The Pittsburgh Steelers are the last NFL team to report to training camp this season, with the club’s players and coaches set to report to St. Vincent College near Latrobe on Wednesday. Ninety players are expected to descend on Pennsylvania’s Laurel Highlands for five weeks of practices. But right now, only 89 are under contract. Steelers second-round draft pick Joey Porter Jr. remains unsigned, one of just 10 league-wide.
However, those close to Porter and his camp do not anticipate this turning into a holdout situation, sources told Steelers Now. The minutiae of the deal comes down to a few factors, but mainly the guaranteed money that Porter will receive in the back end of his deal.
Changes to the NFL CBA have led to fewer rookie holdouts than ever over the last few years, because players are locked into a specific salary by the slotting system. The length of the contracts are also pre-determined by draft position.
But that’s where things get hairy.
With salary and contract length locked up, two issues have become more prominent in the battle between teams and agents: guaranteed money and the payment of signing bonuses.
Signing bonuses have traditionally been paid in multiple installments in the year after singing, but some recent first-round picks have demanded one lump sum. In 2021, first-round quarterbacks Trevor Lawerence, Zach Wilson and Trey Lance all got their signing bonuses paid up front.
All first-round picks have had their entire contracts guaranteed for a few years now, but there is still plenty of wiggle room, especially in the third and fourth years of contracts for players drafted after the first round.
Of players drafted just after Porter, No. 37 overall selection Derick Hall got $100,000 of his fourth-year salary guaranteed and will get 85% of his bonus before training camp. Los Angeles Rams guard Steve Avila (15%) and Detroit Lions tight end Sam LaPorta (20%) also got fourth-year guarantees on their contracts.
The Tennessee Titans just signed No. 33 overall pick Will Levis on Saturday morning, with the percentage of fourth-year guarantees being the issue that took the longest to sort out. It is these percentages that Porter and the Steelers are largely stuck on right now.
Porter’s situation is further complicated by the fact that the No. 32 overall pick is usually a first-rounder. The Miami Dolphins forfeited their first-round pick in the 2023 Draft, meaning there were only 31 selection.
There is an argument to be made by the player’s union that Porter deserves a first-round draft slot and not a second-round position.
“It has nothing to do with [Porter], it’s a broader power play between the league and the union,” Mike Florio of NBC Sports said on 93.7 The Fan last week. “This is about the Rooney’s trying to help hold the line in push-pull between the league and the players.”
That argument doesn’t seem likely to succeed, but the threat of things dragging out may be enough for the Steelers to yield on the two other issues, and make an offer that will get Porter into camp on time.
The same issues presented themselves between the Steelers and the team’s second second-round pick Keeanu Benton, and that deal got done weeks ago. So it’s likely Porter’s status as a quasi-first-round pick that is causing the issues to be worked out.