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When Will Sam Darnold Sign?

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SiriusXM At Super Bowl LII Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images for SiriusXM

The start of the 2018 New York Jets training camp is just one week away now, and in what has become an annual tradition, the Jets’ top pick remains one of the last draft picks to sign his contract.

It didn’t start this way with the Mike Maccagnan regime. Maccagnan’s very first draft pick with the Jets was defensive lineman Leonard Williams, chosen 6th overall in the 2015 NFL draft. Williams signed in early May 2015, just about a week after being selected in the draft. He would be the last Jets first round pick to follow that template.

In 2016 the Jets selected linebacker Darron Lee with the 20th overall selection in the 2016 NFL draft. Lee did not sign until July 28th, the first day of the Jets 2016 training camp. In 2017 the Jets selected safety Jamal Adams with the 6th overall selection in the 2017 NFL draft. Adams did not sign until July 21, 2017, at which time only four other 2017 draft picks remained unsigned.

Now we have quarterback Sam Darnold, selected by the Jets with the 3rd overall selection in the 2018 NFL draft. As of today fourteen 2018 draft picks remain unsigned, including seven of the first nine selections. Sam Darnold is one of those still unsigned.

It is unclear what the reason or reasons for the late Jets first round signings are. Rookie contracts are largely cookie cutter deals, with limited room for negotiation. Total compensation is non-negotiable, and first round picks are routinely fully guaranteed. In recent years offset language in contracts has become a thing. The issue is, in the event a draft pick is cut prior to the expiration of their rookie deal, and he is signed by another team, should the compensation paid to said player by his new team be reimbursed to the team originally drafting the player, or should the player draw both his original fully guaranteed money as well as any money included in his new contract with the team picking him up? This issue, particularly for high draft picks, has largely been settled in favor of the players. High draft picks now rarely have offset language included in their deals.

Whatever the reason or reasons for the Jets’ annual foot dragging with first round signings, it is important for draft picks to be there from the start of training camp in order to receive the full benefit of camp. While the Jets have been late in their signings the last few years, there have been no holdouts (which have all but vanished from the NFL rookie experience due to the cookie cutter deals). The Jets have gone down to the wire repeatedly, but they have always gotten their picks in the building for the start of training camp. There is little reason to expect Darnold will be different. If we are still looking at an unsigned Darnold a week from today, things get a little more interesting. But for now, just chalk this up to the quirky Maccagnan’s predilection for waiting until the last possible moment to get things done.