The Cleveland Browns took a calculated risk to get one of their first-round picks in training camp while the other one continues to wait for acceptable contract terms.
No. 3 overall pick Joe Thomas received a six-year deal with a voidable final season, according to multiple sources, because the Browns were concerned about getting Thomas into camp early and having him inked before top two picks JaMarcus Russell and Calvin Johnson could raise the market to an uncomfortable level.
"If Johnson and Russell had come in at six years, $60 million, we might have had a real problem," Savage said. Last year, top picks Mario Williams, Reggie Bush and Vince Young all received six-year deals that could top out at more than $56 million. "We weren't going to be above the Young deal … ."
Thomas, slated to start at left tackle, can earn a maximum of $42.5 million over five years with incentives. Barring injury or poor play, Thomas is likely to make at least $33.5 million and he was guaranteed $23.5 million. A year ago, Young received $26.1 million in guarantees, but that was on a six-year contract.
Savage and the Browns took a risk by giving up a sixth year on the deal. The top 16 picks selected in the first round of the NFL draft can sign deals of six years maximum and the trend in the NFL is to make sure the deals are as long as possible so as to buy out a year of free agency.
"That's a consideration, but we have a history of dealing with the agent in this," Savage said. "We took Braylon Edwards No. 3 overall (in 2005) and he has the same agent."
Agent Peter Schaffer was willing to take less guaranteed money than Young to get the shorter deal. The hope by Thomas and Schaffer is that he will be able to hit free agency in 2012
"We'll see where the market is at that point, but giving up that now for the return later could pay off in a big way," Schaffer said. Such a bet is generally considered safe for highly drafted left tackles because their success rate is high and injury rate tends to be low.
As for Savage, he said there are advantages for the club.
"We'll see where the franchise number is after five years and we'll get a chance to evaluate him for five years, so we'll see," Savage said.
Meanwhile, Brady Quinn, taken with the 22nd overall pick, missed the opening day of Browns' training camp on Friday.
"A lot is going to have to change for a deal to get done anytime soon," Quinn's agent Tom Condon said Friday night.
By contrast, Savage expressed much more optimism: "I think we should be able to bang this out pretty quickly now that we've gotten the other guys done. We've talked to Tom three times already, so we're pretty well along in the process."
The problem is Savage doesn't handle the negotiations on a day-to-day basis. Condon has been dealing with Browns director of football operations Trip MacCracken. Condon, who represents quarterbacks such as Peyton Manning, Marc Bulger and Chad Pennington, declined to discuss specifics of the negotiations.
However, the sticking point is likely how Quinn can achieve a $5 million salary escalator in the fourth year of what is expected to be a five-year deal (that is the maximum for players selected in the bottom half of the first round).
In the past, Condon has negotiated deals for quarterbacks such as Byron Leftwich and Matt Leinart that have the escalator kick in if the player participates in 55 percent of the offensive downs in two of the first three years or in 70 percent in any one of the first three years.
It's believed that the Browns want a much higher threshold of play time, but Condon has shown the willingness to hold out quarterbacks. Leinart missed the first two weeks of training camp last year before Arizona finally agreed.
The curious part of the talks is that the $5 million escalator could end up being a relatively small amount of money against the salary cap in the 2010 season. By that time, the cap is expected to grow to approximately $130 million from its current $109 million.