Rookies playing the money game

Jason Cole
Yahoo! Sports

As the Kansas City Chiefs rode a bus to their training camp in River Falls, Wisc., on Thursday, No. 5 overall pick Glenn Dorsey was nowhere to be found.

That's because his signature isn't on a contract yet. In fact, Kansas City team president Carl Peterson said he and agent Joel Segal have had no significant discussions on a deal for Dorsey.

"It's been a busy 48 hours," Peterson said after earlier in the day getting a deal done with No. 15 overall pick Branden Albert, the second of the team's two first-round picks. "Glenn Dorsey's agent, for whatever reason, doesn't want to do anything yet. He said he wanted to wait and see how some of the other first-rounders come in.

"After (overall No. 2 pick) Chris Long signed we thought it would come, but it hasn't. We made a proposal way back in early June. But he knows where we are if he wants to negotiate. Now that we've heard the sixth pick (Vernon Gholston with the New York Jets) is getting close, perhaps matters will change."

Whenever Dorsey does finally sign, he could be part of a stunning increase in the number of rookie players who will get more than $20 million in guaranteed money. Each of the top six players in the draft is expected to top that threshold, which is double the number who received that much in each of the previous two years. A source close to Gholston said he will top that amount on at least a five-year deal, if not significantly top it on a six-year agreement.

It's not altogether unexpected, but it still galls many team and league executives.

"We hear the (NFL) commissioner (Roger Goodell) talk about taking a stand against big contracts for rookies, but then the teams at the top just keep caving in on big contracts," one executive said.

Indeed, despite Goodell's many public statements over the past two months – beginning when the league's owners decided to opt out of the collective bargaining agreement in May – teams continue to spend heavily on the top picks in the draft.

Each of the top four picks in the draft this year signed relatively early and each received at least $26 million in guarantees, including a record $34.5 million for No. 3 overall pick Matt Ryan.

That flurry of deals was led by No. 1 overall pick Jake Long, who signed a five-year deal with Miami before the draft in April that included a guaranteed $30 million. Last week, No. 2 overall pick Chris Long received $29 million guaranteed as part of a five-year deal from St. Louis.

That hasn't helped get a Dorsey deal done. It also hadn't helped the Jets sign Gholston, who missed the first day of training camp Thursday (he did sign on Friday for five years and $50 million, including a $21 million signing bonus). No. 7 overall pick Sedrick Ellis wasn't close on a deal with New Orleans, either.

In fact, No. 10 overall pick Jerod Mayo of New England was the next pick after McFadden to be officially done as of Thursday afternoon; making him the 11th first-rounder to have come to terms out of 31.

Gholston's initial absence marked the second straight year the Jets have not signed their top pick in time for the start of training camp, and the trickle-down effect of large signing bonuses could cause longer-than-expected waits for players such as Dorsey and Ellis.

In fact, one league source made the assessment that the contract for McFadden, who received $26 million in guarantees as the No. 4 overall pick, was not a good deal for the player. That's a staggering statement considering agent Ian Greengross got McFadden $8 million more in guaranteed money than 2007 No. 4 overall pick Gaines Adams received.

Moreover, Greengross closed what had been a more than $13 million gap between the No. 3 and 4 picks in the 2006 draft. In '06, Vince Young received $29.84 million in guaranteed money after receiving a one-time bonus as the No. 3 overall pick. No. 4 pick D'Brickashaw Ferguson received $16.2 million.

This year, the difference between Ryan and McFadden is only $8.5 million.

"I closed the gap from $13 million to $8 million and somebody thinks that's a bad deal?" said Greengross, incredulously. He also said the max likely value of the McFadden deal is $50 million compared to $66 million for Ryan. That difference is not significant given the usual gap between quarterbacks and other position players.

But the bottom line is that the increase in guaranteed money could further the case for the NFL when it negotiates with the players union for greater control of rookie contracts.

Goodell has made the case for controls but has yet to propose a plan to NFL Players Association executive director Gene Upshaw. Conversely, Upshaw has argued that the current structure for rookie contracts works well for the vast majority of drafted players and that the high contracts for top picks only helps veterans get larger deals.

Some veterans, including current NFLPA president Kevin Mawae, have expressed frustration with the large contracts for top picks, and some players have even sided with Goodell in calling for restrictions.

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