Chicago Sun-Times

Dollars and sense: Here is why the Bears like to sign draft picks early

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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.

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11 Comments

Brad,

On Around the League on NFL Network it was said that there are rumors about the Bears looking into Toomer for a vet receiver. Is any of it true? And if so what are the odds the Bears sign him?

Brad,
Great article. I think it is important to note that in most cases, the bears are very quick to lock up their key young players for the long haul compared to many franchises, so while the rookie contract is "brutal" in the eyes of Rosenhaus, the second contract is usually reasonable and fair for the marketplace. I think you will see when the rookie cap comes into play next year that the Bears had it right all along. I think Taylor Mays will be kicking himself for going back to school, as will Bradford and McCoy

But kudos should go out to Stein, as he always get our players where they belong...on the field when training camp starts. Outside of Benson, it has been pretty smooth sailing for the last several years.

I still think the Bears overpaid for Hester, but hopefully I'm proven more and more wrong over the next three years.

Brad,

Any info on a new deal for Cutler? I think almost anyone would say it is premature, but I remember hearing that he wanted a new deal in Denver and any team that was able to trade for him would have to address a new contract.

Thanks for your all your work to get us through the lean months!

well done biggsy. nice to know that week in and week out, fans can find an informed view on da bears off season activities.

I'm with the other bloggers on this one, Brad. Thanks for giving us something to read during the offseason. I don't know how you're going to keep this going all the way to training camp, but I'm pulling for you. Thanks for being our Bears Insider.

One more thing Bears fan, should we start putting pressure on JA to get a deal done for Anquan Boldin before training camp or are we going to have to be patient and wait for Brandon Marshall to be reunited with Cutler next year?

I would say another thing the Bears have going for them in signing draft picks early is that they should be developing a good reputation for rewarding their own with handsome mid-career contracts. The Bears are doing what should be done, rewarding players who have proven themselves in the NFL, while squeezing pennies out of the unproven rookies. If a rookie has confidence in his ability to show it on the field, he should be happy to sign that first contract with the Bears even if it's a little bit less than what it might be without another team, becasue once he proves his stuff, he'll get his payday with the next contract. Examples include Tommy Harris, Briggs, Urlacher, Hester, Gould and probably otehrs I can't think of.

The Bears didn't overpay for Hester, they put together the contract in the completely wrong way. It should have been half kick returns and half receiving. They should have written it such that if he sucked at receiver and remained a top kick returner, he'd be the highest paid returner in the league (incentives for things like percentage of kickoffs where we start on the 40+ (or score), percentage of punts returned more than X yards). If he became a number 1 receiver at the cost of his kick returning, he got paid like a number 1. If he excelled at both, he should have been the highest paid receiver in the league. Instead he got a WR contract only and stopped caring about kicks, and we've paid for it.

Brad,

Thanks for giving us something to live for during the draught between the draft and training camp. Please keep it coming!

Along these lines, in an era characterized by dwindling newspaper sales, the Suntimes and Tribune would be wise to publish a daily page on covering the Bears. Advertise, and publish it in print only, to feed the Chicago Bears fans. I'd buy it every day, even at 75 cents. We all know it's a Bears town.

Great article, and I don't see why teams should have to ever give players guarantees that they'll get their money if their production drops off..If their numbers can prove that they're still good, they should get their money, if not, well they don't deserve the money. Much like a person who slacks off at work :)

I agree with everyone else: Great article! Thanks for satisfying my need for Bears information 24/7! Keep it up!

Hester made some tough catches for us last year but we do him an injustice becouse Orton flat out missed him on anything over thirtyfive yards.Add five to eight bombs to his stats and he's back in the pro-bowl. The threat of a sixty yard bomb opens up play action like we had with grossman only better because every time rex was touched he coughed it up.

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This page contains a single entry by Brad Biggs published on May 8, 2009 10:04 AM.

Source: Tight end Michael Gaines to visit Bears on Monday was the previous entry in this blog.

Bears still looking for camp leg, could call on Zac Atterberry is the next entry in this blog.

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