Teams spending last days before camps trying to sign top picks

Friday, July 26th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NFL teams spent Thursday trying to sign their top draft picks, thwarted in many instances by a ``slotting'' system that annually sets the pay checks of high-priced rookies.

Entering the day, only less than half of the 32 first-round draft picks had been signed. They were in clusters _ the first three overall choices and 10 more from the 19th to the 31st.

No. 10, offensive tackle Levi Jones of Cincinnati signed Thursday, and so did No. 17, cornerback Philip Buchanon of the Raiders, No. 30, guard Kendall Simmons of the Steelers, and No. 19, Ashley Lelie of Denver.

But the problem for agents and general managers alike is finding the slot in which to fit the contract. That is, 19 is paid a little more than 20, who gets a little more than 21 and so on.

``There is a gap between the fourth pick and the 19th pick and we're 14th,'' said Giants general manager Ernie Accorsi, who is trying to sign first-round pick Jeremy Shockey, already his starting tight end.

``We'd be willing to take our chances, but he's not. There's no form for him to fall back on.''

Minnesota was trying to work out a deal for the seventh overall pick, Bryant McKinnie, like Buchanon and Shockey a member of the national champion Miami Hurricanes.

``It's a tough deal to do,'' said Rob Brzezinski, the team's chief contract negotiator, who is dealing with Jim Steiner, one of McKinnie's agents.

``They're good agents _ they're looking out for their client,'' Brzezinski said. ``It's typical for a lot of these deals. We don't report until Friday night, so we should be all right.''



Having extended the contract of starter Kerry Collins, the Giants found enough cap room to re-sign backup Jason Garrett, cut last spring for salary cap reasons.

Garrett will compete for the second-string job with second-year man Jesse Palmer.

Second-round pick Tim Carter also signed, joining Garrett and the rest of his teammates at practice in Albany, N.Y.

Carter, a receiver from Auburn, received a four-year, $3 million contract, while Garrett got $650,000 to return as Collins' understudy for the third straight year.

Garrett, who has not thrown a pass in a regular-season game in his two seasons with New York, is going to be challenged by second-year pro Palmer, who would have been the No. 2 quarterback had Garrett not re-signed.



Kicker Jason Elam agreed to a one-year contract, and first-round draft pick Ashley Lelie, a wide receiver, and second-rounder Clinton Portis, also agreed to deals.

Elam will be at camp for the opening workouts Friday. He agreed to the Broncos' $1.5 million tender offer as the club's designated franchise player, the sides can now begin talks on a multiyear deal.

Agent David Ward said Portis, a running back, signed a four-year, $2.5 million contract and will be at two-a-days beginning Friday.

Defensive end Michael Sinclair, who had spent his entire 11-season career with Seattle, agreed to a one-year deal.

``Anytime you're out of a job, you say, `Which team has a strong possibility of getting to the playoffs and to the Big Show?''' said the 34-year-old Sinclair, who also talked with the St. Louis Rams and Oakland Raiders. ``The Broncos do. Hopefully with this ballclub, I can help these guys get to the Big Show.''



First-round draft pick Kendall Simmons reached terms on a six-year contract and reported to training camp in time for Pittsburgh's first workout.

The Steelers now have all players under contract. Defensive end Aaron Smith, who was threatening a holdout, signed a package worth $25 million over six years Wednesday, hours before the reporting deadline.

Simmons, the No. 30 overall pick in the April draft, gets a $3 million signing bonus and a contract in the $6 million range comparable to the players drafted around him.

A slimmed-down Jerome Bettis drew stares when he showed up looking 15-20 pounds lighter than his listed 256 pounds of recent seasons. Bettis wouldn't say how much weight he lost.

The five-time Pro Bowl running back often battles nagging injuries in training camps, including knee and groin problems that sometimes kept him out of all preseason activity.



Najeh Davenport made his training camp debut Thursday after becoming the Green Bay Packers' last draft pick to sign.

Davenport, a fullback from the University of Miami, was arrested earlier this month on charges he broke into a woman's university dormitory room and defecated in her closet.

Davenport said he couldn't talk about the situation because the case still is pending, but made a statement after afternoon practice.

``I want to apologize for the incident that happened in Miami,'' Davenport said. ``It's an embarrassment to me, but also for the Green Bay Packer organization.''



Defensive tackle Alan Harper, the fourth-round pick, signed.

The 6-foot-1, 285-pound Harper played at Fresno State, starting 45 of the 50 games he played in. He had 21 sacks during his career.

Safety Jon McGraw, the second-rounder, is the only one of the team's five picks still unsigned. New York opens training camp on Friday.



The Washington Redskins are considering making Champ Bailey a wide receiver and kick returner when he's not playing cornerback.

Bailey, who did that in college at Georgia, began the project this week in training camp when coach Steve Spurrier told him to line up at wide receiver.

Cliff Russell, a third-round draft pick from Utah and the fastest receiver on the team, tore a ligament in his right knee and is out for the season.

Spurrier said he planned to make Russell part of his five-receiver rotation and use him on special teams as well. ``He was running a route, put his leg down and tore his knee up,'' Spurrier said.

The Redskins violated an NFL rule when they allowed kicker Brett Conway to practice even though he was on the active non-football injury list. Conway was placed on the list Tuesday after arriving late to camp with bronchitis. Conway was taken off the list later in the day.

Defensive lineman Daryl Gardener, released by Miami, was at Redskins Park in Virginia to meet with team officials. He is being courted by several teams.



Seattle signed seven more draft picks but has yet to come to terms with its top pick, Washington tight end Jerramy Stevens.

Signing were running back Maurice Morris, defensive end Anton Palepoi, cornerback Kris Richard, safety Terreal Bierria, tight end Ryan Hannam, tackle Matt Hill and punter Craig Jarrett.

Stevens remains the only unsigned draft pick.



Injured Detroit Lions fullback Brock Olivo retired Thursday after four seasons with the team.

In other moves, the Lions signed receiver Kevin McKenzie and released receiver Latef Grim. McKenzie spent last season, his rookie campaign, with the Oakland Raiders.

The Lions added linebacker Brian Williams (knee) and defensive tackle Shaun Rogers (ankle), to their physically unable to perform list.

Return specialist Desmond Howard (shoulder) was taken off the list and is expected to join the team when training camp begins Friday morning.



Tennessee released LB Antuian Bradford for what coach Jeff Fisher called a violation of team rules.

The Titans also placed CB Mike Echols on the active physically unable to perform list as he recovers from a stress fracture in his leg. WR Orlando Iglesias was placed on the non-football injury list, after he injured his shoulder lifting weights before camp.