After last year's NFL lockout, this is the first true offseason under the new collective bargaining agreement. As teams and fans work through all the intricacies of the deal, and what is allowed when, one of the easiest portions of the agreement to understand is the rookie wage scale. Essentially, every rookie's contract has already been assigned, limiting the negotiations needed to sign a new draft pick, and essentially eliminating the lengthy holdouts seen in the past. However, for the Miami Dolphins, those "negotiations" have not even started yet.
As was posted on the Phinsider earlier this week, the Seattle Seahawks have already signed their first round draft choice, linebacker Bruce Irvin. Additionally, the Seahawks have signed seven other members of their draft class, meaning 80% of their selections are under contract already.
The Seahawks are not the only team to get a jump on draft choice signings. The Washington Redskins have already signed over half of their class. The Chicao Bears and Pittsburgh Steelers both have multiple picks signed, with the Philadelphia Eagles, New York Giants, and Baltimore Ravens each having one member of the class signed. And, you can add in the San Diego Chargers, who just signed first round pick Melvin Ingram, to the multiple draft picks signed group.
So, why have the Dolphins not even begun talking to the rookies about their deals? Ben Volin of the Palm Beach Post has a theory.
As Volin puts it, there simply has not been time for general manager Jeff Ireland to work on the rookie contracts.
The Dolphins have had to prioritize the entire offseason this year, focusing on what project at a time. As soon as the team finished their final game of the 2011 season on January 1, the team, with Ireland leading the way, began a search for a new head coach. Joe Philbin was not signed into the position until late January, as Ireland shifted his focus from the coach to pre-draft scouting.
After the Senior Bowl and the NFL Scouting Combine, free agency started, and Ireland, along with Philbin, was fully engrossed in figuring out the free agency field. From tradining wide receiver Brandon Marshall to the Bears, to signing depth for trhe defense, Ireland was busy throughout the initial veteran signing period, before having to turn his attention back to the draft.
Finalizing his draft board, and then executing the team's nine selections, Ireland was wrapped up in the process, despite having outside destractions like the hold out of linebacker Cameron Wake from the team's voluntary offseason training program. Now, with the draft over, the general manager has begun working on re-signing some of the key veterans who are entering their final contract year - starting with the four year extension given to Wake this week,
The Dolphins are also looking for a way to re-sign tackle Jake Long, running back Reggie Bush, wide receiver Brian Hartline, and defensive lineman Randy Starks this year. Long, if a contract extension cannot be worked out, will most likely get the franchise tag applied to him at the end of the year. Currently, the Dolphins only have between $3-$4 million in cap space for the 2012 season.
While signing the rookies is an important part of the offseason, it's just not the priority right now. With the limited negotiations needed to ink a deal, and the likelihood of a holdout almost non-existent, the Dolphins have time to focus their attentions elsewhere right now.
Eventually, the priorities will work themselve down to the rookies.