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Offsets re-emerge as a top-10 contract issue

With seven of the top nine draft picks unsigned, it's believed that the offset language is what's holding up the deals.

Of the 15 unsigned rookies, seven were taken in the top 10. And it’s an old top-10 contract issue that is contributing to the delay.

Per a league source, the effort to remove offset language from the fully-guaranteed contracts given to the players taken at the very top of the draft has become a factor in the lingering inability to get the deals done.

It’s a simple term. With offset language, a player who is cut before the completion of his four-year deal will have the remaining guaranteed money reduced by whatever he earns elsewhere. Without offset language, the player gets to double dip.

CAA represents five of the seven unsigned players in the top 10: Jets quarterback Sam Darnold (No. 3), Browns cornerback Denzel Ward (No. 4), Bills quarterback Josh Allen (No. 7), Bears linebacker Roquan Smith (No. 8), and 49ers tackle Mike McGlinchey (No. 9). Jack and Tom Mills represent Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield, the No. 1 overall choice. Kim Miale of Roc Nation Sports has the No. 2 selection, Giants running back Saquon Barkley.

CAA also has Colts guard Quenton Nelson, the sixth overall pick who agreed to terms on May 10. His contract contains offset language. It also employs large guaranteed training-camp roster bonuses in 2019 through 2021, minimizing the amount of salary that would be subject to offset.

The waiting game often becomes as much a competition among agencies as it is a test of wills between agent/player and team. Agents want to be able to claim that they held firm and achieved certain terms -- and they also want to be able to point to the fact that other agents didn’t.

Mayfield considered not using an agent at all, which makes it even more important for his representation to see whether anyone in the top 10 avoids offset language, or finagles a more favorable signing-bonus cash flow. And while Mayfield has no specific reason to be concerned that he’ll flame out in Cleveland at some point before the next four seasons concluded, none of the four first-round quarterbacks taken by the Browns since the team rejoined the league in 1999 have finished their rookie deals. The last two (Brandon Weeden and Johnny Manziel) lasted only two years each.

In recent years, the offset issue had seemed to subside, with willingness to remove the term becoming a team-driven factor -- and with only the Rams and Jaguars routinely doing it. Last year, Jacksonville running back Leonard Fournette avoided offset language at No. 4. The only other player in the top 10 from 2017 to get anything close to that was Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky, who had the offset language removed from his guaranteed training-camp roster bonuses.

The NFL remains a deadline-driven league, and the only deadline relevant to rookie draft picks is the start of training camp. Still, at a time when most of these contracts are easy to resolve, the offset stare-down may be reemerging as an impediment for the players taken in the top 10.