On this date last year, Cliff Stein was signing, sealing and delivering offensive tackle Aaron Brant, a seventh-round draft pick.
So what, you say.
While Brant’s Bears’ career was as insignificant as they come—he received an injury settlement after being waived during training camp—he marked the fifth member of the 2007 draft class to sign by May 23. It was all downhill from there and all but defensive end Dan Bazuin were in the fold by July 3 as the Bears were the first team to have all of their draft picks under contract for the second consecutive summer.
With 12 picks outstanding, Stein faces an uphill battle to achieve that status—and maybe a little mid-July vacation—but there’s no danger of the Bears not having draft picks in Bourbonnais on time. Middle linebacker Brian Urlacher? That might be another story, another story for another day.
It’s been slow going around the league getting draft picks done, unless you’re the Miami Dolphins with four in hand already, or the Atlanta Falcons with quarterback Matt Ryan on board. You can get any selection signed with a $72 million, six-year contract. What’s the challenge in that negotiation?
There are a few ideas floating around as to why it’s been quiet on this front. One is that the Dolphins did some player-friendly deals earlier this week when they signed running backs Jalen Parmele (6th round, Pick 10, 176 overall), Lex Hilliard (6th round, Pick 38, 204 overall) and defensive lineman Lionel Dotson (7th round, Pick 38, 245 overall). The Dophins had some wiggle room with their rookie pool after signing No. 1 pick Jake Long to a five-year deal instead of a six-year contract, and consequently signed these three late-round picks for a little more than the slots were projected to get.
Agents are going to take these deals and run with them, using them as a basis for their own negotiations with other late-round selections. Hilliard was drafted four slots ahead of Bears’ defensive end Ervin Baldwin. Dotson was selected within three slots either direction of three Bears’ picks—linebacker Joey LaRocque, offensive tackle Kirk Barton and wide receiver Marcus Monk. Eventually the marketplace will be better defined, but it’s going to takle a little time.
*** As far as the owners’ vote earlier this week to opt out of the CBA early, that decision should not affect the signing of draft picks after the top half of the second round. So the Bears may have an extra obstacle in working to get deals done with offensive tackle Chris Williams and running back Matt Forte, but again, we’re not talking about issues that are going to drag into late July. Clubs are going to have to take a hard look at the “Deion rule” and how is applies given the current situation.
*** One other idea being tossed around is that the hard roster limit of 80 players is slowing the signing of players. It was a soft cap in the past because of exemptions created by players who participated in NFL Europe. The thinking is that teams want to have as many players around as possible and when you sign a draft pick, he officially counts on the roster. Right now the Bears have 85 players on roster but the 12 unsigned draft picks do not count. Techinically, they count at only 73 right now and could therefore actually sign seven more street free agents. Of course, in order to sign each draft pick, they would have to release one player.
The problem with this theory is that the exemptions from Europe were not even in play at this time of year for teams, not stateside anyway. The Europe players didn’t return until mid-June, meaning teams are operating with the same number of players right now as they did at this time last year.