With 2012 draft choices signing at a rate unprecedented for this early in the offseason, negotiating rookie deals seems to have never been so cookie-cutter, thanks in large part to a first-year wage scale that provides little wiggle room to either club cap experts or to agents.
The CBA extension of last summer has assigned a slotted 2012 cap value, a "year one allotment" for each of the 253 choices, and with a first-year minimum of $390,000 and everyone trying to maximize the upfront money, calculating the signing bonus is a pretty easy formula.
But there is one matter that has slowed the process at the top of the draft -- so-called "offset language."
It seems to be a principle hurdle to the logjam in earliest quadrant of the first round, starting with Andrew Luck at No. 1 overall and including the top eight picks in April's draft.
The offset element has been, well, off-putting to the agents for the top eight.
The offset component -- which, in most easily understandable terms, would grant relief to a franchise that releases a player, and then sees him sign with another team, usually in the final (fourth) year of a deal -- is clearly a sticking point. It might, in fact, be perhaps the biggest one, and certainly the deterrent mentioned most frequently to The Sports Xchange in discussions with agents and team executives involved with top eight picks, that has precluded agreements for the premier choices.
As of Friday morning, none of the top eight prospects chosen in April had yet reached accords on their initial rookie contracts, and dickering over the offset language is believed to be a factor in all eight of those cases.
There was no offset language included in the contract awarded the 2011 top pick, Carolina quarterback Cam Newton, and agents seem to be referring to that when the matter of including an offset clause is broached by teams.
"I'm not familiar with every comma of what's going on with negotiations, but I do know that (the offset language) is a big, big sticking point that we haven't been able to move beyond," one owner with a top five choice confirmed to The Sports Xchange at a one-day meeting in Atlanta on May 22. "Hopefully, we can get past it and get (our guy) signed."
Said one agent: "If they made a mistake taking (my player), and they decide that's the case after three years, why should they get relief? That's on them."
Neither side in the negotiations for the top eight players has budged much.
Granted, there hasn't been as much discussion by Dallas about a deal for the No. 6 pick, cornerback Morris Claiborne, because the Cowboys could not sign him until they received a June 1 cap rebate for the release of Terence Newman, but there were some discussions with agent Bus Cook regarding contract structure, and it's believed the concept of offsets was included.
A dozen of the 32 selections in the first round have already signed, linebacker Luke Kuechly of Carolina the highest at No. 9 (a deal that includes no offset language), but it could still be a while before any of the top eight choices reaches terms.
It might be the only major haggling point remaining in a signing process that has lacked drama to this juncture and figures to feature few, if any, of the usual 11th-hour deals.
There has been some suggestion that all 32 of the first-round selections could have deals before the beginning of July, weeks before teams report to training camps, and probably the earliest date ever for completing all the contracts.
The battle over offset language, though, could still add some intrigue to the process.
Around the league
--While the gridlock over offset language is arguably the primary factor standing in the way of agreements for the top eight players in the draft, a deal for No. 1 overall selection Andrew Luck might be hung up on another element as well: The schedule for the payout of his signing bonus.
Word is that the former Stanford quarterback and agent Will Wilson of the Wasserman Media Group are seeking a more favorable payout schedule than has been offered by the Indianapolis Colts.
As reported last month by The Sports Xchange, the rookie wage scale formula pretty much dictates that Luck will receive the exact same signing bonus, $14,518,544, that Cam Newton got from the Panthers as the top overall draft choice a year ago.
Newton's bonus was meted out by Carolina in two 50-50 installments -- it's rare when top choices actually cashier all of their so-called "upfront" money in a lump payment -- and Luck and Wilson are either bargaining for a different split or, more likely, timing is are more advantageous to the player.
*The Atlanta Falcons haven't ranked in the top half of the league in defense against the pass since 2004, have been in the top half only twice in the past dozen seasons, and haven't finished among the top 10 since 1999.
No one is making any kinds of predictions for the 2012 edition of the secondary, but players feel that the addition of cornerback Asante Samuel via a trade with Philadelphia can catapult the usually mundane unit into prominence.
And not only because Samuel is a four-time Pro Bowl ballhawk, who often jumps routes in front of him and puts the ball in the end zone.
"His confidence is pretty (infectious)," safety Thomas DeCoud told The Sports Xchange this week after an OTA practice in which Samuel made a loud debut with both his play (two interceptions) and his non-stop banter. "He might get beat, but he has the knack of putting it behind him, and trying to make a big play (on) every play. He's definitely got some big (attitude) and that spills over."
Although he rotated sides during practices this week, Samuel is expected to take over at left corner, with franchise player Brent Grimes on the right side, and Dunta Robinson moving inside to the nickel spot.
To his credit, Robinson has taken the move well, and has even noted his preference for playing in the slot, but the Falcons expected a lot more from him when they signed him to a six-year, $57.5 million contract as an unrestricted free agent in 2010.
The truth is that Grimes, who has signed only his one-year tender and doesn't appear close yet to a long-term deal, has become the better corner. And Robinson has had to make way for Samuel, who will add swagger to a unit that has never been higher than 20th under coach Mike Smith.
*Defensive end Chris Kelsay has made 92 of his 116 starts in a 4-3 front during his nine seasons with the Buffalo Bills.
Only one of those starts, though, has been at right end. With the free agent addition of Mario Williams, who has requested to line up on the left, that could change some in '12, and the transformation probably started this week. When Buffalo commenced its OTA sessions, Kelsay lined up at the weak end spot in the 4-3 defense being installed by new coordinator Dave Wannstedt.
Part of that may have been because oft-injured Shawne Merriman, who is moving from linebacker to end in the revamped defense, is still rehabilitating from his latest Achilles surgery. While Mark Anderson, the "other" of the Bills' high-profile free agent additions, and Merriman are expected to provide most of the pass-rush pressure from the right side, Buffalo coaches feel Kelsay will benefit as well, even if he plays only as a part-timer at right end, and perhaps bump his sack total.
"He had a little more 'jump,' it seemed," said one assistant coach in characterizing Kelsay's performance in the OTA sessions.
Kelsay, 32, has been a warrior for the Bills, but has never rung up more than the 5.5 sacks he recorded in 2006. But for most of his career, Kelsay has been an undersized left end, asked to principally anchor versus the run, despite weighing only 260-265 pounds.
The past two seasons, Kelsay struggled some as a strong-side linebacker in the 3-4 defense favored by former coordinator George Edwards. There has long been a suspicion that Kelsay possesses rush abilities that were a little better than his sack totals suggest and, while opportunities on third down might be limited in 2012 by the presence of Anderson and Merriman, this could be the season he confirms that.
*The Bills could be an interesting team in '12, and Merriman, who has been beset by injuries since the outset of the 2008 campaign, figures to be one of the interesting story lines.
The transition to end will have some rough spots, but Merriman has played in the past with his hand on the ground, but most notable might be how he performs versus the run. A former defensive rookie of the year (2005), Merriman has primarily been utilized as a forward-moving defender most of his career, an "edge" rusher in a 3-4 front.
Rushing the quarterback still figures to be the biggest role on a remade Bills' unit that was woefully shy of pressure the past couple years, but Merriman will be asked to anchor against the run as well.
"It's not like I just ignored (the run) in the past," Merriman said. "People will see that I can do it. I've got some staying power."
Of course, merely staying on the field has been difficult for Merriman the past four seasons. Since the beginning of '08, he has appeared in just 23 games, with 21 starts, and posted only five of his career 44 ½ sacks.
The seven-year veteran feels, though, that he is as healthy as he has been for some time -- he was able to get on the field for a Thursday workout, his first full practice in about seven months -- and the Buffalo coaches are guardedly optimistic that's the case.
*As noted in this space several times in the past, the offensive right tackle position is one that has become fairly mediocre around the league, and has been summarily disenfranchised in Pro Bowl choices in recent seasons.
In most years, the Pro Bowl selections feature no more than one right tackle among the six players named to the game at the position.
And on All-Pro teams, voters typically opt for a pair of left tackles to fill out their ballots.
But there is a feeling among personnel people that the higher-profile left tackle spot is also the weakest it has been in several years.
That's somewhat surprising, given that franchises have placed so much emphasis on the left tackle spot in the first round of the draft, and that nearly half the projected left tackle starters in the NFL for 2012 are former first-rounders.
But it might indeed be the case, with the deficiencies of a few tackles perhaps being masked a bit by the fact they play with quarterbacks whose quick releases in general make all of their offensive linemen look better.
Or in offensive designs that highlight the shorter, quicker passing games. One NFC personnel chief opined this week that there are "maybe four" premier pass-protection left tackles in the NFL, and that the position is a bit overrated.
*Indications are that there has been some emphasis during the Philadelphia on-field workouts in getting the team's "bigger" wide receivers more involved, perhaps attempting to take some of the workload off undersized starters DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin.
"They are always going to be the main guys," one offensive lineman said of Maclin and Jackson, "but there's some move to get bigger targets down the field, too."
Veteran Jason Avant has been one of the NFL's most productive No. 3 receivers, averaging 48.0 catches over the past three seasons, and with campaigns of 50-plus receptions each of the past two years. But the Eagles feel that Riley Cooper, a fifth-round choice in 2010 and a rangy guy with sneaky speed, can be a factor in his third year and that even rookie Marvin McNutt, a sixth-round pick who is 6-3, can help.
Along, of course, with placing more emphasis on the tight ends. One of the guys who has stepped up in workouts is miniscule (5-8) Damaris Johnson, a free agent from Tulsa, and the Eagles want some of the bigger guys to follow his lead.
*As he has publicly insisted, Dallas owner/general manager Jerry Jones has no intention of trading veteran cornerback Mike Jenkins, even with the offseason additions of Claiborne in the draft and pricey free agent Brandon Carr.
The rationale of Jones, Dallas officials told The Sports Xchange, is that the $1.05 million salary Jenkins will make in 2012 is still a palatable price to pay for a projected No. 3 cornerback in a league where you need at least three top-shelf corners.
Even if it means that Jenkins departs as a free agent next spring and the team gets nothing in return. At least two teams, in addition to the trade inquiries made by Indianapolis and Detroit, have made overtures about Jenkins since the draft, and been rebuffed. The Dallas source even discounted reports that Jenkins will be dealt much closer to the openings of training camps.
*A few teams have stayed in contact with veteran offensive tackle Max Starks, who basically rescued the Pittsburgh line last season but sustained an ACL injury in the team's playoff loss at Denver, to keep tabs on his rehabilitation.
Starks could be a July signing, or a safety net for a club that either suffers an injury or lacks depth at tackle, but he isn't likely to return to the Steelers again.
The Steelers appear ready to go with second-round rookie Mike Adams (Ohio State) at left tackle or, if he fails, to move second-year right tackle Marcus Gilbert (13 starts as a rookie in 2011), over to the left side.
In fact, before the team grabbed Adams, the plan was to transition Gilbert to the left side, which he played most of his college career.
*Punts: Indianapolis owner Jim Irsay told The Sports Xchange that, while coaches feel Luck has a solid "mental picture" of the team's offense, new coordinator Bruce Arians "can't wait" to get the top overall choice on the field and involved physically with the team. Luck, of course, is the most notable of the rookies around the NFL who have not been able to participate in OTAs because the school year at their respective universities is not concluded. ... A source close to Minnesota cornerback Asher Allen insisted that concussions are only a part of the reason the three-year veteran abruptly retired this week, but would elaborate no further. As reported by Twin Cities-area media outlets, the Vikings will not pursue a portion of the $725,000 signing bonus Allen received in 2009. ... As noted here last week, the Denver Broncos have broached the possibility of an extension for left tackle Ryan Clady, who is entering the final season of his rookie contract, and the two sides have even exchanged a few proposals. But a deal isn't particularly close. The Broncos seem to feel that Clady, regarded by many as one of the game's top pass protectors, has slipped a bit the last couple seasons. The Clady camp has countered the fifth-year veteran has protected well despite playing with some quarterbacks who often held the ball too long, and that last season was an aberration with the mid-season switch to Tim Tebow and an option-based attack. Clady also feels the addition of Peyton Manning, who rarely takes sacks, will only accentuate his protection abilities. ... On the subject of the Broncos and money: The team has yet to decide how to proceed with defensive lineman Ty Warren, who has declined a request to reduce his base salary for 2012 from $4 million to the $1.5 million range. Warren has missed each of the past two seasons, with New England in 2010 and the Broncos last year, because of injuries. But the Broncos want to evaluate some of their young lineman, in particular rookie Derek Wolfe, before deciding on Warren's future. ... Miami coaches haven't settled yet on where third-year defensive lineman Jared Odrick will line up -- not even on if it will be inside or outside -- but the sense is that the former first-rounder (2010) could have a breakout season in the 4-3 scheme being installed by new coordinator Kevin Coyle. Odrick played just one game as a rookie in 2010, and started only seven games last season. ... Not surprisingly, given his track record of shooting from the lip without all the facts, New York Jets linebacker Bart Scott was misinformed when he contended this week that commissioner Roger Goodell cannot cancel the Pro Bowl himself. The CBA affords Goodell and the league to suspend the game without the approval of the NFLPA. ... Even without a coordinator, in the absence of the suspended Gregg Williams, the St. Louis Rams have made it a priority to rebuild their linebacker corps. ... Rookie tailback Chris Rainey has impressed Steelers' coaches with his quickness in OTAs, but people have cautioned that the former Florida star and fifth-round pick hasn't put on pads yet. First-year offensive coordinator Todd Haley envisions Rainey in the same role in which he used Dexter McCluster in Kansas City, but Rainey will have to demonstrate he's a solid receiver. Although he had just 69 receptions in four college seasons, Rainey did have 56 catches total in his final two years with the Gators. ... In the wake of comments from Detroit vice chairman Bill Ford Jr., that some Lions' players lack maturity and have brought criticism on the franchise with recent indiscretions, the Lions have asked some of the more senior players on the young team to shoulder increased leadership roles.
*The last word: "What else is he going to do? He can't sing or dance." -- New Orleans interim head coach Joe Vitt, on his belief that franchise quarterback Drew Brees, who has been absent from OTA workouts, will be at training camp