Now that we're nearly two weeks removed from the draft, that can only mean one thing.
Training camp is right around the corner.
Cliff Stein will be cranking out contracts for the Bears' nine draft picks soon.
The Bears set a date of July 4 for when they wanted to have all of their rookie contracts completed in 2007. It's well detailed in Drew and Jason Rosenhaus' 2008 book Next Question. The Rosenhaus brothers go into great detail about the background behind the contract they negotiated for tight end Greg Olsen, the Bears' top pick in '07. More on that below.
Without first- or second-round picks, Stein's work as the Bears' contract negotiator should be less complicated this time around. One agent we spoke to earlier this week said he would not be surprised if the Bears have their business wrapped up by mid-June. Stein had 11 of the team's 12 draft picks under contract by July 8 last year. Only first-round pick Chris Williams lasted until July 23.
The team's top pick this season is defensive tackle Jarron Gilbert, who is represented by Frank Bauer, the same man who represents Lovie Smith, Ron Turner and Bob Babich. Gilbert wouldn't be late to training camp if he was the No. 1 overall pick. The player selected in Gilbert's slot in 2008--the fourth pick of the third round--was Carolina cornerback Charles Godfrey. He signed a four-year contract with a signing bonus of $854,200. That represented a 3.5 percent bump over the $825,000 signing bonus Quincy Black, the Tampa Bay linebacker, received in the same spot in 2007. If there is a similar 3.5 percent increase this season, Gilbert's signing bonus will be right near $884,000. If the increase is three percent, the bonus will be closer to $879,800. The difference is an appearance fee at an auto dealership.
Wide receiver Juaquin Iglesias was also drafted in the third round, the 35th choice of the round. Atlanta safety Thomas DeCoud was in the same spot last year and received a $598,000 signing bonus. Working off that, Iglesias will be in line for a signing bonus of around $618,900, again if there is an increase of 3.5 percent.
The players will receive minimum base salaries for four seasons with an escalator in the fourth season to make up for the fact that they will not be able to go to restricted free agency.
But getting back to why the Bears like to move early on the contracts, besides the fact that having the work done will allow Stein some time for vacation. Cedric Benson has a lot to do with. Not only did the former No. 4 overall pick bust out for the Bears, he did so after reporting 35 days late because of a protracted contract holdout.
Here are some brief excerpts from Next Question:
"Cliff told me he wanted my word that we would get the deal done by the Fourth of July. I told him he could count on me and Jason to give it our best shot and act in good faith.
"Training camp started for Chicago on July 26. So why ask us to agree before then? The reason is in the past, Bears first-round picks did not sign until well after the start of training camp. ... As a result, the Bears decided to take a proactive position to prevent any further holdouts and instituted the new policy to make every effort to sign rookies by July 4. ... Why was that a problem? It was a problem because no first-round picks had signed by or before the Fourth of July in several years.
"There are teams that are more than reasonable and happy to overpay to get the deal done. And then there are teams like the Bears who never overpay and almost always underpay.
"The Bears' negotiator, Cliff Stein, is respected by agents as one of the toughest, most knowledgeable, and well-prepared negotiators in the business. ... Year in and year out, Cliff crushed the agents for their first-round picks and forced brutal deals down their throats."
Stein accomplished his goal of getting Olsen done before July 4 with the Rosenhaus brothers, and there is much more detail in the book. Hitting an Independence Day deadline, real or perceived, shouldn't be an issue this time around. But the Bears don't just try to be ahead of the curve with rookie contracts so they can kick up their feet in the weeks leading into training camp. If they are ahead of the market with deals, they have a better chance of setting their terms for contracts.
"I think Cliff has probably done a pretty good job of saving the team some money over the years,'' one agent said.
In the contract for running back Matt Forte, a second-round pick, the Bears were one of the few teams in that round that did not have a backloaded guarantee in base pay to cover diminishing skill. Forte received a signing bonus of $1,533,333 and then had $528,000 of his base salary of $555,000 in 2011 guaranteed vs. injury only. The vast majority of picks in the round had their guarantee in 2011 covered vs. injury and skill, meaning if the team cut them because they were no longer good enough (not because they were injured), the player would still receive the money.
It's a moot point for Forte. He has triggered payment of that $528,000 already in the form of a not-likely-to-be-earned incentive based on his performance and playing time in 2008. If he continues to excel, he'll likely have a new contract before 2011. At the time the Bears did the deal with Forte, the one-time guarantee could not be protected vs. skill in the fourth year because of the way the CBA was being interpreted by everyone. A special master ruling in late July changed that, but the Bears had told Forte the same thing they told Rosenhaus--they wanted a deal done on or around July 4. As it turned out, Forte's deal held up strong.
It was a not-so-minor detail in the writing of the contract. Consider the case of cornerback DeAngelo Hall. The Oakland Raiders cut him in the middle of last season when he was in the first year of a contract that reportedly contained $23 million guaranteed. Hall had only seen $7 million but the Raiders didn't owe him a cent of the remaining $16 million in guarantees because it was guaranteed vs. injury only. Oakland cut him because he couldn't cover a twin-size bed with a king-size sheet. Not because he was hurt. Hall went on to sign a prove-it deal with Washington and then cashed in again in free agency, but that $23 million guaranteed was never what it was cracked up to be because it was guaranteed vs. injury only.
"The Bears like to go early because they want to dictate structure,'' another agent said. "You're' kind of in a vacuum with them because no other deals have been done. At the end of the day, I think the deals probably hold up though.''
The Bears announced the signing of five of their 12 draft picks last year on May 30. Stein has three weeks to strike before that with a smaller draft class. Stay tuned.