Offset language stalling top-10 draft picks' contract negotiations

Offset language stalling contract negotiations of several top-10 draft picks

7/18/13 in NFL   |   Matthew_Shovlin   |   735 respect

Due to the rookie wage scale in the NFL's most recent collective bargaining agreement, unsigned rookies are extremely less likely to hold out. The CBA puts a cap on the amount of money that teams can spend on their recently drafted rookies, which in turn leaves agents with very little wiggle room to demand bigger contracts for their players. As a result, the days of players like JaMarcus Russell and Michael Crabtree holding out before playing a single NFL snap are pretty much over.

However, there is still something that remains in contract negotiations that has commonly held up talks between teams and their rookies - offset language. For those who don't know, I'll explain offset language as briefly and clearly as I can:

Rookie contracts under the new CBA are fully guaranteed. If a player signs for four years and $20 million, he will have earned that full $20 million by the end of those four years, whether he remained on the team the entire time or was released mid-contract. With offset language, if a player is released before his rookie contract is up and he signs with a new team, the team that drafted him only has to pay the difference in salary, rather than dish out the full amount of the original contract while the player simultaneously cashes in on his new deal.

For example, let's say a player on a four-year, $20 million deal ($5 million per year) gets cut after two seasons, then signs on with a new team at two years, $5 million ($2.5 million per year). If his rookie deal had offset language, the team that drafted him would only have to pay him the difference in salary ($2.5 million per year) over the next two years. Without offset language, the player would get his new contract in addition to his rookie deal, meaning he would still receive $5 million per year from his old team with $2.5 million per year from his new team, essentially making $25 million over four years.
Jun 4, 2013; Berea, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns linebacker Barkevious Mingo (51) warms up during minicamp at the Cleveland Browns Training Facility. Mandatory Credit: Ron Schwane-USA TODAY Sports
Offset language has been a snag in the negotiations of about half of the top-10 picks of the 2013 draft. Dion Jordan (Dolphins, No. 3 pick), Lane Johnson (Eagles, No. 4 pick), Barkevious Mingo (Browns, No. 6 pick), and Chance Warmack (Titans, No. 10 pick) are all currently unsigned as a result of their teams' insistence of offset language being included in their contracts. Cardinals first-round pick Jonathan Cooper (No. 7 overall) is also looking for a contract excluding offset language, though it has not been reported that offset language is what has stalled negotiations thus far.

Teams who view their first-round picks as risky selections are more likely to be insistent upon offset language, as they will feel that there is a higher chance that they will want to release the player before his contract is up. This makes complete sense for Jordan, Johnson, and Mingo, three players who have exceptional raw ability but are a long way from being fully developed. Cooper and Warmack, however, are viewed as pretty safe picks.

When you think about it, the exclusion of offset language is unfair to the player who performs well and plays out his contract. A guy who dominates under his rookie deal will be stuck on a $20 million salary, while the player who gets cut and signs elsewhere could make $25 million.

Offset language could be a topic of discussion during the next CBA negotiations, but for now it will continue to be one of the only considerations to cause snags in rookie contract negotiations.
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