Rams-Bradford negotiations intensify
As reporting day for the Rams gets closer and closer, negotiations will intensify between the club and Tom Condon, the agent for quarterback Sam Bradford. The goal is to have the No. 1 overall draft pick in April signed, sealed and delivered by the time rookies and selected veterans report next Wednesday afternoon (July 28).
There are two practices Thursday and one Friday for the smaller group, before the remainder of the team reports Friday afternoon and the first full-squad practice occurs Saturday afternoon. The latter practice is the more important one for getting Bradford on the field.
Clearly, the rest of the league is watching what happens with Bradford's contract. Currently, there are no signed first-round picks in the entire NFL and only one in the second round (Jets guard Vladimir Ducasse, 61st overall).
So, what will it take to get Bradford signed? It's difficult to imagine Bradford not receiving between $45 and $50 million "guaranteed" considering the "guaranteed" total of $41.7 million in quarterback Matthew Stafford's 2009 contract with Detroit.
Why is the word guaranteed surrounded by quotes? That speaks to the way contracts have been structured in recent years with high first-round picks. To be entirely accurate, there was really just $17.05 million absolutely guaranteed in Stafford's deal. While he is likely to receive it all, the remainder of the oft-reported $41.7 million figure was tied to playing-time bonuses and whether the Lions picked up an option for 2014.
That option was linked to a $17.4 million bonus in 2010, a common part of rookie contracts that enables teams to circumvent the rookie salary pool. In his rookie season, Stafford was paid a mere $3.1 million. A large part of the guaranteed dollars for high picks are in base salaries paid in the first four or five years of the contract.
Even though there is no salary cap this year in the NFL, there is a rookie pool, so the structure of Bradford's contract will likely be similar to that of Stafford.
However, one complicating aspect of deals this year is that option bonus, which is normally placed in the second year of the contract and isn't really guaranteed. With so much uncertainty related to the collective bargaining agreement, and continued speculation of a potential lockout in 2011, both sides in the negotiations have to figure out how to handle those bonuses.
As for the continued escalation of these deals, most agree it will be a large part of negotiations for the next CBA. However, that's something the Rams can't worry about. They knew where this contract was headed, whether they selected Bradford or someone else.
It would be somewhat less if they didn't have to pay the accepted quarterback premium, but keep in mind the contract signed last year by offensive tackle Jason Smith (the second overall choice in the draft) was directly related to Stafford's deal. Smith essentially received $33 million guaranteed. That total was larger than the $30 million guaranteed tackle Jake Long received the year before, and he was the first pick in the draft.
In 2008, in fact, quarterback Matt Ryan received more guaranteed money ($34.75 million) as the third pick overall than both Long and Rams defensive end Chris Long (second overall).
Thus, it's not much of a stretch to see where Bradford fits. Stafford's practical guarantee was about 20 percent more than Ryan's. A 20 percent increase over Stafford would put Bradford's total right at $50 million.
That's certainly the number Condon would love to trumpet, but he likely won't hold Bradford out if it looks like the total will actually fall just short of that.
For the Rams' part, they have to ignore the chatter that claims they should take a stand and refuse to go along with the contract insanity that exists. They selected Bradford for a reason, just as the Lions did with Stafford last year. The Rams' only objective must be to get Bradford to camp on time, and continue the process that will get him on the field as soon as possible.