clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

What’s Holding Up Negotiations for Darius Leonard’s Rookie Deal?

New, comments
NCAA Football: Senior Bowl-South Practice Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

We used to see this all the time in the NFL. Rookies would hold out for insane contracts which ended up handcuffing team’s financials for the first several years of that player’s career. Most of the issues came with top-10 picks, but were just more prevalent with first-round picks in general.

Since the new collective bargaining agreement was implemented most of these problems have subsided, but as we’re currently seeing with a handful of draftees, training camp is still the wall for agreements to be finalized. The vast majority don’t trickle into camp anymore, but here we are with an Indianapolis Colts’ second-round pick still unsigned with just 3 days until he’s expected to report to camp.

Darius Leonard is the final draft pick yet to have a deal in place — which Chris Blystone touched on earlier today. Stephen Holder reported that the deal is expected to be done by camp, but why isn’t it already? What could possibly be the holdup?

We often hear the term “offset language” when rookies aren’t signed by now. For the most part, I think we all have at least a vague idea of what that means. Ian Rapoport, back in 2012, put up a post to answer this very question for us as we often want to know what is taking so long.

There are 13 draft picks who are still without deals. Seven of them are top-10 picks, but Leonard is one of only three who aren’t first-round selections.

This is how Rapoport describes the offset language that teams and player’s agents are undoubtedly panning through as we speak. He breaks it down pretty nicely.

“Thanks to the new CBA, first-round contracts are four-year deals with a fifth-year option for the team. That option must be picked up by the March following the player’s third year. Once that is exercised, a player’s fifth year of the contract (as much as $10 million) is guaranteed for injury. Essentially, teams will make decisions on their first-rounders after Year 3, determining whether or not they want to be on the hook for the remaining money.”

Now, Leonard was the No. 36 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, and this doesn’t apply to non first-round picks in terms of the fifth-year option. But, ultimately, the concept is the same. The players want to be paid all the way through their contract by the team that drafted them, regardless of if they were to be released before it’s complete or if they were signed post-release by another team. Second rounders and beyond just don’t have the leverage a top-32 pick does.

Rapoport then nails it down, getting to the bottom line.

“To put it simply ... Offset language is what teams covet. No offset language -- double-dipping -- benefits the players.”

Whether or not Leonard could get such a situation embedded into his contract, the rest of the team’s signings go a long way in determining that. Did a player drafted after Leonard get such a designation? What about on other teams?

Rapoport states that that seems to be a sign of what’s to come.

“What is the trend of this year’s signings? Offset or no offset?”

Currently, per Over The Cap, this is what Leonard’s contract looks like.

As you can see, that last year of his four-year deal would save the team nearly $1.5 million if he were to be cut pre-June 1st of that year. Leonard, understandably, wants that final season of his contract to be a given. That’s nearly a quarter of his total contract, and few rookies will make much until their second contract in the league. Both, make that final year of the rookie deal a pretty important issue within negotiations.

Leonard, in terms of getting on the field, cannot afford to miss any of training camp. The position is wide open at this point and he’s yet to participate throughout the offseason. not to mention that there are several players at the position who are going to get paid even less than him, that will be at camp learning the playbook and being seen in action on the field.

Leonard has to get on the field for the coaching staff to evaluate him, but he also has to protect himself contractually. Not a fun position to be in, I’m sure.