With the two top quarterbacks signing insane deals this offseason (especially the Lions Matt Stafford signing a six-year, $72 million contract with $41.7 in guarantees), it's time to start focusing on signing top draft picks before the start of training camp next month.
One of the most confusing parts of the NFL is rookie contracts and how they are structured. The league imposes rules that dictate how much a team can allocate that season to signing their draft picks even if their cap space is much higher. The NFL Players Association refers to it as a "cap within a cap."
The rookie pool for each team is determined by number of draft picks and pick position. It's easy to guess that the Lions received the highest rookie pool number (nearly $8.1 million) because of their 10 picks and first overall position.
The Seahawks have been given a pool number of about $5.2 million, with most of that number likely a result of linebacker Aaron Curry's No. 4 overall draft position.
The Seahawks have 48 days to reach an agreement before the start of training camp to avoid a holdout situation. I looked at numbers from last year's draft, trying to determine what neighborhood a contract the 'Hawks can expect to give Curry.
Expect Curry to be the last of the rookies to sign, if for no other reason, to maximize the amount of the rookie pool he commands since his contract will be many times larger than second round pick Max Unger and the other draft picks.
All will sign contracts of a maximum length of four years and salaries within a close range of the rookie minimum, with Unger and third-rounder Deon Butler getting slightly more lucrative deals.
NFLPA rules for rookie contracts allow for players drafted in the top 16 to sign contracts up to six years in length. Based on the rookie pool number the Seahawks have, I would assume that they will sign Curry for the maximum six years in order to spread the large guarantee he will receive over a longer period of time since guarantees are split equally over the course of the deal.
The average guarantee in last year's draft between picks No. 4 through No. 6 was $23.5 million. So for sake of conversation, let's say that Curry is awarded a $23.5 million guarantee over six years. That would count for over $3.9 million against that rookie pool number.
Here's where it gets tricky. That guarantee leaves only $1.3 million to sign the rest of the draft picks, as well as Curry's 2009 salary.
What does that all mean? Back loaded contracts and probably a smaller guarantee for Curry with higher base salaries early.
The current rookie minimum salary is $310,000 this year, so again, for sake of conversation, let's say all the other rookies sign contracts with first year salaries at the minimum and another $400k allocated to signing bonuses for the 2009 season (Unger with a likely four-year contract and $1 million bonus for example).
That would remove $2.26 million from the rookie pool number leaving the Seahawks with $2.94 million in first year money to offer Curry.
Say his first year salary is the minimum to increase the size of the bonus, the maximum bonus the 'Hawks could offer him is near $16 million, which would be on par with the first LB selected last year in Cincinatti's No. 9 overall pick, Keith Rivers (six years, $23 million, $15.6 million guaranteed).
All signs point to Curry exceeding the contract awarded to Rivers, though, as Curry was the No. 4 overall pick. As the last few drafts have shown, his number should be somewhere closer to a $10 million a year deal with a back loaded pay scale.
Seeing how the Seahawks negotiate this will be interesting.
The NFLPA also has a "25 percent rule" that states a rookies contract may not escalate by more than 25 percent of the first year pay rate per year during the entirety of the contract. So, if his base salary for year one was $310,000, the maximum his contract can be worth by year six is $698,000.
That would mean the entire six-year contract is only worth $3.02 million in base salary of a contract averaging $10 million a year, which would mean almost $47 million in signing bonuses and incentives.
That would be impossible for the Hawks to fit under their rookie pool number (not to mention, giving $47 million in guarantees is just insane).
There are a lot of numbers for the Seahawks to figure out before getting Curry to camp.
People wonder why it takes so long for top rookie contracts to get signed sometimes, well, the truth is these numbers could drive anyone insane. I am just from trying to figure it out for myself.
Expect the contract to be between $50 million and $60 million and most likely a six-year deal. The guaranteed number is what will be interesting, history would have us believe it should be in that $23 million range, but how its allocated is a sneaky endeavor.
Curry has shown a true passion for the game when even publicly stating he would take a pay cut from last year's No. 1 pick to be the Lions top pick this year. Don't expect him to expect the same from the Seahawks, but do expect to see him signed and on the practice field in late July, however the math works out.
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