There isn’t much for NFL rookies to negotiate any more when it comes to their entry-level contracts, and that has led to holdouts become nearly unheard of among rookie draft picks.
Since the latest change to the NFL CBA, rookie contacts are based on a slotting system, with very little variation permitted. The length of the contract is also predetermined by draft position, with first-round picks getting four-year deals with fifth-year options, and all others getting four-yer contracts
So we know, for example, that Steelers first-round pick Broderick Jones will have a 2023 base salary of no more than $750,000 and get a singing bonus of no more than $9.091 million on a four-year contract worth $16.626 million.
That’s the most he can get, and most first-round picks get that number or very close to it.
So why, after four weeks of OTAs and minicamp when the players were in Pittsburgh, do the Steelers top three draft picks — Jones, second-round cornerback Joey Porter Jr. and second-round defensive tackle Keeanu Benton — remain unsigned?
It likely has to do with one of two issues that have become conflict points for rookies: the payment structure of that initial signing bonus and guaranteed salary on the rookie deal.
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.
Guaranteed money won’t be an issue for Jones. All 31 first-round picks will have their entire contract guaranteed, usually with an offset if the team releases the player and he signs elsewhere.
But that hasn’t included second-round picks in recent years. Most second-round picks have only gotten guarantees in the first three seasons of their deals. That could be changing, though. 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.
So while the total compensation is not at issue between the Steelers and Jones, Porter and Benton, there is still plenty for the agents and the Steelers cap and contract braintrust of Omar Khan and Cole Marcoux to haggle about.
SThere’s no reason right now to suspect any of the three unsigned draft picks will miss the start of training camp, but the issues surrounding guaranteed money and signing bonus payment can explain why the team hasn’t finalized those contracts just yet.