Judging by the contracts signed by first-round picks this season, it paid to wait.
Even until after the season started.
The top two rookie contracts signed this season belong to No. 1 overall pick JaMarcus Russell and No. 14 overall pick Darrelle Revis, according to a member of the NFL Players Association, a general manager and an unassociated agent who were surveyed by Yahoo! Sports.
Russell and Revis were the longest holdouts this year, Russell’s deal getting finalized last week after he missed all of training camp while agents Eric Metz and Ethan Locke stood firm on full guarantees for injury and skill. Revis’ deal, which was negotiated by Neil Schwartz and Jonathan Feinsod, got done on Aug. 16 after the cornerback missed the first three weeks of camp. Ultimately, Revis agreed to a six-year deal rather than the usual five-year contract given in his spot of the NFL draft.
“Those two deals really stand out,” the general manager said. “There are some other good ones when you look around, but those two will make it really hard next year for the rest of the league to negotiate with. If agents start to expect the numbers that came out of those deals, next year could be a real headache for the league. I just don’t want a high pick, I can tell you that.”
While Russell did not get a traditional signing bonus or option bonus that had become standard over the years, he gets what is essentially a de facto signing bonus next March. At that time, Russell will receive a $19.9 million advance on future salaries. The $19.9 million is part of $29.2 in overall bonuses, which are fully guaranteed for injury and skill.
In addition, including a one-time, $3 million incentive Russell gets if he plays 35 percent this season, 45 percent in either the second or third seasons or passes for 1,600 yards in any of those first three season, Russell’s cash flow over the first three and four years of the contract are a huge increase over 2006 No. 1 pick Mario Williams.
Russell will receive $34.5 million in the first three years and $44.5 million over the first four. By comparison, Williams gets $21 million over the first three and $31.75 million over the first four. That’s an increase of more than 60 percent over the first three years and more than 40 percent over the first four years.
“That’s a staggering difference and the Williams deal was really good a year ago considering what could have happened,” the agent said, alluding to the fact that Williams was not expected to go No. 1 overall in 2006. If not for a late change of heart by the Houston Texans, who had wanted Reggie Bush until the final few days before the draft, Williams might have dropped to No. 4 overall.
However, the agent said the Russell deal could be an isolated example, unless the No. 1 pick in 2008 is also a quarterback.
“Russell got a quarterback premium, which is normal for that spot, especially when you factor in the one-time bonus … The deal that really could impact teams is the Revis deal because he’s a cornerback, not a quarterback,” the agent said.
Revis’ deal, an extremely complicated contract which is more than 50 pages in length and had to be reviewed for three days by the NFL and NFL Players Association before it was finalized, includes a guarantee of at least $12 million over the first four years. The deal is voidable after four years, but includes a buy back for the Jets that make it worth $32 to $36 million guaranteed depending on a complex point formula.
The buy back features a $5 million guarantee in the fifth year of the deal and then a guarantee of $11 million, $13 million or $15 million in the sixth year. The amount depends on a point system that includes playing time, postseason honors and other factors.
Essentially, if Revis is an average player, he will make $11 million. If he’s a good player, he’ll make $13 million. If he’s a star player, he’ll make $15 million. Most important, if Revis is a top player and the Jets have to franchise him after the sixth season, he will make at least $18 million as a franchise player.
Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum, who is the team's lead negotiator on most contracts, declined to comment about the contract. However, it’s believed Tannenbaum was motivated to do a six-year contract because of two previous deals he negotiated, one that was a huge success and another that was a failure. In 1998, Tannenbaum wrote the contract that helped the Jets land running back Curtis Martin as a restricted free agent from the New England Patriots. Martin went on to gain at least 1,000 yards in each of the next seven seasons.
In 2003, however, Tannenbaum lost wide receiver Laveranues Coles as a restricted free agent to the Washington Redskins. Although Coles eventually returned to the Jets, his loss to the team for two years was considered costly and was blamed largely on Tannenbaum.