The NFL continued its interesting trend from the 2006 draft on Friday with the signings of second-round pick Bernard Pollard by the Kansas City Chiefs (four years, approximately $3 million, including a $1.4 million signing bonus) and fourth-round pick Michael Robinson by the San Francisco 49ers (also for four years).
When it comes to this draft, the signings are coming almost exclusively from the bottom up even though most of the NFL is less than a week from opening training camp.
With the exception of No. 1 overall pick Mario Williams of the Houston Texans, who signed the defensive end before the draft in April, none of the other 31 first-round selections had signed as of Friday. In fact, there was little or no negotiating on all but about a half-dozen picks.
Not that that's completely unusual, but it is extreme this season. Normally, first-round picks tend to sign later than the other picks. The twist this year is that there has been little, if any, negotiating while teams have worked harder on the later-round picks.
While signing the later-round picks has been slightly harder this year due to a 20-percent increase in base salaries but only a 5-percent increase in the rookie salary pool, first-round picks don't face the same issue because of changes in the way contracts are written for higher picks. For instance, option bonuses that come due in the second and third years of many first-round contracts have made it easier to manipulate cap numbers.
"The cap numbers are high enough [in the first round] that you can get all the money you want for your client no matter how you do the math," said agent Ian Greengross, who represents Indianapolis Colts running back Joseph Addai, the No. 30 overall pick.
Thus, many teams have taken the approach of getting the lower picks done first and then dealing with the first-rounders.
"You've seen that happen more and more over the years anyway," said agent Jonathan Feinsod, who represents No. 22 overall pick Manny Lawson of San Francisco. "The top five or six picks are always going to take more work, but I think that teams realize that after that, they have a pretty good idea about where the numbers are going to come in. From there, it's about working out the language of the deal and the escalators."
Or as agent Mark Bartelstein, who represents No. 5 overall pick A.J. Hawk of the Green Bay Packers and No. 12 overall pick Haloti Ngata of the Baltimore Ravens, put it: "We've barely had any discussion with either team, but I expect it will pick up over the weekend."
As for the bottom-up trend, Bartelstein understands the change in philosophy.
"I can certainly see that," he said. "It seems pretty logical for the teams."