The 22nd-25th Overall NFL Draft Picks Deserve to Have Their 4th Year Guaranteed

Sigmund BloomNFL Draft Lead WriterJuly 5, 2012

BEREA, OH - MAY 12: Quarterback Brandon Weeden #3 of the Cleveland Browns during the second day of minicamp at Cleveland Browns training facility on May 12, 2012 in Berea, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
Jason Miller/Getty Images

More than 85 percent of the 2012 NFL draft picks are signed, which should come as no surprise with the institution of the rookie salary under the new collective bargaining agreement signed last year.

The top eight overall picks remain unsigned, which should also come as no surprise as seemingly small gaps between team and player terms are magnified by the size of the contracts at the top of the draft.

What is surprising is that the 22nd, 23rd, 24th and 25th picks are all still waiting to sign on the dotted line with their teams. Len Pasquarelli of the Sports Exchange reports that the "logjam" is because of disagreement over whether and how much of the fourth year under contract is guaranteed

According to Pasquarelli, 19th overall pick Shea McClellin had his entire fourth year guaranteed by Chicago. 20th overall pick Kendall Wright remains unsigned, likely because 2012 No. 20 pick Adrian Clayborn had all four years guaranteed on his contract. 21st overall pick Chandler Jones had half of his fourth-year salary guaranteed. 26th overall pick Whitney Mercilus and every other signed pick through the end of the first round have no fourth-year guarantee.

Obviously, Riley Reiff, David DeCastro, and Dont'a Hightower (the 23rd-25th picks) are waiting on the contract for 22nd overall pick Brandon Weeden. Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer already reported that Weeden and the team were hung up on whether his fourth year would be guaranteed

Weeden has the "quarterback premium" in his corner, not to mention the high likelihood that he'll start right away, giving the Browns a sense of urgency to get him into training camp on time. Reiff, DeCastro and Hightower are smart to let Weeden's contract set the market for picks in the early 20s.

Reiff and DeCastro were both expected to go higher in the first round, and rumors swirled that the Steelers were trying to trade up for him. Hightower might have a tougher road to hoe because the Patriots won't give him more assurances than they gave Jones.

The big question here is: Why aren't teams willing to show faith in players that they were willing to take in the first round? A full or partial guarantee of a fourth year is essentially a bet that a team's war room made the right call.

The NFL is a brutal business, and this will be the largest contract that some of the first-round picks ever get. The contracts this year are already significantly smaller than what rookies got under the previous CBA.

If Weeden, Reiff, DeCastro and Hightower become productive starters, they will vastly outproduce the terms of their contracts. If they are complete busts, the added money from the fourth-year guarantee will barely increase the magnitude of the cost to the team.

The Browns and Steelers will be depending on Weeden and DeCastro right away, respectively. Reiff and Hightower are future cornerstones for the Lions and Patriots, respectively.

Instead of trying to save a few hundred thousand or a million if those players fail, those teams should be creating positive momentum by thinking about how much they'll still save on that guaranteed fourth year when these players are entrenched starters.