Diving Deeper Into Possible Reasons Why Steelers QB Kenny Pickett Remains Unsigned

If you believe the reports on Wednesday, the New England Patriots have come to terms with rookie center Cole Strange, the team’s first round draft pick this. If those reports are true, that would leave Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett as the lone unsigned first round draft pick in this year’s draft class. So, what’s the hold up with Pickett getting signed? Let’s dive into it.

First, these rookie contracts are all slotted so the hold up with Pickett is not him wanting more money. The total slotted value of Pickett’s four-year rookie deal should be $14,067,904 and his signing bonus should be $7,411,203. Additionally, Pickett’s full contract will be fully guaranteed. There’s no question about that.

So, could offset language be the problem? What are offsets anyway?

Offsets are essentially insurance for a team on guaranteed monies if they need to cut a player before his rookie deal expires. Basically, with offset language in contracts, a player who is cut before the completion of his four-year deal, will have the remaining guaranteed money reduced by whatever he earns with the next team he signs with, should he sign with another team. Without offset language, a player could essentially double dip via his old team and new team.

Now, usually offsets become a huge haggling point within the first 10 picks of an NFL draft. With Pickett, I suppose his agent might want Pickett’s offset language treated like a first quarterback taken in previous drafts, which usually happens in the first 10 picks, and not like the 20th overall selection. That speculation of mine aside, former NFL agent Joel Corry, who writes for CBS Sports, told me earlier today that if Pickett is adamant about offset language as part of his four-year deal, he could quite possibly wind up missing regular season games as he does not believe that the Steelers will budge on that part of the negotiations. Corry told me he doubts offsets are the issue, however.

So, if the issue with Pickett is not total amount and guaranteed money and it’s not offset language, what might the hold up be. Basically, the remaining sticking point is likely to be payment timeframe of Pickett’s signing bonus. Corry talked about signing bonus payment structure related to drafted players several weeks ago on his podcast.

“The other big sticking point has been payment of signing bonus,” Corry said. “And historically you’ve seen signing bonuses in draft deals and in major deals paid in two to four installments. They’re not paid in a lump sum. But what we started to see in recent years is first round picks at the top of the draft, they’ve started to get signing bonuses in a lump sum.

“That’s a new practice that we’ve started to see. Last year, the first three picks got their signing bonuses in a lump sum: Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Trey Lance. In 2020, the first two picks got their signing bonuses in a lump sum: Joe Burrow, Chase Young. 2019, Nick Bosa got a signing bonus in a lump sum. 2018, Sam Darnold got his signing bonus in a lump sum. So, that’s going to be a major issue that we see this year among the first-round picks at the top of the draft.”

Well, Pickett is not a top-of-the-first-round selection, right? While that’s definitely true, the fact that Pickett was the first quarterback taken this year might have his side pressing hard for full payment of the signing bonus within 15 days of him signing his deal. By the way, Pickett’s agent is Brian Ayrault, and he also represents Burrow and Wilson, both of whom got their signing bonuses in lump sums after signing their rookie contracts. That’s a plausible reason for the hold up. Obviously, an agent wants his client to get his money as fast as possible. The team, on the other hand, would likely want to try to extend out the payment timeframe as long as possible.

At a minimum, it’s a good bet that Ayrault wants Pickett’s signing bonus paid in full by around the start of the 2023 league year in March. That’s just me speculating again, however.

Now, getting past the offsets and signing bonus payment timing, is there anything else that could plausibly be up for negotiation when it comes to Pickett’s rookie deal? It’s possible and it could be related to second- and third-year roster bonuses.

The player drafted ahead of Pickett this year, New Orleans Saints tackle Trevor Penning, and the player drafted right after Pickett, Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Trent McDuffie, both reportedly have second- and third-year roster bonuses as part of their deals, in lieu of base salary. Those roster bonuses, to the best of my knowledge, are due at the start of training camp in each year. This year the roster bonuses in the second and third years of players selected in the first round seem to have started with Tennessee Titans wide receiver Treylon Burks, the 18th overall selection. It’s quite possible that Pickett’s agent might be pressing for the roster bonusses to be due within a few days of the start of each league year and not at the start of training camp. After all, an agent wants his player to get his money as soon possible, right?

As Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk wrote a few years ago, training camp roster bonuses have become an alternative to the removal of offset language from a player’s guaranteed money at the top of the draft. Multiple players, however, have language in their contracts that allow the roster bonuses to not be paid if they are on the NFI (Non-Football Injury) list. Perhaps Pickett’s agent could be trying to negotiate those expected roster bonuses for his client to not be subject to being lost because of an NFI listing? Once again, that’s just speculation on my part, but it is something to consider.

In closing, and after chatting briefly with Corry, I think that the holdup with Pickett might indeed be related to the signing bonus payment timeframe. Basically, my updated theory now is that Ayrault is wanting Pickett treated contractually like the first quarterback taken in the draft, as opposed to a non-quarterback drafted 20th overall.

So, how much longer will we be waiting for Pickett to sign? I wish I had an answer to that question. The Steelers are likely going to continue to play hardball with Ayrault and wait for him to cave. If Pickett were closer to being a top 10 selection, perhaps that wouldn’t be the case. If the Steelers were to give to make any non-normal concessions to Pickett this year, it could be used against them in negotiations in future years and especially the next time that they might pick 20th overall in the first round.

It’s only June 22 and that means we have more than a month to go before the Steelers are scheduled to report to Latrobe for the start of their 2022 training camp. Because of that, I will be surprised if Pickett is still unsigned by then. In the meantime, however, we might be waiting a little longer for Pickett to sign his rookie deal and it just might end up with him being the last signed member of the 2022 draft class. We’ll see.

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