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Rookie contract negotiations become a priority this time of year

While the NFL's busy schedule does slow down a bit this time of year, it remains true that 'there is no offseason in the NFL.'

Organized team activities may be winding down and coaches might be planning for some vacation time, but there are still a number of issues that never seem to go away. Most of those issues revolve around contract negotiations.

Here are a few of the things on my mind as teams wrap up the month of June:

1. No time off for the contract negotiators

As players get ready to return home for a rest and coaches start to make vacation plans, the contract negotiators stay behind and start to work on getting all the rookies signed.

Some teams like the Bears have already signed their rookies, but when your top pick is a third-rounder (68th overall), that isn't a very hard task. The real problems are going to be for teams who picked at the top of the first round -- where talks could get mighty ugly and holdouts should be expected.

The No. 1 overall pick, Detroit's Matthew Stafford, got a six-year deal with $41 million guaranteed, and Mark Sanchez, the fifth overall pick by the Jets, signed a five-year deal with $28 million guaranteed. The agents for Jason Smith (taken second by St. Louis), Tyson Jackson (taken third by Kansas City), Aaron Curry (taken fourth by Seattle) and Andre Smith (taken sixth by Cincinnati) have to be thrilled thinking about the contracts their clients will sign in the coming weeks.

There's a good chance those four players will collect over $120 million in guaranteed money -- which would bring the top six draft picks to over $190 million in 'G' money (guaranteed money).

In the upcoming talks for Jason and Andre Smith, Jackson and Curry, club negotiators will point to the fact that Stafford and Sanchez are quarterbacks, so their contract numbers are inflated. The agents, however, will point to where their clients were drafted, regardless of position. I know one agent has already warned a general manager in one of those top six spots, 'you will be paying big this year.'

There is something radically wrong with how much money the top rookies entering the league are being paid and there doesn't appear to be an end in sight without a rookie wage scale.

June is not a fun month for the contract negotiators.

2. Pro personnel departments

Pro personnel departments spend June tying up loose ends. They file reports on some of the lesser-known players, lock down their preseason scouting schedule and listen to coaches' OTA reports about the state of the roster. Coaches will discuss potential depth chart weaknesses and let player personnel know what concerns they have for the preseason and season roster. The player personnel director will then stack his free-agent board one more time and bring in players to make sure there is quality depth at each position.

When I was in charge of negotiating contracts as Director of Player Administration for the Jets, I would contact the top 20 names on my free-agent board and see if I could get them in for a workout, or at least discuss their financial demands. I would then let the agent know we may have interest and to let us know if they get an offer from another team.

This is the time of year to keep a few players as potential additions, just in case.

Here are the 20 players I would contact if I were still in player personnel: Edgerrin James, Warrick Dunn, LeCharles Bentley, Marvin Harrison, Amani Toomer, Matt Jones, Levi Jones, Jon Runyan, Kevin Carter, Travis LaBoy, Hollis Thomas, LaRoi Glover, Derrick Brooks, Ryan Nece, Lawyer Milloy, Mike Brown, Ty Law, Sam Madison, R.W. McQuarters and Marcus Washington.

If I was able to bring in 8-10 of these players, I would be ahead of the game. At the least, I would want a good dialog with their agents.

3. The Michael Vick and Plaxico Burress situations

A number of clubs have already declared they have no interest in Michael Vick, but other teams have yet to comment on Vick.

Baggage carriers


Michael Vick and Plaxico Burress have each had their share of off-field issues throughout their careers, but their statistical production cannot be overlooked:

**Michael Vick**
Seasons: 6

Passer rating: 75.7

Passing yards: 11,505

Rushing yards: 3,859

TDs: 92 (71 pass, 21 rush)

**Plaxico Burress**
Seasons: 9

Catches: 505

Receiving yards: 7,845

Yards per catch: 15.5

TDs: 55 (all rec.)

It is important that the club owner, general manager, head coach and personnel director make their decision about Vick before the summer break.

If NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell declares him eligible to play, a team needs to know where it stands -- would he be a possible signing if a quarterback goes down over the summer? It may be a 10-second discussion or it may take a lengthy meeting -- but it should happen before the break.

As for Plaxico Burress, it appears there is a chance he will be eligible to play this season and there appears to be a few teams already interested in him.

In addition to their discussions about Vick, teams also need to talk about Burrress in a similar fashion. What does it take to sign him and how much is he worth?

Both of these players have to be handled very discretely and in many cases clubs have already done their due diligence.

4. Can coaches say anything nice?

There was a time when a head coach could sit down with a few reporters and make some glowing remarks about players who had tremendous offseasons. These days, any positive comments from a coach will drive that player's agent right back to the club looking for a new contract.

My favorite remark is 'he outplayed his contract.' How about, 'he lived up to his contract and we don't have to release him?' No one ever says that, but it's often true.

I had one general manager tell me, "we are excited about five or six players this spring but I instructed my coaches to keep the public praise to a minimum so I don't have to deal with the agents looking for a new deal."

I wonder what Cleveland's Jerome Harrison or his agent thinks when head coach Eric Mangini says Harrison reminds him of JetsPro Bowl RB/KR Leon Washington? Some how, some way, that comment will cost the Browns money.

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5. The ripple effect

For the longest time, veteran players have been told that they should welcome the big rookie deals, because they will eventually use those deals as a starting point in their own negotiations. Don't buy that logic.

Derek Anderson threw 29 touchdowns to only 19 interceptions and was sacked just 14 times on his way to a Pro Bowl appearance in 2007, but his contract extension didn't look anything like the JaMarcus Russell deal. Think Matt Cassel, who led the Patriots to 11 wins last year, will get a deal that looks like those signed by Stafford or Sanchez?

Time will tell, but I have my suspicions about the ripple effect of the rookie QB deals. Let's see what the rest of June and July bring in this case.

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