The New York Giants reached a tentative contract agreement overnight with quarterback Eli Manning, the top overall pick in April's draft, a source familiar with the negotiations said early this morning.
The two sides plan to apply the finishing touches to the agreement today, said the source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the deal was not yet official. Barring any last-minute snags, Manning will sign the contract and report on time today to the Giants' training camp in Albany, N.Y. and participate in Friday's opening practice of camp. He will be alongside Kurt Warner, the two-time league most valuable player signed by the club to mentor Manning and compete with him for the starting job to open the season.
The deal will be the richest rookie contract in NFL history, the source said, and could contain about $20 million in guaranteed money. The sides had faced salary-cap obstacles to giving Manning a more lucrative contract than the one signed by 2003 top draft selection Carson Palmer.
But Giants General Manager Ernie Accorsi has a good relationship with Manning's agent, Tom Condon, and the parties negotiated late into the night after resuming talks Wednesday morning. Manning has been in Manhattan, waiting to be notified by Condon that the deal is done and he can join his teammates at the University of Albany.
Manning had acknowledged that getting to camp on time was important for him after he forced the draft-day trade that sent him from San Diego to New York by having Condon inform the Chargers that Manning wouldn't play for them.
The Giants conceded from the outset of negotiations that Manning deserved to be paid like the top pick in the draft despite the fact that the team had to squeeze the contract into, roughly, the 2004 salary-cap slot of the fourth overall choice.
Because the trade was completed after the Chargers drafted Manning, the Giants were assigned a rookie pool -- the salary cap for the club's rookies within the overall $80.6 million salary cap -- of $4.37 million, ninth-highest in the league. That was based in part on them having the fourth selection, which they used on quarterback Philip Rivers before trading him to San Diego.
If the two teams had swapped picks before the draft, the Giants would have been assigned a higher rookie pool, and the Manning negotiations would have been far less complicated.
But people on both sides of the talks said from the outset that the obstacles could be overcome with a complex contract that contained a slightly lower signing bonus but a hefty option bonus in its second year.
Condon was looking to top the seven-year contract that Palmer, also a quarterback, signed with the Cincinnati Bengals three days before they drafted him last year. That deal, negotiated by agent David Dunn, included a $10.01 million signing bonus and a $4.01 million roster bonus payable after 22 months.
The seventh season in Palmer's contract is voided if he takes 35 percent of the Bengals' offensive snaps in any season, and is worth about $40 million in bonuses and salaries over six seasons. Escalator clauses could increase that total to about $49 million.
Palmer's contract paid him $11.08 million in its first season and is worth $18.25 million over its initial three seasons, a benchmark used by many agents. Palmer counted $2.5 million against Cincinnati's salary cap as a rookie. The Giants were trying to get Manning's rookie-year salary cap number closer to $2 million.
The Giants want Manning to compete for playing time this season, so they didn't want him to miss any significant portion of training camp. The club signed Warner after he was released by the St. Louis Rams in June.
Tackle Robert Gallery, the second overall pick in the draft, agreed to a deal with the Oakland Raiders on Wednesday.
The Chicago Bears expect to know more today about the severity of the hamstring injury suffered by middle linebacker Brian Urlacher on Wednesday, midway through Lovie Smith's first practice at the club's head coach. Urlacher is scheduled to undergo an MRI exam today. Smith told reporters that he was prepared to be without Urlacher for several weeks.
"He's a big part of what we're trying to do,'' Smith said. "He's down [but] he didn't have a season-ending injury. We talked about developing our depth at the linebacker position, and we're going to have to do it a little bit quicker than we wanted to. He'll be back, but right now he's going to be down.''
General Manager Jerry Angelo told reporters that Urlacher had "a pretty good pull'' and said he was "not really optimistic that it's going to be something that's going to be a few days [to heal]. Probably a little longer than that.''
The star of the first day of the Denver Broncos' training camp on Wednesday in Englewood, Colo., was rookie wide receiver Darius Watts, a second-round draft choice out of Marshall. Watts made several attention-garnering catches, including an acrobatic grab against four-time Pro Bowl cornerback Champ Bailey on a deep sideline pattern.
"He's a dangerous rookie,'' Bailey said. "A lot of people are going to really sleep on him this year, and he's going to surprise some people. He's not a surprise to me. He's good. He knows it and I know it. I talked to him a lot about things he can work on and things he could be real good at. He's a good player. He's so raw, though. He can only get better.''
Veteran wideout Rod Smith said that Watts might be the fastest player on the team, faster even than the noted speedster slated to start opposite him at wide receiver, third-year pro Ashley Lelie. The Broncos are hoping that Lelie, a third-year pro, will have a breakthrough season now that Ed McCaffrey has retired, and they are crossing their fingers that Watts can develop quickly into a reliable third receiving option.
"If you don't put points on the board, you lose. Period,'' Smith said. "Last year was probably the worst offense we've had since I started here. We've got to score more points.'' . . .
The Broncos got a scare Wednesday when cornerback Lenny Walls, who started every game last season, limped off the field during the morning practice. Veteran cornerback Jimmy Spencer yelled angrily from across the field: "He can't be hurt! It's the first day!'' But Coach Mike Shanahan said the injury merely was a bruised ankle and would not keep Walls sidelined long. . . .
Cincinnati signed tight end James Whalen, who was released by Dallas.