Now that the Seahawks have gotten a first look at their two first-round picks, and with training camp only two months away, it’s time to get to work trying to sign them.
If the Seahawks thought guaranteeing $49 million to All-Pro guard Steve Hutchinson in 2006 was a crazy idea, they have learned over the past two years what a wise move that would have been in light of the crazy money they have had to pay high first-round draft picks.
After giving No. 4 overall pick Aaron Curry a non-quarterback record $34 million guaranteed last year, the Seahawks figure to pay upwards of $50 million to No. 6 selection Russell Okung and No. 14 pick Earl Thomas this year.
Signing Thomas shouldn’t be much of a problem. Beyond the top 10, the guaranteed money becomes a lot more manageable and easier to predict based on annual increase and contract slotting.
The tougher negotiation figures to be Okung, who could command nearly $40 million guaranteed as the NFL continues to operate without a rookie wage scale.
Negotiations on Okung’s deal could be complicated by the contract last year between the Cincinnati Bengals and tackle Andre Smith, whom the Bengals drafted sixth overall.
After contentious negotiations that lasted until the end of August, the Bengals and the weight-challenged Smith finally agreed on a four-year, $26 million deal with $21 million guaranteed.
However, after the 2010 season, the team also has an option to make it a six-year, $42 million deal that guarantees $29.5 million.
The most significant part of any NFL contract is the guaranteed money, and the best way to measure rookie deals is by the average guaranteed money per year. That’s where Smith’s deal might screw up the Seahawks’ negotiations with Okung.
The four-year version of Smith’s deal guarantees $5.25 million per year, which is a 25 percent increase over the $4.2 million per year the Jets guaranteed No. 6 pick Vernon Gholston in 2008.
Compounding Smith’s guaranteed cash by 25 percent would mean Okung would be guaranteed around $6.5 million per year of his contract.
But if the Seahawks used Smith’s six-year average of $4.92 million (a 17 percent increase over Gholston’s deal), Okung’s guaranteed money would be more like $5.8 million per year.
So the first step is to bridge the gap between $5.8 million per year and $6.5 million per year.
Then there is the matter of contract length. Teams picking in the top half of the draft are allowed to sign their first-rounders for as long as six years (as opposed to a five-year max for the bottom 16 first-rounders).
Last year, the Seahawks were adamant about a six-year deal for Curry, considering how much they were paying him.
At the high average ($6.5 million) for Okung, the Seahawks would be guaranteeing $39 million in a six-year deal or $33 million in a five-year contract.
At the low end ($5.8 million), they would be on the hook for almost $35 million over six years or $29 million over five.
The Seahawks likely will try to use the raises of the 2009 No. 5 and No. 7 picks as bookend arguments for not giving Okung a 25 percent increase in guaranteed money.
The No. 5 pick last year, Mark Sanchez, got a 22 percent bump over 2008 No. 5 Glenn Dorsey, while the 2009 No. 7, Darrius Heyward-Bey, got a 20 percent raise over 2008 No. 7 Sedrick Ellis.
So, the fairest solution might end up being to negotiate off the idea that Smith is getting a 21 percent raise over Gholston, which would be an average of just over $5 million per year.
Once they settle on Smith’s number, the Seahawks and Okung’s agent then will have to determine what kind of a raise Okung should get off that number.
Gholston received a 23 percent increase over the sixth pick in 2007, LaRon Landry, so Okung’s agent might demand 23 percent. That would be $6.1 million or so per year.
In that case, the Hawks would be guaranteeing Okung between $36 million and $37 million in a six-year deal or about $30 million in a five-year deal.
If the Hawks and Okung’s agent have trouble getting to such a consensus based on last year’s numbers, they will have to wait to see what kind of raises are given to this year’s No. 5 and No. 7 picks, Kansas City’s Eric Berry and Cleveland’s Joe Haden, and try to use those to pinpoint Okung’s value.
However they look at it, the Hawks will be getting a cheaper deal than they got with Curry. They ended up giving him a 32-percent increase in guaranteed money over what Darren McFadden got in 2008. So, even a 25-percent bump for the sixth pick would be a relative bargain for Seattle.
Okung’s total deal figures to be, like Curry’s, worth about $10 million per year. So, the Seahawks have to hope Okung quickly becomes one of the NFL’s top five or 10 tackles, because he will already be making what they are: The top five tackles were paid an average of $10.7 million in 2009 and the top 10 averaged $9.1 million.
The Curry negotiations lasted eight days into training camp last July, so it’s reasonable to expect a similarly long process with Okung, considering the potential hurdles in contract discussions.
However, the Seahawks have the same contract guy, John Idzik, who dealt with Curry last year, and the team obviously was willing to open the checkbook for the linebacker.
So the odds seem good that it won’t turn into the debacle the Bengals and Smith experienced.
As for Thomas, the safety’s deal would seem to be much simpler. After the top 10, the contracts are slotted in a fairly straightforward manner.
The 14th pick in 2008, tackle Chris Williams (Chicago), signed for five years and $16 million, including $10 million guaranteed.
The 14th selection in 2009, cornerback Malcolm Jenkins (New Orleans), signed for five years and $19 million, with $11 million guaranteed.
Following that pattern, Thomas figures to get $12 million guaranteed in a possible five-year deal worth between $20 million and $23 million.
In the end, it appears the Seahawks will be guaranteeing Okung and Thomas between $42 million and $51 million.
They have two months to get it done, and then they can only hope it turns out to be as good a deal as guaranteeing $49 million to Hutch would have been.