In theory, there isn’t much to negotiate when it comes to NFL rookie contracts. Since 2011, when the most recent collective bargaining agreement took effect, the league’s newest players have received contracts that are tied to where they are drafted. Impasses have become a thing of the past, for the most part: Of the 256 players drafted in April, all but two have signed contracts and have reported to training camp.
So it’s somewhat odd to see a rookie holdout these days, and it’s particularly curious when that holdout is seen as a team’s quarterback of the future. Such is the case with Sam Darnold, whom the Jets took with the No. 3 pick of this year’s draft but, as of Monday morning, had yet to show up for training camp even though he’s assured a fully guaranteed four-year deal worth about $30 million, with a $20 million signing bonus. Later in the day, however, both ESPN’s Adam Schefter and Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News reported that the sides had reached an agreement on the details of Darnold’s contract, clearing the way for the rookie to join the team.
Darnold had been staying close to Jets camp in New Jersey and made a quick appearance on the team’s Twitter feed after signing his deal.
Darnold was greeted by a slow-clap as he joined his teammates at training camp for the first time (Mehta says it was engineered by safety Jamal Adams):
The reasons for the impasse depended on whom you’re reading. Mehta portrayed the contract squabble as a test of wills between the Jets and Darnold’s agent, Jimmy Sexton, over so-called “offset” language in the contract. In essence, such language gives the Jets some protection in the unlikely chance that they cut Darnold over the course of his rookie contract. By including the offset language, the Jets could reduce the money they would owe Darnold should he sign with another team. Without the clause, Darnold would get the full amount due to him from the Jets plus whatever money he gets from the team that signs him.
Mehta reported later Monday that Darnold’s contract will indeed include the offset language. For comparison’s sake, No. 1 pick Baker Mayfield agreed to include offset language in his contract with the Cleveland Browns, which Mehta says irked Sexton because it reduced his leverage with the Jets in Darnold negotiations.
ESPN’s Rich Cimini said the offset language “remains an issue” but brought up another sticking point. The Jets wanted to include a clause in the contract that would void any guaranteed money owed to Darnold if he is fined by the league for detrimental conduct on or off the field. It’s a lower threshold than contracts signed by Mayfield and Josh Allen, the quarterback taken with the seventh pick by the Buffalo Bills. Both have clauses that void their guaranteed money if they are suspended, not fined. Plus, it would be relatively rare for such a high pick to agree to such a lower threshold: Cimini said that, over the past 10 NFL drafts, no top-three pick has agreed to a clause that would void guaranteed money in the case of a fine. Plus, the Jets are one of just a handful of NFL teams that demand such clauses from their rookies, according to Mehta.
A third possible reason popped up Monday morning, via the NFL Network’s Michael Silver. He said the Darnold holdup didn’t center on an offset clause but rather forfeiture language, which allows a team “to recoup money if a player is injured while engaging in certain activities outside of football,” such as skiing or mountain climbing. The Jets include such language in all of their contracts and most likely would not be willing to make an exception for Darnold, because then every other player they draft would want the same courtesy extended to them.
In any case, Darnold now seems ready to join Josh McCown and Teddy Bridgewater as the Jets’ training camp quarterbacks.
“It’s part of the business,” Coach Todd Bowles said this weekend, per the Associated Press. “You deal with something every year. I’m not disappointed. I have a bunch of guys out here to coach and get ready for the season.”
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