For most of its long history, the NFL has been plagued by contentious rookie negotiations leading to new players missing part or all of training camp. The early days in training camp are where most rookies get precious developmental time. For a rookie quarterback or offensive lineman, positions that necessitate repetition after repetition, it can make the difference in whether the player is able to be of value to a team his first season. The era of widespread rookie holdouts has ended. More rookies signed in the first month after the draft this year than any year in modern history. This occurred in large part because of the institution of a strict rookie salary cap in 2011.

Before the 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement, high round rookie holdouts were the norm. Teams wanted to keep signing bonuses in their own bank accounts for as long as possible. Many NFL personnel scheduled vacations post draft. Teams were reticent to be the first to sign picks lest they be criticized by other teams for "giving away the bank" and establishing bad precedents.

Agents worried that other agents would trash early signing figures as "too little." This led to institutionalized gridlock. I once called former New York Giant GM, the late George Young, the day after the draft. I said, "George, I represent your first-round draft pick. We are ready to negotiate and get the contract done." His response: "Call me in July".

NFL rules state that a rookie cannot participate in training camp without a signed contract. There was no ability to report and not miss camp while the contract was being worked out. The term "holdout" was part propaganda, coined to make a rookie look as if he was rebellious and unreasonable. "Freezeout" would have been a term more appropriate. In 1987, five rookies including Cornelius Bennett and Rod Woodson did not sign with their team until after the strike in November. QB Kelly Stouffer, picked in the first round by the Cardinals, sat the whole year out and went into the following year's draft.

The impact of late signings had unintended consequences. In 2004 the San Diego Chargers had given up on QB Drew Brees, and selected Philip Rivers with the intention of having him start immediately. Rivers held out the entire pre-season and wasn't ready. Brees resurrected his career as a Pro Bowl selection and Comeback Player of the Year. Rivers sat on the bench for several years.

This year, already 22 of the top 32 draft picks have signed. This is unprecedented. Overall, 217 out of 256 players have signed with their teams. This also is unprecedented. Last year at this time only 13 first-rounders had signed. The season and training camps are still two months away.

This rookie class should be the most prepared and productive group ever. Their contracts are done and their whole focus is making an early impact. The public is spared the drama of all contract headlines. The rookie salary cap has led to a very positive result.

-- Leigh Steinberg has represented many of the most successful athletes and coaches in football, basketball, baseball, hockey, boxing and golf, including the first overall pick in the NFL draft an unprecedented eight times, among more than 60 first-round selections. His clients have included Hall of Fame quarterbacks Steve Young, Troy Aikman and Warren Moon, and he served as the inspiration for the movie "Jerry Maguire." Follow him on Twitter @leighsteinberg.

Related: Why Samoa Produces So Many NFL Players

QBs Picked Before Tom Brady In 2000 NFL Draft

 

No. 18, New York Jets: Chad Pennington, Marshall

Injuries crippled Pennington's potential. He took the starting job from Vinny Testaverde five games into the 2002 season and helped the Jets win the AFC East at 9-7. He dealt with injuries for the next three seasons before starting 16 games and winning Comeback Player of the Year in 2006. Another injury-laden season in 2007 meant his departure from the Jets. In 2008, Pennington led the Dolphins to the No. 3 seed in the playoffs and finished second to Peyton Manning in MVP voting. Shoulder injuries ended his career in 2011.

 

No. 65, San Francisco 49ers: Giovanni Carmazzi, Hofstra

Carmazzi never played in an NFL regular-season game. Instead, it was seventh-round pick, Tim Rattay, who stayed with the 49ers long term. Carmazzi stuck around with 49ers for two years until Rattay took the back-up job from him. Carmazzi tried NFL Europe, playing with the Rhein Fire in 2001. He also spent time with the BC Lions and Calgary Stampeders in the Canadian Football League before calling it quits.

 

No. 75, Baltimore Ravens: Chris Redman, Louisville

Redman, who broke a few NCAA records for completions, went to the Ravens in the third round. He backed up Trent Dilfer and Tony Banks on the 2001 Ravens Super Bowl team. He started just six games in four years with Baltimore.

 

No. 75, Baltimore Ravens: Chris Redman, Louisville

After a year each with the Patriots and Titans, Redman fell out of the league temporarily. He signed with the Allen Wranglers of the Arena Football League in 2007 before heading to the Atlanta Falcons that year. He started six games in five seasons with the Falcons before retiring in 2012.

 

No. 163, Pittsburgh Steelers: Tee Martin, Tennessee

After winning a national title at Tennessee, Martin played one game for the Steelers in 2001, and eventually left for the Rhein Fire in 2002. He led the Fire to 7-3 record in 2002 and fell in the World Bowl. He spent the next few years trying to find a roster spot with the Philadelphia Eagles (2002) and Oakland Raiders (2003). Martin ended his career with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the CFL.

 

No. 168, New Orleans Saints: Marc Bulger, West Virginia

Bulger was waived after training camp and spent no time with the Saints in 2000. He tried to make the Falcons roster that year, but ended up on the practice squad. He spent time on the Rams practice squad late in 2000 and was re-signed in 2001.

 

No. 168, New Orleans Saints: Marc Bulger, West Virginia

He spent 2001 backing up Kurt Warner, but led the Rams to a 6-0 record filling in for Warner in 2002. He took the starting job in 2003 and led the Rams to the playoffs. He became the quickest NFL quarterback to 1,000 completions in 2006. He earned two Pro Bowl appearances in 10 seasons with the Rams. He retired after one season, 2011, with the Ravens, serving as Joe Flacco's backup and never played a regular-season down.

 

No. 183, Cleveland Browns: Spurgen Wynn, Southwest Texas State

Wynn made the Browns roster in 2000 and played in seven games. His lone start came in a 48-0 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars. After the season, the Browns sent him to Amsterdam Admirals of NFL Europe.

 

No. 183, Cleveland Browns: Spurgen Wynn, Southwest Texas State

He was traded to the Minnesota Vikings in 2001 and started two games that season before heading to the CFL in 2002. He spent time with the BC Lions, Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Toronto Argonauts, where he ended his career in 2006.

 

No. 199, New England Patriots: Tom Brady, Michigan

In a book about Brady, author Matt Doeden writes: "Mel Kiper Jr. ... dismissed Tom's potential, saying he didn't have the total package of skills.'"

 

No. 199, New England Patriots: Tom Brady, Michigan

According to New York Daily News NFL columnist Gary Myers, the Jets had a scout who wanted to draft Brady in the sixth round at No. 179. But since the team had already invested a first-round pick in Pennington, Bill Parcells opted for North Carolina State defensive back Tony Scott.

previous next