The top eight picks in the April NFL draft remained unsigned Tuesday afternooon — including quarterback Robert Griffin III, taken second overall by the Washington Redskins. One of the major sticking points in the negotiations is teams’ desire to insert “offset” language into the players’ contracts, according to several people in the sport.
Such language would protect teams financially if players are released sometime during their initial four-year contracts, which are likely to be fully guaranteed. If offset language is included, a team’s financial obligation would be reduced if the player signs with another team, by the amount he earns from the new team.
Agents for the players are resisting the provision, people with knowledge of the situation said.
The ninth overall selection in the draft, linebacker Luke Kuechly, signed a contract with the Carolina Panthers that contains no offset language, according to a person familiar with the deal. Kuechly is represented by CAA Football, the agency that also represents Griffin and three other unsigned top-eight selections — Cleveland Browns tailback Trent Richardson, Minnesota Vikings offensive tackle Matt Kalil and Tampa Bay Buccaneers safety Mark Barron.
CAA agents Tom Condon, Ben Dogra and Jimmy Sexton are among the sport’s most powerful player representatives. One person in pro football said it is unlikely that the agency would bend on the offset-language issue for its other top picks after getting Kuechly a deal without the provision. Dogra, who represents Griffin, did not respond to a request for comment this week.
The sport’s new rookie pay system is designed to decrease the amount of guaranteed money in the contracts of unproven players entering the league and simplify the negotiating process for rookie contracts, which helps get those players to training camp on time.
The new system resulted in many more rookies signing contracts with their teams early this offseason. But as NFL teams prepare to open their training camps, there still is some negotiating left to be done. As of Tuesday afternoon, 14 of the 32 first-round selections remained unsigned.
One agent said this week that the offset-language issue is a significant obstacle but he doesn’t foresee it preventing many players from signing and reporting to training camp on time. Too many other elements of those contracts already are in place under the rookie pay system for a final detail to hold up an agreement for long, said the agent, who spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid being seen as interfering in negotiations.
Unsigned players cannot report to training camps under NFL rules.
Others noted that the amount of money at stake is relatively modest, in NFL terms, and in most cases players taken early in the draft are not released within their first four seasons.
But agents and teams are haggling over a new issue: whether the contracts of some first-round picks would be fully guaranteed.
Griffin was not at Redskins Park on Monday when other Redskins rookies reported for conditioning workouts and classroom work. Redskins veterans are scheduled to report to camp July 25 and the opening practice is scheduled for July 26.
Griffin is expected to sign a contract similar to the fully guaranteed four-year deal for $21 million that last year’s second overall choice, linebacker Von Miller, signed with the Denver Broncos. Miller’s deal included a signing bonus of $13.773 million.
Another person with knowledge of the top rookies’ negotiations said this week he wouldn’t expect Griffin to sign before quarterback Andrew Luck, the top overall pick in April by the Indianapolis Colts.
“Why would you, unless you get everything you want?” that person said, citing no offset provision and favorable marketing language in particular.
Luck’s contract with the Colts is expected to resemble the fully guaranteed four-year, $22.025 million deal that last year’s top pick, quarterback Cam Newton, signed with the Panthers.
The rookie deals for first-round picks will have fifth-year options, under the rookie pay system.
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