As we draw towards the eventuality that the remaining draft picks will sign within the month, we would be remiss if we didn't point out the team's overall struggles getting first round draft picks signed into training camp. After selecting Tight End Jermaine Gresham 21st overall in the 2009 NFL Draft, the Bengals will likely put themselves in a position to wait for guys like Kareem Jackson and Demaryius Thomas to sign with their respective teams, watching the slotting system work itself out.
BEING DICTATED BY THE SLOTTING SYSTEM
Perhaps the most important thing to note regarding the signing process for first round draft picks, is where they're slotted. The unspoken rule is that a guy is paid more guaranteed money the higher he's drafted. Furthermore, there's typically a decent raise from that slot the previous year -- this year's sixth overall draft pick, Russell Okung, will average more guaranteed money than what Andre Smith is "earning".
However, the game of signing first round draft picks tends to turn into a battle of wills; not an orderly gentleman's game. If the Bengals took the bull by the horns and signed Smith early, it's possible they could have saved millions. But they waited. The team watched New York sign Mark Sanchez to a five-year deal which included $28 million guaranteed on June 11. Bengals fault? In truth, not really. First round draft picks are rarely signed in June. Still, this gave Smith's camp negotiating power which was further assisted by the seventh overall draft pick in 2009. On July 30, the Oakland Raiders signed Darrius Heyward-Bey to a five-year deal that paid at least $23.5 million guaranteed. On one hand, the waiting allowed the Bengals to know the ceiling and the floor of what can be given to Smith.
On the other hand, they probably weren't pleased by the cost, considering that last year's fifth and seventh selection saw a 21.4% and 17.0% increase in their guaranteed contracts respectively. More alarming was that Mark Sanchez and Darrius Heyward-Bey received a 46.4% and 40.4% increase in guaranteed money compared to Levi Brown and Adrian Peterson -- the fifth and seventh overall picks in the 2007 NFL Draft. Talk about ridiculously raising rookie contracts, right?
The Bengals were put in a position. Do they want to follow the trend of raising rookie costs, or put themselves in a position to silently protest the issue by not submitting to the trend of where Smith was slotted? The wait to get Smith signed was as much Katie Blackburn's stubbornness as it was Smith's fueling position of what's considered fair -- in this case, the trend of contracts already signed and a proportional increase of the contracts signed by the sixth overall draft pick in years past.
Middle ground was eventually found. The contract signed nearly 30 days after Training Camp -- roughly 14 days before the team's first regular season game against the Denver Broncos -- starts out as a four-year deal with $21 million guaranteed -- which was $2.5 million less guaranteed money than Heyward-Bey. However, if you break down the guaranteed money per year, Smith would average $5.25 million guaranteed -- or $550,000 more than Heyward-Bey. There is an option in 2010 that if the team picks up, the contract would turn into a six-year deal worth $42 million and $29.5 million guaranteed, dropping his average yearly guaranteed money by nearly $300,000. As far as we know, that option has yet to be picked up.
HISTORY OF HOLDOUTS
The Bengals are well known of taking a stubborn position during contract negotiations with their first round draft picks. Sometimes that stubbornness goes deep into Training Camp and other times, an agreement is found just as Training Camp begins. Johnathan Joseph, the 24th overall pick in 2006, signed when Training Camp kicked off. Leon Hall, the 18th overall selection in the 2007 NFL Draft, only missed one practice on the first day of Training Camp. Keith Rivers, the ninth overall selection in the 2008 NFL Draft, signed on August 5, which ended a 10-day holdout. David Pollack held out 19 days and Chris Perry held out 11 days. Levi Jones signed on the first day of camp and Justin Smith signed a day before the team's first regular season game in 2001.
|Year||Player||Pick||Length of Hold Out|
|2009||Andre Smith||6th||Held out 30 days|
|2008||Keith Rivers||9th||Held out 10 days|
|2007||Leon Hall||18th||Missed a practice on the first day of Training Camp|
|2006||Johnathan Joseph||24th||Signed first day of camp.|
|2005||David Pollack||17th||Held out 19 days|
|2004||Chris Perry||26th||Held out 11 days|
|2003||Carson Palmer||1st||Signed two days before the NFL Draft.|
|2002||Levi Jones||10th||Signed first day of camp|
|2001||Justin Smith||4th||Signed one day before first regular season game.|
WHAT ABOUT JERMAINE GRESHAM THIS YEAR?
The best part this year is that the Bengals weren't forced to draft high, taking the 21st overall selection. Still, while it doesn't mean holdouts are completely preventable, the likelihood of one tends to lessen as we get into the second half of the first round draft class. While I don't expect a holdout this year, I wouldn't be surprised if one were to happen. However, one of the things going for the Bengals is that the Houston Texans and Denver Broncos are sandwiched between the Bengals 21st overall position. If the Bengals wait again to see where their draft pick will be slotted in terms of contracts, it might benefit them far more than having a crazy-bat like Al Davis negotiating near them. Also of note, Joe Reedy examined recent 21st overall draft picks, when they signed and when they joined the team.
I'm not an expert on contracts and my prediction powers are typically best used when taking an opposite position of what I believe. If we give Gresham a 20% raise (an arbitrary number) over last year's 21st overall pick, Cleveland's Alex Mack, then Cincinnati will likely sign our newest tight end something in the range of a five-year deal with $13-15 million guaranteed.
Potentially being a key ingredient for the Bengals revamped and renewed passing game, getting Gresham signed on time will be important. While the team may elect to give Reggie Kelly the start early in the season, which I believe they will, the sooner Gresham picks up the passing game and grows as a blocker, the sooner the team has another passing threat on the field with games against New England and Baltimore to kick off the season.