— When Sam Bradford finally signs his name to a document that is roughly the size of a department store catalogue, it will culminate a process months in the making.
Deciding who to draft with the first pick in the draft is one thing. Getting his name on paper is another.
Usually, both parties know what to expect because they have been having discussions for weeks. Once the team zeroes in on a player or a group of players, it usually starts kicking contract tires.
It is not unusual for the agent of the player who will be chosen first and the general manager who holds the first pick to get together over a T-bone in Indianapolis during the scouting combine. It is there where parameters might be floated.
“Usually, you’ll have preliminary conversations that stretch over several weeks,” said Tom Condon of CAA, who represents Bradford. “Then they intensify and you get down to more specific proposals.”
Condon should know. If Bradford is chosen first, as expected, Condon will have represented six of the past seven players who were selected No. 1 overall in the draft.
Condon says there is no typical negotiation for the first pick in the draft. “Each one of them is different because you’re dealing with a different club, different personalities and their thoughts on what’s important to them,” he said. “And each of our players is distinct — from Jake Long to Mario Williams to Eli Manning to Alex Smith to Matthew Stafford.”
Another issue that makes each negotiation unique is the collective bargaining agreement. The rules in the CBA change every year, so how the contract is structured for the first pick in the draft never is the same as it was the year before. An agency such as Condon’s that thinks it might have the first pick in the draft will spend hours and hours researching potential changes before ever talking with a team.
There is a lot more than just compensation involved. There is the length of the deal, the cash flow, the amount of the guarantee and how it will be paid, the average per year, bonus clauses and escalators.
When the contract gets done depends on a number of factors, including whether the player believes he has leverage. When Long was chosen first by the Dolphins in 2008, he agreed to the deal several days before the draft, in part because he knew if he was not chosen first, he might fall far enough in the first round that it would have cost him significant money.
Stafford also signed before the draft. If the Lions didn’t take him first, there was uncertainty about where he would go — so he was motivated to sign.
Others, such as Williams and Peyton Manning, did their deals after the draft.
Bradford is not expected to sign anytime soon, though that could change. He is secure knowing he can’t fall far in the draft. The Rams, meanwhile, have no reason to rush a deal through.
Teams that pick first usually don’t try to squeeze the player they draft as much as some teams that pick later in the round might. They can’t afford a holdout or even an acrimonious beginning.
“When it comes down to it, those picks at the very top are a little different,” Condon said. “The stakes are very high.”
And the team with the first pick has too much to lose. “The team trying to negotiate the deal had the worst record in football,” said one veteran front office man. “They have drafted a player they hope is perceived as the savior. The last thing they want to get themselves into is a position where the savior isn’t in camp. It’s no win. That leverage has led to these increases over time.”
The increase in guaranteed money from one year to the next is close to 20 percent. For Bradford, that could mean about $8 million more than Stafford’s $41.7 million guarantee — or close to $50 million total.
The riches will extend to players beyond Bradford. “The increases used to be just for the first pick, then they bled down to picks three and four, and now they’ve bled all the way down to about pick 10,” the front office man said. “It’s really because all of those teams are trying to paint that player as a game changer, and they get crushed leverage wise.”
It’s why “signability” has become another factor in evaluating players at the top of the draft.
A: Spiller is not seen as a complete back, based on information from the scouts I have spoken with. They say he is not a real elusive runner, and he isn’t very good at pounding it between the tackles.
Of course, he does have home run speed and is capable of going the distance on any play. He reminds me a little of Chris Johnson—and we all know he was underrated. It will be interesting to watch how Spiller develops as a pro.
A: The Bears tried to address as many of their needs as possible given their budget constraints. The folks who count the beans have something to say about who gets signed and who doesn’t. General manager Jerry Angelo couldn’t go out and sign six premium free agents if he wanted to.
The Bears chose to put most of their budget into Peppers. It’s difficult to argue with that move, given the fact that their defense needs a great pass rusher to be effective and they did not have one. Peppers is a rare talent, even if he’s not perfect. It’s difficult to envision him not having a significant impact. Now the Bears have to hope they can develop some young players to fill some of their other holes.
A: His credentials are impressive. I know that one day he is going to be in the discussion for the hall of fame, at the very least. The problem the board of selectors is getting into is there are more and more wide receivers with eye-popping numbers. And so far, the hall of fame has kept a lot of them out. A logjam is starting to build up.
Among those waiting are Cris Carter, Tim Brown and Andre Reed — all of whom were finalists a year ago. The voters have to find a way to interpret modern statistics of receivers and compare them to the accomplishments of players at other positions — and that is no easy task.
A: Regardless of what you think of Cerrato as a decision maker, you have to admit he has intimate knowledge of the process and has access to information streams that many others do not. Just because a person was fired from a front office job does not mean he won’t be an interesting, informative and entertaining talking head.
And also remember this: Cerrato wasn’t an emperor in Washington. He was part of a decision making team — a team that often was driven by owner Dan Snyder. It would be unfair and inaccurate to attribute every bad decision the Redskins made to Cerrato.