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NFL Rookie Signings Occuring at Snail's Pace

McKelvin, four other rookies unsigned (Photo Source)

With the start of the Buffalo Bills' 2008 training camp a mere nine days away (camp practices begin on Friday the 25th of July), half of Buffalo's ten draft picks remain unsigned.  Reaching deals with these five rookies before players are scheduled to report to camp (Thursday the 24th) now becomes Buffalo's top priority.

The inability to sign top rookies well in advance of training camp certainly isn't a new development, but it's still surprising how few of the draft's top 63 picks have actually inked deals with their new teams.

As of the time this article was written, just five players drafted within the first two rounds of this past April's NFL Draft have signed their rookie contracts.  Those players are:

Dolphins OT Jake Long (#1 overall): 5 years, $57.5 million, $30 million guaranteed
Falcons QB Matt Ryan (#3): 6 years, $72 million, $34.75 million guaranteed
Raiders RB Darren McFadden (#4): 6 years, $60 million, $26 million guaranteed
Bears RB Matt Forte (#44): 4 years, $3.71 million, $2 million guaranteed
Redskins WR Malcolm Kelly (#51): 4 years, $3.36 million, $1.655 million guaranteed

A few other rookies - most notably Bears OT Chris Williams (#14), Ravens QB Joe Flacco (#18), and Vikings S Tyrell Johnson (#43) - have at one point been rumored to be close to a deal, but were not signed as of press time.  With just five of the draft's top 63 prospects under contract, 58 high-profile rookies will be looking to secure their inaugural NFL deals within the next two weeks.  It seems likely, however, that there could be an unusual amount of holdouts this season, with Rams DE Chris Long the biggest name amongst that potential list.

McKelvin, Hardy top Bills' List
Five of Buffalo's rookies - fourth rounders CB Reggie Corner and TE Derek Fine, and seventh rounders OT Demetrius Bell, WR Steve Johnson and CB Kennard Cox - have signed their rookie deals and will be reporting to Bills training camp on time.  Clearly, the big names of Buffalo's draft class remain unsigned, including the club's top two picks, CB Leodis McKelvin and WR James Hardy.

As the top cornerback drafted in April, McKelvin's contract will likely be the most difficult for the Bills to put together.  Last season, the Bills signed #12 overall pick RB Marshawn Lynch to a six-year, $18.935 million contract with $10.3 million in guaranteed money.  A pick higher and a year later - and as the top selection at his position - McKelvin's deal is expected to be closer to $25 million in total money than the $19 million deal that Lynch signed last year, with closer to $14 million in guarantees.  Keep an eye out for news regarding Bengals LB Keith Rivers, Patriots LB Jerod Mayo, and Broncos OT Ryan Clady - those players surrounded McKelvin in the pecking order in April, and will give Buffalo a ballpark figure for McKelvin's deal.

Hardy's contract is much easier to figure, and should precede McKelvin's.  Forte, drafted #44 overall - just three spots after Hardy, whom the Bills selected at #41 - signed a modest four-year deal with $2 million in guarantees.  Hardy, therefore, already has a ballpark figure - look for the Bills to try to get a five-year deal out of him initially.  Second-round picks typically sign shorter deals in an effort to maximize their contractual status in as few years as possible, expecting that they'll exceed their modest rookie deals quickly.  Hardy's camp will push for a four-year deal, likely worth slightly more than $4 million total with close to $2.5 million in guarantees.