The Three Unsigned Rookies


With training camp underway there are three rookies who remain unsigned. The unsigned rookies are Jonathan Cooper (7th pick, Arizona), Dee Milliner (9th pick, New York Jets), and Chance Warmack (10th pick, Tennessee).  Reports seem to indicate that none are close to signing with their respective teams. With the NFL essentially slotting salaries for their picks, not to mention the fact that the first six picks are under contract, it makes the fact that these teams seem to be so far away from signing these players puzzling.

The League fought back this year on the offset provisions and seemed to win more often than not. As was tradition neither the Lions nor Rams fought the issue, but many others did and won. The Miami Dolphins contract model used with QB Ryan Tannehill became a compromise model for a number of NFL franchises and their draftees. The Dolphins model did not include the no offset provision but improved the cash flows of the contract by paying all but the minimum salary for the year during training camp in the form of a roster bonus.

This is the model that seems to have been used(details on the contract are not yet available) by Eric Fisher, the number 1 pick in the draft, and was clearly used by picks 3,4, and 6. Last year the first 9 picks in the draft received full guarantees with no offset language. This year the Jaguars have been the only team in the top 8, not including the Lions and Rams who do not make it an issue, to sign on the players terms.

Of the three picks Cooper is the only one that could logically be fighting over offset language. Last year the 7th pick received a contract with no offset language and he can point to the 5th and 8th picks this year also having no offsets. While those teams are the Lions and Rams its at least still a point to be made. Cooper’s agent, Todd France, fought hard for this last year for Justin Blackmon and won the battle with the Jaguars.  Blackmon’s contract did not contain a full signing bonus, but that was due to off the field issues and not due to the offset language. Blackmon was not signed until August 7th.

Milliner is one I discussed here as soon as the draft ended. He is represented by the same people who represented Tannehill last season so one would think they would be open to the same structure being used by the other top draft selections.  With so many teams using the structure the worry of it somehow being used against them in recruiting should be gone. It is hard to understand how the two sides here can supposedly be so far apart considering that the offset fight has been so much more of a compromise than in the past.

I have to think that the cash flow timing is the issue here and this may be on the Jets more than Milliner. The Jets may feel that Tannehill, as a QB, was a premier player and could justify the offseason bonus money. However Milliner is not a premier player and they should not compromise on all cash coming during the season. If that is the line of thinking it may be complicated by Geno Smith, the Jets second round draft pick, receiving workout bonus money in his contract. I guess it is possible that Milliner prefers a reporting bonus to a workout bonus and the Jets prefer a workout bonus, but I have a feeling its just the idea of offseason money. DJ Hayden of the Raiders is the only draft pick selected beyond number 6 with yearly offseason bonus money. Tannehill signed on July 29 so maybe a resolution is imminent.

Warmack being unsigned is the hardest of all to imagine. Last year the 10th pick in the draft received offset language. So did the 11th. None of those players received offseason bonus money. This year more players are signing contracts with offset language. There really should be no hold up. Unless Tennessee is refusing to guarantee 4 years of salary, which is highly unlikely, this is the one contract where the lack of a signing may be more on the player than the team.


Panthers sign Star Lotulelei and it could impact the Jets?


The Carolina Panthers signed DT Star Lotulelei today to a 4 year contract. The contract should be worth a fully guaranteed $9.604 million with a $5.365 million signing bonus, but that is not the important thing to discuss. According to Joel Corry Lotulelei’s contract contains the standard offset provisions most contracts contain. For those unfamiliar with offsets it essentially is a provision to not allow a player to double dip in the event he is cut. Basically it says that a player is worth X amount of dollars to play in the NFL regardless of where he is. Having no offsets means that the player is worth X amount of dollars just to that one team meaning he is allowed to earn more if the original team cuts him.

So why is this a big deal and what in the world does it have to do with the Jets?  Lotulelei’s draft slot (the 14th pick of the 1st round) and drafting team provided one of the more intriguing side stories in the NFL draft. In 2011 the Panthers were the lone NFL team to give a contract to a player in the top 10 with no offsets in the contract. This was given to Cam Newton, the number 1 pick in the draft. The only other team to give a deal with no offsets was the St. Louis Rams whose deal with Robert Quinn, selected with the 14th pick in the draft, also contained no offsets. Last season the Rams again had the 14th pick in the draft and again gave a deal with no offsets this time to Michael Brockers.

The Panthers were the first team to sign a player to a contract in the top 10 last year, signing LB Luke Kuechly to a fully guaranteed contract containing no offset language. The deal was a blow to the NFL as Kuechly was only the 9th pick in the draft setting the stage for agents to argue that all players selected in front of him should have no offsets in their contract. It was an argument that worked. While contract negotiations dragged on until at least July the top 7 picks in the draft all ended up receiving no offset provisions in their contracts including troubled Justin Blackmon. The Dolphins were able to draw the line and held firm on Ryan Tannehill where he took a deal at the 8th slot in the draft with offset provisions.

All eyes would be on Carolina this year because last year teams could at least argue that the Panthers just did not care about offsets, similar to the Rams and to a lesser extent the Detroit Lions. With the Rams twice giving no offsets to the 14th pick the precedent was set for the Panthers to do the same. Except they didn’t, giving far more credibility to 9th pick in the draft deserving to have a truly fully guaranteed deal.  The Jets own the 9th pick in the draft this season, used on CB Dee Milliner.

Normally I would say that the team picking 8th has the most important deal because the Dolphins laid out a model framework containing offsets and roster bonuses that an agent would want to break, except the 8th pick belongs to the Rams who simply do not care. So the 8th pick is going to get a contract with no offsets leaving the Jets to battle things out with Milliner, the CB that is unfairly going to be compared to Darrelle Revis and any later season signing is only going to bring up bad memories of Revis and his holdouts. In many ways the 9th pick becomes the most important in the draft (unless the Dolphins can again hold firm on offsets for the 3rd pick in the draft, a much harder task than last years fight with Tannehill).

Joel Corry made an important point when I was discussing this on Twitter that Milliner’s new agents are the same agents, Pat Dye Jr and Bill Johnson, who represented Tannehill last year.  That gives the Jets a specific point to exploit as the agents did agree to a structure with Tannehill that contained offset language. The Jets might be forced to pay money earlier than desired in executing that same contract, but it could get their player into camp right away. At the same time his agents may not want a stigma that they are the group that cant seal the deal on the no offset provisions. Its actually a small point that makes the hiring a little strange from Milliner’s perspective as there may have been other agents that did secure their clients no offsets last year that were also interested in Milliner.

All in all it makes for what could be a sticky situation for the Jets and by extension perhaps the Titans who picked 10th and could see G Chance Warmack look to wait to see what occurs with Milliner before signing. I would imagine that with Lotulelei now signed the door is opened for the 11th thru 13th picks to sign this week as there should be no hangups in those contracts now at all.