It sounds odd, but so much of what makes the negotiations between a team and a draft pick has to do with what other teams do. The process is called "slotting" of the draft picks and it makes perfect sense, but it still has it's flaws.
The main issue with slotting is that somebody, or a couple of somebodies, have to make the leap and guess the player's value. Sometimes they're forced to do it to avoid headlines (Mark Sanchez), which sets an odd market. Sometimes the player is forced to sign because he needs money now.
Whatever those cases may be, San Diego Chargers General Manager A.J. Smith has always had a strong stance against getting pushed into a deal he's not happy with. Although it often leads to holdouts, Smith prefers to wait until the pick's price is determined by the slotting process rather than discussion and predictions. This way, after everyone has been signed, he can sleep soundly knowing that he did not overpay for any of the team's rookies.
After the jump, we look at the current slot that each 2009 Chargers draft pick is in and what it means for his negotiations.Larry English: Ever wonder why the 1st Round Picks are always the ones holding out? It is not because they just want more money and think they're special. Usually, it's the team acting slow waiting for a "slot" to be defined. Since these picks can turn into franchise players or big-money busts, there's more hesitance to jump into the waters in the first round. Right now, the only first round draft picks that have signed are Matthew Stafford and Mark Sanchez.
At this point, you can't blame the stalemate. Brian Cushing is waiting for English to sign so that he can sign for more than him. English would like to get more than Josh Freeman, who was picked 17, but rookie QBs are on a different level altogether. The team will probably end up waiting to see what Cushing (15) and Ayers (18) sign for, then finding a spot in between those two deals that makes both parties happy. Although first round deals should start coming in the next couple of days, before the start of training camp, we may still see this drag out for a week or two while the slot is defined.
Louis Vasquez: The report yesterday is what has this topic dancing around in my mind. To date, almost half of the third rounders have signed to their team, which leads you to believe that Louis' spot should be somewhat defined and it's just a matter of crossing the Ts and dotting the Is. That is not the case. While the pick immediately following Vasquez, Kraig Urbik, has signed for 3 years and $1.778 million, the nearest pick previous to Louis is 10 picks before him. Also, Urbik was drafted by the Steelers to be a backup Offensive Guard while Vasquez has a chance to win the starting RG spot for the Chargers.
In the end, Louis might have more to lose by missing the beginning of camp than he has to gain. The team has a backup plan in Forney and A.J. Smith seems more concerned with getting his rookie offensive linemen for the right price than seeing how much he could contribute to the team. It's not necessarily a bad thought process, considering he does have to keep the entire team under a salary cap and every dollar he loses here is a dollar he could use somewhere else, but he better make sure he likes what he has in Forney if he wants to push this thing. It's not easy to find a RG off the preseason scrap heap that you can plug in without any problems.
Vaughn Martin: A complicated situation, even with slotting. Is a guy picked out of Canada worth the same as a guy coming out of an American college football program at the start of their careers? In the end, it doesn't matter. The Chargers knew when they picked him in the 4th round that they were going to have to pay him 4th round money.
Vaughn is in a similar situation as Louis. He might start, he might not. The pick right before him, Glover Quin, has signed with the Texans but the three picks after him have not. There's also the caveat of "crazy contract" thrown in the mix here. That's when a team and a player randomly agree to a contract that is way above or way below what that slotted position has determined. All of the signed picks 104 through 123 are for 4 years and between $2.5-$2.2 million. Except, for some reason, T.J. Lang signed with the Packers for 4 years and $1.75 million at pick 109. You or me just ignore that as madness, but something like that will intrigue someone in A.J. Smith's position. If that guy signed for $1.75 four picks before Vaughn Martin's pick, why should the Chargers have to pay more for Martin?
I actually expect Vaughn to be there on Sunday, ready to perform. He needs time in the 3-4 defense and needs to start going up against the best competition in the world so the coaches can get a good read on him. If he's not, T.J. Lang and his agent may be to blame.
Tyronne Green: Since they were picked one right after the other, I feel like Green and Gartrell Johnson should both sign at about the same time for about the same amount of money. Tyronne, like Vasquez, is going to want to get to camp early and start working from the Center position. He played Guard for most of his time at Auburn, so he needs to practice his reads and his snaps to get on the same page with the rest of the line and his Quarterback.
Green's slot is well-defined and this should be esy. Seth Olsen, a Guard drafted by the Broncos, signed for 4 years and $2.16 million from the spot right before Green. Troy Kropog, an Offensive Tackle drafted by the Titans immediately after Gartrell Johnson, signed for 4 years and $2.15 million. If they're arguing over anything it would be the number of years (the Chargers might want 3 in case he doesn't transition well to Center), but it should get done.
2008: David Hale, the 133rd pick in the 2008 draft, signed with the Baltimore Ravens for 3 years and $1.5 million. This low deal, especially in comparison to what the 134th pick got last year, could also be a point of contention in the negotiations.
Gartrell Johnson: Johnson's agent may be trying to argue that his client deserves more than Tyronne because HB is generally a higher-paying position and if LT were to get injured Gartrell would become a very important part of the offense. I don't know if he'll get very far with that.
If Gartrell gets into camp early and impresses, he could get a lot of time on the field in preseason games. I haven't heard whether or not LT has decided to once again sit out preseason games (he probably will), but Gartrell could prove himself to be a player too good to keep on the bench if he has a couple of great games. Just like Tyronne Green, Gartrell's slot is well-defined so this deal should be an easy one.
Brandon Hughes: Signed with the team for 4 years and $1.936 million.
Kevin Ellison: His agent will try to make the point that he would've been drafted higher if he weren't injured at the combine. Tough. His agent will also make the point that Ellison has a chance at winning the starting Strong Safety spot. He would've gotten further with that if he made the point earlier. Now the spot is perfectly slotted.
Houston drafted Brice McCain, a CB from Utah, with the pick before Ellison and signed him to a 4 year/$1.851 million deal. The Bears drafted Al Afalava, a S from Oregon State, with the pick after Ellison and signed him to a 4 year/$1.85 million deal. With players that similar and such a defined space between the two contracts, I'm actually a little amazed that nothing has gotten done yet. There are rumors that A.J. Smith typically low-balls his draft picks, even lower than what the slot determines is the right amount for a contract. If this doesn't get done quickly for 4 years and roughly $1.85 million, I'm going to have to start buying into those rumors.
2008: Tyler Schmidt, a long snapper drafted by the Seahawks in 2008 with the 189th pick, signed with the team for 4 years. Terms of the contract were undisclosed.
Demetrius Byrd: Nobody is going to blame anyone for these negotiations going slow. The team can't afford to give Byrd a normal rookie contract because there's a chance that he never plays a down in the NFL. With that being said, his spot is perfectly slotted.
Troy Nolan, the pick previous to Byrd, signed for 4 years and $1.808 million and the pick after Byrd, Blake Schlueter, signed for 4 years and $1.807 million. I don't know what the deal is going to be that they finally agree on, but having a defined slot like this will probably not matter at all. The good news for Byrd is that, no matter what deal he signs, he will be under the care of Chargers doctors and trainers while he rehabilitates from his car accident.
So there you have it. This weekend should be a really busy one for draft picks getting signed. If I had to make a prediction, I'd say that everyone is there on Sunday except English. I think he'll wait a week before getting to camp. There's no way A.J. is going to make a guess at English's value when nobody around him has defined the slot. The San Diego Chargers are a lot of things, but they're not the type to overpay a rookie.