fourth-round picks to obtain the 27th overall pick — from signing Babin to a six-year, $7 million deal, including a signing bonus worth between $3.475 million and $3.625 million.

It marks the second time in three seasons the Texans have been first in the league to lock up a first-round pick. In 2002, the expansion Texans also set the pace by agreeing to terms with quarterback David Carr before he was drafted No. 1 overall. They officially signed Carr on draft day.

General manager Charley Casserly credited agent Tony Agnone and Texans negotiator Dan Ferens for reaching A quick deal for Babin less than 10 days after talks began.

"If you've been around as much as we have, you ought to know what to do and you shouldn't need to wait around," Casserly said, referring to himself, Agnone and Ferens.

The deal is essentially a five-year agreement, because the sixth year can be voided based on playing-time incentives that should be relatively easy to achieve, The Houston Chronicle reported.

Because of the increased money Babin received, it could make it harder for other teams to sign their first-round picks and stay within the NFL's rookie allocation cap. The next three weeks of negotiating around the league will be the measuring stick of that.

* The Vikings aren't likely to make a deal for either of the top free-agent linebackers available — Jeremiah Trotter or Jason Gildon — in the next few weeks. But that hasn't stopped other teams from expressing interest in them. All of the NFC North rivals — Detroit, Green Bay and Chicago — have been intrigued with Gildon, but Chicago has only about $1 million in salary-cap space. Green Bay thought it was a leading candidate for Gildon's services a couple weeks ago, but the Packers are also strapped for cap space. The Vikings were interested in Trotter and Keith Newman as potential strong-side linebackers, but after signing Newman and watching him in spring camps, they may decide to evaluate the linebacker position again in training camp before making another move.

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