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Thursday, June 24, 2010
On the radar: Rookie holdouts

By James Walker

NFC On the Radar: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

A player, coach or issue that should be on your radar as training camp approaches.

It's no secret the NFL can be a shrewd business. Therefore, there's no guarantee all first-round draft picks will report for training camp on time.

Every year, there are several rookies who get into bitter battles with teams over millions of dollars before they play their first pro game. Last year, the AFC North had one of the biggest rookie contract disputes when Cincinnati Bengals offensive tackle and No. 6 overall pick Andre Smith missed all of training camp. Finally, both sides agreed to an incentive-laden deal. But Smith's rookie year never got off the ground with a late start and subsequent foot injury that limited him to six games.

Will the AFC North see another high-profile contract dispute this summer?

There are three first-round candidates: Joe Haden of the Cleveland Browns, Maurkice Pouncey of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Jermaine Gresham of the Cincinnati Bengals. The Baltimore Ravens traded out of the first round this past April and didn't pick until the second round.


In order, Haden is probably the player most at risk of a contract dispute, simply because he was the highest pick at No. 7 overall. There will be a lot of guaranteed money involved in Haden's deal. Last year's No. 7 pick, Oakland Raiders receiver Darrius Hayward-Bey, received $23.5 million guaranteed.

Pouncey, the No. 18 overall pick, is one of Pittsburgh's highest selections in recent years. But the Steelers are moving fast and already have eight of their 10 draft picks under contract. Pouncey and second-round pick Jason Worilds are the only two unsigned players, and there is ample time before training camp.

The Bengals have a history of not getting players to camp on time. But with Gresham being the No. 21 overall pick, it's more likely Cincinnati will reach an agreement with its first-rounder much quicker this year.

Overall, it appears the AFC North has a decent chance of avoiding a major rookie contract dispute this summer. But with the way business is in the NFL, anything is possible.