Pace of rookie signings expected to pick up soon

Updated: July 17, 2006, 11:44 AM ET
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

If the NFL regular season is a marathon, as some have suggested, the league's signing season for draft choices is more like a sprint.

And with every franchise in the league scheduled to report to training camp by the end of the month, team negotiators and the agents for nearly 200 unsigned draft choices are expected to come out of the blocks hard this week.

That fewer than 25 percent of the draft choices have agreed to contract terms on their first NFL deals at this point in the summer is actually business as usual in a league that seems to thrive on a deadline mentality. With most team officials back now from vacations, and camp report dates looming, the usual business of hammering out rookie contracts at breakneck speed will commence.

"There's a lot of work to be done, but the good thing is that it always seems to get done," said agent Joe Linta. "In most cases, it doesn't have to be rocket science."

Then again, some teams haven't even advanced to the launch pad yet. Exactly half of the NFL's 32 franchises have yet to agree to terms with a single draft choice.

As of Monday morning, only 58 of the 255 prospects selected in the 2006 draft, or just 22.7 percent of the draft class, had agreed to contracts. And of that group with completed deals, 33 were in the sixth and seventh rounds.

Only one first-round selection, top overall pick Mario Williams of the Houston Texans, has consummated a deal. And just nine of the 97 players chosen in the first three rounds have agreements. A quick survey of team negotiators and several player agents over the weekend indicated that there has been little substantive bargaining yet in the first round.

Tardiness in reporting to camp was a common theme in the first round a year ago and could be again this summer. One potential point of contention is that players selected in the top half of the first round can sign a contract with a maximum term of six years, while those chosen in the bottom half of the first round have maximum lengths of five seasons. Several players in the top half of the round prefer the shorter, five-year term, while the teams that chose them want them to sign six-year contracts.

A breakdown of deals completed as of Monday morning: one in the first round, four each in the second and third rounds, eight each in the fourth and fifth rounds, 16 in the sixth round and 17 in the seventh round.

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