The Seahawks have signed all of their rookie draft choices, well in advance of training camp.
The 11th and final pick to sign became official Monday, according to the NFL transaction wire: linebacker Cody Barton, the third-round pick from Utah, signed his four-year rookie contract.
Barton has been playing middle linebacker during organized team activities and minicamps this spring, while All-Pro Bobby Wagner has been present but not practicing awaiting his new contract. Barton has also been at weakside linebacker. Coaches have raved at how quickly he has picked up the Seahawks’ defensive playbook and calls.
Training camp begins in six weeks.
It was a matter of when, not if, all 11 rookie draft choices would sign. The league’s most recent collective bargaining agreement slotted rookie contracts with assigned salaries, for the most part, thus almost eliminating rookie holdouts.
Rookie first-round pick Russell Okung missed the first six days of his and coach Pete Carroll’s first Seahawks’ training camp in 2010 while in hard-ball talks on his first NFL deal.
I still remember walking on the Eastern Washington University campus on a broiling summer day in Cheney in 2006 when Kelly Jennings drove up on a weekday morning during practice to training camp, after veterans had already started work. Yes, even Jennings, a forgotten Seahawks cornerback and first-round pick the team eventually gave up on and traded, once had a contract situation before ever playing an NFL game.
Heck, there used to be “training camp holdout watch lists.”
The league can thank Sam Bradford for ending its previous rookie nonsense.
In 2010, the rookie quarterback and number one-overall pick from Oklahoma got $50 million in guaranteed money from the St. Louis Rams on a six-year, $78 million contract. Bradford’s deal was at the time the most guaranteed cash in NFL history— for a kid just out of college who had never played in a pro game. Such was the result of years of market inflation and leveraging between the agents for top rookie draft picks and teams with ballooning revenues and cash to spend.
Back then, veteran players were irate their teams were giving college kids more money than they had earned in years.
It’s clear now the players largely lost ground in the 2011 negotiations with owners over a new collective bargaining agreement, yielding too much of league revenues, among other issues. But one accomplishment the union did for its veterans in negotiating the current CBA that runs through 2020 is creating a schedule for, and cap, on rookie contracts.
Deals for drafted rookies are now four years, with teams holding a fifth-year option on first-round picks. And the money allotted to all picks in all seven rounds are slotted. NFL rookie salaries are now in relation to each year’s salary cap for all players on a team’s roster, and based on a league-defined rookie compensation pool. That pool isn’t split evenly among the teams. It’s divided in proportion to each team’s total number of draft picks and where those selections were in each round.
So, in general, the worst team in the NFL the previous season gets a larger portion of the rookie compensation pool than the defending Super Bowl champion. Seattle got more of the pool when it traded this spring to increase from a league-low four choices in the 2019 draft ultimately to 11.
To further limit spending on rookie deals, this CBA has a “25-percent Increase Rule.” That mandates any rookie’s annual total of base salary plus bonus money cannot increase by more than 25 percent from any one year to the next within his first contract. So even inflation on any rookie contract is now capped.
Comparing Bradford of eight years ago to now: this year’s first-overall pick Kyler Murray, coincidentally also a quarterback from Oklahoma, signed a fully guaranteed four-year deal with Arizona last month worth $35.16 million with a $23.6 million signing bonus.
The top rookie contract has gone from Bradford’s $78 million total and $50 million guaranteed to not even half that, in nine years. Name another NFL money figure that hasn’t gone up but decreased, and by more than 50 percent, over the last decade of runaway revenues.
Veteran players, of course, love the new rookie pay scale. Teams do, too. Owners are absolutely for anything that limits their costs while their revenues continue to rise year after year.
And coaches such as Carroll love that all of their draft choices are now in training camp on time and under contract.