If you're an NFL general manager, contract guy or sports agent, this might be the busiest summer of your life. The curtain is expected to go up, finally, on the NFL season by the middle of July, giving teams around two weeks to chase free agents, re-sign their own players, comb the wires for undrafted free agents and sign their 2011 NFL draft picks. Some teams have made a habit of signing draft picks earlier in the summer. Last year, 46.3 percent of all draft picks were signed by July 4. The St. Louis Rams typically do not sign their rookies so soon in the summer.
Last year, the team agreed to a contract with first overall pick QB Sam Bradford on July 30, just in time for training camp. Jason Smith, the second overall pick in 2009, signed around the same time, reporting to camp on the second day.
Rodger Saffold and the Rams agreed to a deal just days before a deal with Bradford was reported, around July 28. Bradford and his blind side protector signed right before camp, but the Rams worked out deals with their rest of their drafts picks about a month before that, on June 27.
Billy Devaney and his contract guy Kevin Demoff have a nearly flawless track record for getting their draft picks signed and in camp on time, missing only by a day here and there. The Rams are scheduled to open training camp a week earlier than the rest of the league, around July 22, because of the Hall of Fame Game scheduled for August 7. If the league opens for business on July 15, a conservative prediction, they'll have a week to sign those draft picks in time to report to training camp, assuming the schedule is not altered...which I have a hard time believing at this point.
Complicating matters this year will be a new rookie salary schedule, part of the new collective bargaining agreement. In the past, teams have based contracts for picks on draft spot and the deals given to picks around that spot and deals from prior years. Precedent will be hard to draw upon with a new rookie wage scale, and this is where the details will be very important. Will there be some kind of guideline or practice spelled out that will give teams an idea of where to start in rookie contract talks? It would that there would have to be, especially to get deals done in enough time to hold training camps.
Don't forget, working out rookie contracts will be just one of the rather large sideshows NFL front office staffs will have to deal with in the truncated period for league business. For all the talk about how the lockout will impact players and teams with new coaches, a frenetic business environment will also test the front offices for each team. A squared away front office is always a competitive advantage for NFL teams. This year that will really be true.