For NFL's rookies, slot determines pact


Ravens president David Modell says first-round draft negotiations are not brain surgery. He's right, of course. Frontal lobes have little to do with this tedious thought process.

This has more to do with who's in front of your pick, who's behind him, what deals they cut, and what the rookie allocation numbers dictate.

It's called slotting, and in the NFL, it's a very big part of draft life.

Every position in the draft is assigned a value based on a league formula that distributes rookie dollars. Once a player has found his position or slot through the draft, it is up to his agent to maximize the available revenue.

Four years or six? Incentives or up-front money? Voidable years or buy-back clauses? There are many ways to tweak a contract.

A week before their first practice at Western Maryland College, at a point when signings have become a daily ritual around the league, the Ravens' top three picks remain unsigned.

Of the three, third-round pick Chris Redman appears to be the closest.

"I'm definitely going to be in there on time," the Louisville quarterback said before arriving in Baltimore last night. "It's not going to be a problem."

First-round pick Jamal Lewis, the Tennessee running back chosen with the fifth overall selection, is likely next, based on two face-to-face negotiating sessions between his agent and the Ravens. Escalators - incentive clauses that bump up the value of subsequent seasons - might be the holdup.

And then there's wide receiver Travis Taylor, the 10th pick in the draft. The only thing heating up on that front is the rhetoric.

Taylor's agent, Baltimore native Steve Weinberg, insists the Ravens have not made an offer to the Florida wide-out, and that negotiations are nonexistent.

"Other players are more important than Travis Taylor; they have identified other players they feel more important to sign," Weinberg said yesterday. "I don't know what else to conclude. It doesn't look like having Travis in on time is that important to the Ravens. If it was, surely we would have received an offer by now."

Modell was succinct in his response. "We used the 10th pick in the NFL draft for Travis and we did that for a reason," he said. "We look for an extremely long and productive career by a very fine young man."

As usual, Modell would not address the negotiations specifically.

"Our guys will get it done," he said. "Can we put our finger on the reason they're not signed today? No. [But] it's a nonevent. This is the way it goes. It happens every year."

With two of the league's top four draft picks signed, and two more nearly done, Lewis is lined up to get a deal. Depending on the length of contract, he will likely get a signing bonus in the range of $7 million to $8 million.

The player taken at No. 4, wide receiver Peter Warrick, got a signing bonus of $8.47 million on a seven-year deal that voids to six, with a total value of approximately $36 million.

Taylor, meanwhile, has signed picks surrounding him, and they're not helpful to his cause. Linebacker Brian Urlacher, taken at the ninth slot by the Chicago Bears, agreed to a $5.5 million signing bonus on a five-year deal. Running back Ron Dayne remains unsigned at the 11th pick, but defensive end Shaun Ellis (No. 12) and linebacker John Abraham (No. 13) got signing bonuses of only $2.175 million and $2 million respectively.

Weinberg wants to see what wide receiver Plaxico Burress gets from the Pittsburgh Steelers at the eighth pick. Burress was unsigned at yesterday's reporting date for the Steelers.

Taylor is probably looking at a signing bonus between $5 million and $6 million, based on length of contract.

"This is not a holdout threat," Weinberg said. "This is nowhere near a holdout threat. Our position is real simple. We've wanted to get a deal done since May, and never once have we received an offer."

Eight of the 12 quarterbacks drafted have signed, including the only first-rounder, the New York Jets' Chad Pennington. Redman was the third quarterback taken, 10 picks after the San Francisco 49ers' Giovanni Carmazzi of Hofstra in the third round.

NOTES: Defensive tackle Eric Swann's brief free-agent tour might have concluded. His agent said yesterday that Swann liked his visits to the Carolina Panthers and Chicago Bears last week and might not make any more trips. "I'll talk with Ozzie [Newsome, the Ravens' vice president of player personnel], but we may re-evaluate ourselves," Steve Zucker said. Swann was scheduled to visit the Denver Broncos tomorrow. The Seattle Seahawks and Jacksonville Jaguars are also interested.

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