Rookie Comparisons: 2005 to 2006

Because of new regulations surrounding the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, most teams are expected to have a more difficult time signing all of their draft picks before training camps open. What does that mean for the Vikings and their top picks? We compare what last year's picks at their slots got and how that might put the Vikings in a bigger bind.

Yesterday, we looked at the challenges facing all NFL teams in getting their rookies signed within the framework of each team's rookie pool, the increase in rookie minimum base salaries and the decrease in maximum years for which they can sign.

But what do all those conflicting fixed numbers mean for the Vikings specifically?

They could be in a unique predicament trying to sign a first-round pick complemented by three second-round picks, as well as squeezing in a fifth- and sixth-round pick under the rookie salary pool allotted to them by the NFL office.

First-round pick Chad Greenway was selected with the 17th overall pick, and his agent, Marvin Demoff, told KSTP-TV that talks with the Vikings have begun, characterizing those discussions as exploratory and constructive. Under the terms of the new CBA, teams can sign picks selected 17-32 in the first round for up to five seasons.

But finding a way to get a deal done is going to be a little different challenge than in past seasons, especially for players selected ahead of Greenway. According to various agents that talked to this week, both sides are having to find more ways to be creative.

One agent who has a player that was selected in the top 16 of this year's draft said because of the new CBA, the team wants to get his player signed to a six-year deal, which is now the maximum length that a player picked that in that area can be signed for. It's to the team's advantage to sign a player for as long as possible in order to spread the signing bonus out longer. Plus, if the player outperforms the original deal before its expiration, it's to the team's advantage to have him play out the remaining years.

The ways that teams and agents are looking to find some common ground for the first-round selections in the top half of the draft are in a few scenarios. One is to have the player sign for six years but making the final season or final few seasons void if he meets certain incentive levels in the deal. Another is the player signing for five years with an option for a sixth. And another is a buy-back for the sixth or final season or buy-backs for the final few years of the contract. Contract buy backs can essentially trigger more seasons to a deal by paying the player a bonus.

In Houston Texans QB David Carr's rookie contract, Carr reached certain incentive levels which voided the final three years of deal so he could have become an unrestricted free agent after last season. The team did have two buy-back options in the contract. The one they wound up using was giving Carr an $8 million bonus, which gives them the opportunity to buy back the final three seasons (2006, 2007, 2008) of the original seven-year deal. They also had a two-year buy-back option. The other option they could have used was not to use the buy-backs at all and designate Carr as their franchise player, which would have only kept him for one season. That would not have included a signing bonus but an exorbitant base salary of $8.789 million.

Last year's 17th overall pick, linebacker David Pollack, was selected by the Cincinnati Bengals and received a five-year deal with a reported $7.65 million in guarantees.

With the Vikings being assigned a rookie pool of just over $3.7 million to sign their draft picks this year, Pollack's reported guarantees, if all in the form of a signing bonus, would have put his first-year number close to $2 million alone. However, guaranteed money doesn't all have to be in the form of a signing bonus. Incentives are another way of structuring "guaranteed" money without putting as much strain on the first-year cap number. Incentives that are termed "likely to be earned" would count against the 2006 cap, but those termed "unlikely to be earned" can be pushed off into the following year's salary cap, according to a league source.

According to Steve Kauffman, the agent for Vikings rookie Ryan Cook, because of the stipulations surrounding the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, teams might not be able to give as big of signing bonuses this year as they have in years past, but creative accounting can still produce a relatively fair deal for this year's rookie crop in comparison to last year.

"If you look at the last two years, you had a transition out of a CBA and a transition into a new CBA. This has been an issue for the last three years, more so last year than in 2004 perhaps. What you're saying is correct, teams have to get more creative so the guaranteed money is large enough. It's as simple as that," Kauffman said. "If you went back and looked at 2003 for example, or the right player in 2004, and you did your projected increases, you're going to come out with many teams whose signing bonuses are in a range that are much more than they are going to be able to pay (to fit under the 2006 rookie pool)."

The Vikings' first pick of the second round was cornerback Cedric Griffin, who was the 48th overall player selected.

Last year, the Bengals selected linebacker Odell Thurman in that slot. Thurman reportedly received close to $2 million in signing bonus money, which is amortized over the life of his five-year contract. This year, however, second-round picks can sign deals for a maximum of four years, so the Vikings could be especially hard-pressed to match the signing bonuses of second-round picks from last year with equal draft slots this year.

The rookie minimum salary also increased from $230,000 last year to $275,000 this year, so it is expected that will contribute to lower signing bonuses as well, despite the 5 percent increase in the rookie pool.

"People have to be creative," said Kauffman. "This is important: There are still ways to make the contract equitable and comparable to those other deals."

Cook was taken with the 51st overall selection. Last year's 51st overall pick was Baltimore Ravens offensive tackle Adam Terry. While he signed a five-year deal, terms of his guaranteed money were not disclosed.

Quarterback Tarvaris Jackson was the Vikings' final selection in the second round, the 64th overall pick in the draft. Last year's 64th pick was Green Bay Packers safety Nick Collins, who also signed a five-year deal with a reported $600,000 signing bonus and a $220,000 roster bonus, as well as an option bonus this year of just more than $1 million.

According to an article on published last year, the average signing bonus for a second-round pick was $1,334,000 in 2004. Amortized over a five-year deal common in previous years, that's $266,800 per year in bonus money that counts against the cap. Amortized over a four-year deal that will be the norm for second-round picks this year, however, and that is $333,500 per year. Considering that the minimum base salaries that are so common in the first year of a rookie contract have increased to $275,000 this year, that means the average second-round pick will have a first-year cap number of more than $608,000, and that's not taking into account that agents like to see a 10 percent increase in bonus money each year. That would push the average second-round money to nearly $700,000 in the first year.

With three second-round picks, that would be about $2 million in first-year cap money to the three second-round picks. If Pollack's first-year money last year was anywhere near $2 million and the Vikings were expected to match that with Greenway, the Vikings would already be over their rookie pool money with fourth-round pick Ray Edwards and fifth-round pick Greg Blue yet to sign.

While these numbers are all built on assumptions from reported bonuses, it drives home the point that the Vikings could face an especially difficult time trying to sign all of their draft picks by the time rookies are expected to report to training camp on July 27.

If the Vikings are to get their draft picks all in on time, it's safe to assume there were some creative ways to get all of the players in under the rookie salary pool.

Viking Update Top Stories