NFC North weekend mailbag

June, 5, 2010
6/05/10
11:00
AM ET
It's around this time of year when I ... just ... can't ... get ... this ... out of my head. (Alice Cooper version. Not a big GWAR guy even though we share a hometown.)
No more pencils
No more books
No more teacher's dirty looks
Out for summer
Out till fall
We might not go back at all
School's out forever
School's out for summer
School's out with fever
School's out completely

If it's not out yet, kids, it will be soon. Now go make something of yourselves.

Questions? Comments? Savagery? You know where to find me: via ESPN.com, Facebook and Twitter.

Onward ...

Via Facebook, Chad asks about the Chicago Bears' five-year run of signing draft choices faster than any other NFL team: Why are the Bears so fast to sign players? Is there some disadvantage that other teams are avoiding or is it truly just a testament to the Bears front office in this matter? What are all the advantages to signing picks so early? Do they save money? Do they end up spending more but getting their rookies into more camps?

Kevin Seifert: A good question, one with both a short and long answer. The short version: For most fans and observers, there is little impact of signing draft choices in May instead of July. It's important to note that rookies can participated in organized team activities and minicamp even without a signed contract. Essentially teams agree that in the case of catastrophic injury, they (or an insurance company) would pay out the market-level bonus and first-year salary they would have gotten if they had been under contract.

There are some inside-baseball financial advantages, however.

Players might be motivated to sign early to jump-start their cash flow. Remember, weekly checks in the NFL don't start until the regular season. The first significant payment rookies receive is their signing bonus. If you sign in May, you start getting it May. If you sign in July, that's when it starts coming. Some players get advances from their agents or sponsors, but I'm sure the agents like to get those advances back as soon as possible.

To understand the Bears' motivations for moving so quickly, I reached out to NFC North friend Andrew Brandt, the Green Bay Packers' longtime contract negotiator who now runs and writes for the National Football Post. (He was also an agent earlier in his career.) Brandt confirmed some suspicions I had -- namely, that the Bears' approach allows them to set the market for their draft position rather than be beholden to future developments.

Here's part of what Brandt said:
From a team point of view, it may want to set the market knowing that there are teams around them that have done player-friendly deals in the past. Or it may want to set precedent with its structure in terms of years, escalators, percentage increases in bonus, etc. Or it may simply be more motivated to start vacation prior to camp. ...

For most of these rookie contracts, the amount of negotiable dollars is very limited.

So one comprehensive take on the Bears' strategy could be this: After you get out of the first round, rookie contracts are pretty standard and formulaic. An agent isn't going to negotiate much above the mostly pre-assigned slot, and a team isn't going to squeeze players much below it. So the Bears just take a more aggressive stance than most, figuring that "setting the market" won't cost them much and in some cases could save them money if another team hands out an above-market contract near the position of one of their draft choices.

There is a disadvantage, however. You can decide for yourself how significant it is. NFL rosters are limited to 80 players during the offseason, but unsigned draft picks don't count against that total. So if, say, your 8-man draft class is unsigned, you can have 88 players on your roster at this point in the year. That's eight extra players to evaluate, eight extra players to develop and eight extra players to use in practice drills to cover for injured veterans. Chances are low that one of those eight will someday become a regular contributor, but some clubs hold off on signing draft choices until after organized team activities for exactly this reason. Signed draft choices do count against that 80-man limit.


Tom L. of New York notes a recent post on the Darren Sharper-Visanthe Shiancoe Twitter exchange and writes: Please stop with the X-Files. I normally check in on your page every few hours at work to see if anything is going on in the beloved Black & Blue, but this is getting to be too much. These guys are entitled to utilize social media in whatever way they want (within team and league imposed boundaries) but you don't have to report every tweet. We don't care anymore, but they aren't go to stop. You can. Please do.

Via Twitter, @Rbuike was more to the point: This is getting boring.....

KS: Fair enough. This "news" story was uncharted territory for most of us. I'm pretty sure that Red Smith (Green Bay's own!) never had to determine how much significance to attach to a series of verbal volleys launched via Twitter.

In general, I believe that tweets are public record and no different than a player answering a question during a group interview. If a player said during a conventional interview anything close to what Sharper and Shiancoe tweeted, I don't think we would have this conversation. It's not often that NFL players threaten to hurt each other, offer six-figure bets or compare one another to Osama bin Laden.

In the back of my mind, I've had to consider whether this thing escalated when Sharper and/or Shiancoe realized the media was jumping on board. That's a chicken-and-egg question that I can't answer. So I decided to keep posting as long as I thought the quotes were interesting and/or entertaining. I assumed these guys would run out of gas. And so that's why I handled it like I did. And it looks like their tanks have finally reached "E."


Kyle of Elmhurst, Ill., writes: Can you tell me why the Bears are going to put Chris Harris at free safety and keep Danieal Manning at strong safety? How does this make any sense? Harris is going to be a starter because the Bears traded for him. He is clearly better suited in the box and at strong safety so why are they putting him at free? Also, Major Wright is going to be the Bears free safety and if Harris is at free then that means Wright is not going to have a good shot at over taking him. Why can't the Bears put Harris at strong (where he is better) and have Wright try to win the job at free? What is the Bears logic in this cause I just don't see how this makes sense?

KS: I agree with most of your points but would caution you on one big fact: It's the first week of June. Last year at this time, we were talking about the pros and cons of Corey Graham as a starting safety. Needless to say, that experiment never made it anywhere near the regular season.

The Bears' safety situation is routinely fluid. This minicamp arrangement could simply have been a nod toward Wright's status as a rookie and a desire to get Harris and Manning on film playing out of position for future reference. I would have to think that as soon as the Bears feel Wright is ready to get on the field, they'll open up the free safety spot for him and move Harris to strong.

Finally, I don't think there is as hard of a line between the free and strong safety positions as many people seem to believe. The free safety sometimes plays in the box, and the strong safety sometimes has deep coverage responsibilities. But to the extent there are differences, I'm guessing the Bears would eventually like Wright at free safety with Harris at strong.


Brandon of Kokomo, Ind., writes: There's been a lot of talk about the possibility of O.J. Atogwe joining the Lions and other NFCN teams, but what about the possibility of Atari Bigby leaving the Pack and going to Detroit? The Lions have an open position at safety, and the Packers don't seem in any type of rush to get Bigby resigned. It seems unlikely to me, a lowly Lions fan, but what are the real chances of it actually happening?

KS: Until recently, I would have said "slim to none." Now, I would just say "highly unlikely." You rarely see teams trading a veteran player within the division, and the Packers seem especially traditional when it comes to that idea. (See Favre, Brett.) But we did see the Lions and Vikings make a draft-day trade that netted the Lions an extra first-round pick, so stranger things have happened.

On paper, it makes some sense. The Packers clearly have big things in mind for rookie Morgan Burnett, whom they traded up in the third round to draft. Bigby hasn't signed his restricted free-agent tender, has had trouble staying healthy in recent seasons and has been skipping voluntary workouts.

The Lions have Louis Delmas starting at one safety position but there are no clear options for the other spot. I'm not sure that the Packers would make an exception in this case, but if they were willing to do a trade within the division, it could help both teams.

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