One of the first bits of advice I got on covering an NFL team: Don't worry about the contracts of draft picks until the end of July. Most years, teams I covered were frantically working on deals until the morning of the first practice -- if not longer.
ESPN.com's Andrew Brandt offers an expert analysis of how and why that late-July sprint has disappeared in the NFL. After all, here we are on May 17 and two of the NFC North's teams have signed all of their draft picks, and a third -- the Detroit Lions -- are one pick away. The Minnesota Vikings haven't signed anyone yet, but as Brandt explains, there is almost no wiggle room for either side on these deals in the new collective bargaining agreement.
Brandt: "In the past, teams were allotted a rookie cap with no specific guidelines on each pick. The new system specifies percentages of the rookie cap for each draft choice, giving every negotiation an easy marker. Thus, the negotiations have essentially become 'maxing out the slot,' where the two sides take the allotment number, back out the minimum salary and figure out the maximum signing bonus, prorated over four years."
One of the few question marks now is whether first-round draft picks get all four years of their contracts fully guaranteed. The Chicago Bears guaranteed less than half of defensive end Shea McClellin's fourth year, according to Brandt. Meanwhile, Green Bay Packers linebacker Nick Perry got three fully guaranteed years, but his fourth is not guaranteed.