The NFL Draft is followed by a snail-like timetable, draftees are raring to go, but rules dictate they must be signed to participate in training camps that will open at the end of the month. There is institutionalized inertia in NFL football draft pick signings.
Clubs see it in their interest to hold onto signing bonus dollars in their own bank accounts as long as possible. Most of the NFL goes on vacation in June.
I once called the late George Young, general manager of the New York Giants, the day after I had a player selected as their first pick. I told him we were ready to begin negotiating and did not need to wait to see what other draftees received. He responded, "call me back in July," and the phone went dead.
The NFL and NBA both have the ability to procrastinate until the last possible moment when it comes to rookie signings. As training camp looms they spring into hyperactivity and process an unbelievable amount of business in a very short time frame. This has been true since I began representing athletes in 1975.
Calling a draftee a "holdout" is a misnomer, a team is "freezing him out" of participating in training camp until he signs. The clubs have all the leverage.
"No Jerry, Troy won't take your $11 million, he plans to return to school and work on developing the next super-collider, or he may play cello in the Westwood Philharmonic."
An agent's responsibility is to maximize the most rapid transition to a starting role in the NFL for a rookie as is possible, while he is maximizing conception. It is critical for players at certain positions to be in training camp from the beginning to be able to master the playbook and have enough preseason repetitions to start.
For other players, the early part of training camp is the one chance they have to impress the coaches and make the team. My role was to facilitate the signing with the least controversy or interruption to a player's normal progress.
An agent needs to prepare his player for what the likely package is that his draft slot will dictate.
In 1993, when the NFL CBA introduced a salary cap, I represented Drew Bledsoe who was the first pick in the first round. With the help of Jeff Moorad and Scott Parker we were able to put voidable years in his rookie contract, which enabled him to make almost $20 million in the first three years. Later we introduced "void buy-back," "split option bonus," "escalator clauses" and other devices to make sure that rookies were not stuck with low salaries in later years.
The 2011 CBA in the NFL introduced a much harder cap and slotting system. Away went creativity. First rounder's sign four-year contracts with a club option for a fifth, other picks sign for four years, free agents sign three-year contracts. Everything counts against the cap.
Guaranteed money is still prized because most yearly salaries in football, unlike basketball are not guaranteed for skill or injury. And, the NFL has more career ending injuries.
My daughter, Katie, could negotiate a rookie contract just by saying, "no," until it maxed out the slot.
The NBA has a hard cap for rookies also which follows a formula. Many agents do not even charge NBA rookies since the fee is calculated on the difference between 80% and 120% of the prior slot.
Those two sports are highly profitable and a fixed percentage goes to the players, the compensation now favors proven, productive starters over untested, unproven rookies who took huge signing bonus out of the system.
This has always been the more rational approach. But it is nowhere near as exciting or creative as the pre-cap days.
LEIGH STEINBERG is a renowned sports agent, author, advocate, speaker and humanitarian. Follow Leigh on Twitter @steinbergsports.