The teams that have the top few picks in the draft in 2 1-2 weeks are looking to trade down in the first-round order. It is highly questionable, however, whether they will be able to accomplish that by finding clubs willing to trade up.
There are players in this draft that teams like a lot, but there aren't players that clubs think are worth the contracts that come with being among the first few selections in the draft. Agents seek slight raises for their clients over what the players picked in the corresponding draft slots the previous year were paid, so the going rate for the top couple selections in this year's draft will be contracts that include about $20 million in bonus money.
The top overall choice in last year's draft, quarterback Eli Manning, signed a six-year, $45-million contract with the New York Giants that included $20 million in bonuses, plus an additional $9 million in incentives that could push the overall value of the deal to $54 million. The second player picked last year, left tackle Robert Gallery, signed a seven-year pact with the Oakland Raiders worth up to $60 million, including $18.5 million in guaranteed money.
The first players to come off the board this month will be seeking comparable deals, even though few -- if any -- teams in the league will regard them as comparable prospects. Clubs think there are about a dozen players in this year's draft pool whose pro potential is about the same, so there is little incentive for a team to surrender additional picks later in the draft to trade up and get one of the first few selections. If you can get a player with the 10th pick whose pro prospects are about the same as the player you'd get with the third selection, why trade up?
The San Francisco 49ers would like to trade the top overall choice to address more of their many needs.
The Miami Dolphins, who have the second pick, have made it clear to other teams that they would like to trade down. They need a tailback to replace the retired Ricky Williams. But with three coveted tailbacks available -- Ronnie Brown and Carnell (Cadillac) Williams of Auburn and Texas's Cedric Benson -- they don't need the second overall choice to accomplish that, and they'd prefer not to have to pay their new centerpiece runner a Gallery-like contract.
The Cleveland Browns, who have the third selection, would like to bolster their defense, but there might not be a defensive player in the draft worthy of the third overall pick.
Most trades come together as the draft nears, so it's still possible that the 49ers, Dolphins or Browns will find a willing trade partner. One of the three perhaps will be willing to accept less in a trade than a club surrendering one of the top three selections usually would get to move down.
But for now, at least, they probably have to operate on the premise that they'll be stuck with the top three choices. A 49ers contingent was in Salt Lake City on Tuesday for a private workout by Utah quarterback Alex Smith. The 49ers are scheduled to host Cal quarterback Aaron Rodgers, Michigan wide receiver Braylon Edwards and Miami cornerback Antrel Rolle on visits next week. The 49ers probably will be left to choose between Smith and Rodgers, and they likely will launch contract negotiations soon with the two quarterbacks and Edwards in hopes of having a deal in place before the draft with the player they plan to choose, as NFL rules permit.
The Dolphins probably will be left to take the running back they regard as being the draft's best, and the Browns likely will have to decide between defensive help and a potential franchise quarterback of the future. . . .
One thing that will complicate contract negotiations for the 49ers and other teams with their prized rookies-to-be is the lack of an extension of the sport's collective bargaining agreement. Because the labor deal has not been extended, clubs will be able to prorate the hefty signing bonuses in players' contracts over only five seasons for salary cap accounting purposes. Teams normally can prorate signing bonuses over seven seasons, and last year they could prorate the bonuses over six seasons.
Atlanta Falcons General Manager Rich McKay predicted at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis in late February that the situation would have an effect on negotiations this offseason with both free-agent players and draft picks.
"It'll definitely impact it," McKay said then. "It'll really impact it if we get to signing rookies and there still hasn't been an extension yet."
The result is that rookie contracts probably will be more complex than ever, as agents try to get clients their money while teams struggle to fit everything underneath the salary cap. Complex deals can mean lengthier negotiations, and there undoubtedly will be ominous forecasts this summer of widespread contract disputes that will lead to more rookies than ever showing up late to training camps.
But, really, most rookie deals get done on time if the player and the team really, truly want them to get done on time. Few contracts have been more complicated than Manning's deal with the Giants. But Manning got to training camp on time last summer because agent Tom Condon arrived in town a few days beforehand, and he and Giants General Manager Ernie Accorsi simply kept negotiating until they got a deal done.
T.O. Switches Agents
Wide receiver Terrell Owens stuck by agent David Joseph throughout his contract ordeal last year. The NFL Management Council ruled that Owens had lost his right to be a free agent when he and Joseph missed a deadline to file the paperwork voiding the remainder of his contract with the 49ers, and it took a case brought before the league's special master by the Players Association for Owens to be sent to his team of choice -- the Philadelphia Eagles -- via a hurried settlement.
Owens defended Joseph even when union chief Gene Upshaw said he believed that Joseph had made a major mistake and was exempt from disciplinary action only because the union had found a way to bail him out.
Now, though, Owens has changed agents, from Joseph to Drew Rosenhaus.
Rosenhaus is scheduled to meet with Eagles President Joe Banner today regarding the seven-year, $48.97-million contract that Owens signed with the club last year, including $16 million in bonuses. It seems unlikely that the Eagles will agree to rework Owens's deal one year into a seven-year agreement.
Rosenhaus continues to add clients at a dizzying rate. Just this offseason, the list of players who have dumped other agents to sign with Rosenhaus includes Edgerrin James, Plaxico Burress and Owens.
Pryce Is Right for Denver
Defensive end Trevor Pryce agreed to a reworked contract with Denver that will keep him with the Broncos next season.
The Broncos had shopped Pryce on the trade market, but found no takers and probably would have released him if they couldn't rework his contract. He missed most of last season after undergoing back surgery, and he was to count nearly $9.2 million against next season's salary cap before his contract restructuring. Now the Broncos are crossing their fingers that Pryce, 29, can regain the form that produced 58 sacks over a span of six seasons between 1998 and 2003. . . .
Free-agent defensive end Marques Douglas is scheduled to meet with 49ers Coach Mike Nolan today. Douglas is one of the best players left on the picked-over unrestricted free agent market. He totaled 10 sacks for the Baltimore Ravens the past two seasons, including 5 1-2 last season.
It's unclear if the 49ers will make a push to sign Douglas before he leaves town. He previously visited Cleveland and Denver. He once seemed close to signing with the Browns but didn't. The Broncos probably are out of the running after their recent flurry of additions to their defensive line and their deal to retain Pryce. . . .
The New York Jets re-signed seven players Tuesday, including defensive tackle Josh Evans and linebacker Kenyatta Wright, both unrestricted free agents, and three restricted free agents -- tight end Chris Baker, wide receiver Jonathan Carter and offensive lineman Jonathan Goodwin. . . . Pittsburgh re-signed safety Tyrone Carter, an unrestricted free agent. . . . Atlanta signed defensive end Brandon Mitchell, an unrestricted free agent formerly with Seattle. . . . Detroit re-signed cornerback Chris Cash, a restricted free agent.