First-rounders in holding pattern awaiting Smith deal

Updated: July 25, 2005, 1:05 AM ET
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

Hoping to complete a contract for the first overall choice in the 2005 draft before the San Francisco 49ers report for training camp Thursday, the agent for quarterback Alex Smith traveled to the Bay Area on Sunday to resume negotiations with team officials.

Given the inertia that exists at the top of the first round -- with agents, players and teams all waiting to ascertain how much of an increase Smith receives over the contract signed by Eli Manning a year ago -- there are a lot of entities counting on agent Tom Condon and 49ers director of football operations Paraag Marathe to strike a deal.

The two sides have acknowledged that roughly 80 percent of the contract has been agreed upon. But, as Condon pointed out Thursday, there remains considerable work to be done on a contract that should top Manning's deal.

"Sometimes that last 20 [percent] or so can be tough," Condon said. "We'll see. There is a lot of detail to be gone over."

Indeed, if the devil is in the details, Smith's contract will be a hellish document, one that is expected to stretch a mind-boggling 70 to 80 pages.

Once the Smith contract is finalized, the hope is that it will break the ice for agreements not only at the top of the round, but throughout the entire top stanza. As of Sunday morning, not a single first-rounder had agreed to terms, although it is anticipated that a few deals were imminent. By the end of July last year, 19 first-rounders had agreed to terms, but not even a consummated contract with Smith is likely to create the degree of momentum necessary to approach that number for 2005.

By Friday, all but five teams will be in camp, most of them without their first-round choices in the fold.

The New England Patriots, who have agreements with six of their seven draft choices, could finish a deal with first-round guard Logan Mankins, who is expected to contend for a starting job, by Sunday's report date for rookies. The defending Super Bowl champions have $1.117 million remaining from an original rookie pool allocation of $2.962 million to accommodate an accord with the former Fresno State standout.

There is some optimism that the Atlanta Falcons will reach an agreement with top pick Roddy White, a wide receiver also expected to challenge for a starting spot, by the time the team lines up for its first practice Monday afternoon. The Oakland Raiders are making progress on an agreement with first-round cornerback Fabian Washington.

On the flip side, the Chicago Bears staged their initial training camp practice on Sunday without their first choice, Texas tailback Cedric Benson. Agent Eugene Parker declined to comment to ESPN.com late Saturday night on negotiations, but the tone in his voice indicated the two sides are not close. But at least the Bears are speaking with Benson, the fourth overall selection, and that's more than can be said for other top-10 choices.

Part of the problem, as has been well documented, is that teams and agents are trying to achieve increases over 2004 first-round slots, but with one fewer year over which signing bonuses can be amortized. Because an extension to the collective bargaining agreement has yet to be agreed upon, signing bonuses can be prorated over only five years, instead of the six years or amortization allowed in 2004.

The change has forced team negotiators and agents to be more creative in structuring deals, and some have fallen short. Two agents who represent first-round picks suggested to ESPN.com that the opening proposals they received from teams were so flawed that they would not have been in compliance with the collective bargaining agreement, and would thus have been rejected by the league's Management Council.

Another factor, it seems, is that more teams seem willing to have a first-rounder miss a week of work while the club toes the financial line. There is a feeling that most teams are amenable to increases of 6 to 8 percent on first-round contracts, but will not give in to the 10-percent bumps being sought by players and agents.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here Insider.