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This year’s NFL rookies already scoring at bargaining table

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Rams quarterback Jared Goff (left), the top pick in the draft, handed off to running back Aaron Green during rookie minicamp in May.
Rams quarterback Jared Goff (left), the top pick in the draft, handed off to running back Aaron Green during rookie minicamp in May.Mark J. Terrill

When the Packers' Kenny Clark signed his rookie contract Friday evening, he became the 240th out of 253 draft picks to sign this spring.

Only four first-round picks, seven third-rounders, and two fourth-rounders remain unsigned, and it would be a shock if any of those players aren't signed by the first day of training camp in late July.

The new rookie wage scale was a major negotiating point in the 2011 lockout for the owners, who were tired of haggling with unproven players and giving guys such as Sam Bradford $50 million guaranteed before playing a single snap. The new system slashed rookie pay — Cam Newton made 56 percent less on his rookie deal than did Bradford — and eliminated holdouts, since rookie contracts are now mostly spelled out by a predetermined formula based on draft slot.

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But after three years of flat salaries, rookie wages are on the rise. Let's take a look at how this year's rookie class did from a financial standpoint:

 The rookie wage increases pretty much outpaced the increase in the salary cap this year. The salary cap rose by 8.37 percent — from $143.28 million to $155.27 million — yet rookies received anywhere from a 9 to an 11 percent increase in guaranteed money from last year.

 No. 1 overall pick Jared Goff signed a four-year deal with the Rams worth about $27.9 million fully guaranteed. His contract is a 10.2 percent increase over the contract signed by last year’s No. 1 pick, Jameis Winston. Goff received a signing bonus worth approximately $18.5 million, a 10.9 percent increase from Winston’s.

It's the second straight year that the No. 1 pick has seen a healthy increase in his contract. Last year, Winston's deal was 13.8 percent higher than the 2014 deal signed by Jadeveon Clowney.

These increases are important, because rookie contracts remained flat for the first four years of the CBA. Newton, Andrew Luck, Eric Fisher, and Clowney each received a $14.5 million signing bonus before Winston and Goff received a spike.

 The Rams continue to do things their own way, particularly on the issue of “offset language,” which has become a top priority among most NFL front offices. Offset language prevents a player from collecting two salaries if he is cut and signed by another team — the former team only owes the difference between the player’s old and new salary.

Offset language has almost become standard in rookie contracts — almost, because the Rams and Jaguars refuse to play along. Twenty-four of 26 first-rounders have offset language in their contracts so far, but the Rams didn't put offset language in Goff's contract, and the Jaguars don't have it for No. 5 pick Jalen Ramsey.

The other 30 NFL teams can't be happy that the Rams set the precedent with the No. 1 pick. This could have a trickledown effect in upcoming years.

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 In fact, offset language is the reason the Chargers haven’t come to terms with No. 3 overall pick Joey Bosa, the only pick in the top 19 who has yet to sign. Bosa had been participating in the Chargers’ voluntary offseason program, but skipped last week’s mandatory minicamp as he squabbled with the Chargers over offset language.

"We're disappointed he's not here," general manager Tom Telesco said. "This is a big part of the learning process for all players, not just rookies. But there's a business part to this [game], too, and we understand that."

 The Chiefs also do things their own way, as the only team to give workout bonuses to players drafted in Rounds 4-7, giving their players identical $27,500 bonuses ($9,500 each year). Though the bonuses are small, they are a good way to entice players to attend offseason workouts.

 There are two other small clusters of first-round picks who haven’t signed. The first is picks 20 and 21, Jets linebacker Darren Lee and Texans receiver Will Fuller (both represented by agents Todd France and Brian Ayrault). The agents and teams are squabbling over the amount of guaranteed money in the fourth year of the contract, as the 20th pick is the first one in which the entire four-year deal isn’t fully guaranteed.

Picks 27 and 28 were unsigned until recently — Packers defensive tackle Kenny Clark signed Friday evening, 49ers guard Joshua Garnett remains unsigned — and the issue again is guaranteed money in the fourth year. The picks ahead of them have some money guaranteed in their fourth years, and the picks below them don't.

 As if we didn’t know this already, it pays to be a quarterback. The first two picks in the draft, Goff and Carson Wentz, signed for a combined $54.6 million. Broncos quarterback Paxton Lynch, who went 26th overall, negotiated for $500,000 more in guaranteed money than the player drafted just ahead of him, Steelers cornerback Artie Burns.

And the two third-round quarterbacks are the only third-rounders to negotiate for 100 percent of their possible value. Brissett has a higher contract than 17 players drafted ahead of him, and Cleveland's Cody Kessler has a deal higher than the previous 18 players (excluding Brissett).

 The most unusual contract goes to Chiefs fifth-round receiver Tyreek Hill, a speedy, 5-foot-9-inch gadget player who has impressed his coaches in practices. Hill received the slotted amount of guaranteed money — about $218,000 — but the Chiefs slashed Hill’s signing bonus to $70,000, guaranteed him money in the form of 2017 base salary and offseason roster bonus (unheard of for a fifth-round pick), and gave him a total of about $150,000 in roster bonuses over four years for making the 53-man roster or injured reserve each season.

Why such a unique, pay-as-you-go contract? Hill was a controversial selection — arrested in December 2014 on domestic violence charges and accused of punching and choking his girlfriend, who was two months pregnant. Hill was dismissed from Oklahoma State's football and track teams and pleaded guilty to domestic abuse by strangulation. He was sentenced to three years probation, fined $500 plus fees, and ordered to pay $263.14 in restitution. Hill played the 2015 season at West Alabama, the Division 2 school known for producing Malcolm Butler.

Did marijuana factor in decision?

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John Harbaugh said Thursday that the Ravens' release of left tackle Eugene Monroe last week was strictly about football, and he's mostly right — although financial considerations also played a part. Monroe was high on our "endangered veterans" list from May 8, in which we noted the Ravens "can save $2.2 million in cap space and $6.5 million in cash by trading or releasing Monroe." He played in only 17 games the last two seasons because of knee and shoulder issues, and the Ravens just drafted tackle Ronnie Stanley with the No. 6 pick, making Monroe expendable.

Monroe also thinks that his outspoken marijuana advocacy had something to do with it.

"I can't say for sure whether or not my stance on medical cannabis was the reason the Ravens released me," he told the New York Times. "However, as I've said in the past, they have distanced themselves from me and made it clear that they do not support my advocacy."

Monroe has spent his spring encouraging the NFL to remove marijuana from its list of banned substances.

"I will never stop pushing for the league to accept medical cannabis as a viable option for pain management," Monroe said in a statement after his release. "I will do everything I can to ensure [that] generations of NFL players after me won't have to resort to harmful and addictive opioids."

Monroe's position isn't anything new, and marijuana is gaining widespread acceptance as it becomes legal across America.

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Yet it was a little strange how fervently Harbaugh distanced himself from Monroe's beliefs.

Upon Monroe's release, the team website wrote a news story/press release quoting Harbaugh, "I promise you, he does not speak for the organization."

This was a team that welcomed Ray Lewis back with open arms and harbored Ray Rice until his videotape was released to the public, but Monroe's not-all-that-controversial marijuana stance is where the Ravens draw the line?

That's probably why Harbaugh walked back his comments a bit on Thursday and denied that Monroe's beliefs factored into his release.

"Football circumstances — 100 percent football circumstances. That's it," Harbaugh said. "We always allow people to be who they are, believe what they believe, and stand up for what they believe in."

Injury ordeal for Pouncey

Maurkice Pouncey.
Maurkice Pouncey.Keith Srakocic

Remember the scare in 2013 when Rob Gronkowski couldn't get his forearm fixed? Gronk had four surgeries to repair the twice-broken bone and clean out infections that developed when the doctors initially tried to fix the break with a metal plate. The Patriots' medical staff took a lot of heat for its handling of the injury, which at the time seemed like it could jeopardize Gronk's playing career.

Turns out, that was nothing when compared to the horror experienced by Steelers Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey last year.

Pouncey told ESPN last week that he had a total of six surgeries plus a skin graft to repair a broken fibula suffered last August.

Doctors discovered in October that the wound didn't close properly, and Pouncey developed a staph infection. He found himself taking medicine via a peripherally inserted central catheter after several surgeries to clean the wound and repair the bone. He also developed an E. coli infection that he said wasn't as serious as it sounds.

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Pouncey, a four-time Pro Bowl selection, finally returned to the field this spring and hopes the injury is behind him.

"I blame no one," Pouncey said of his medical care. "We're all professionals. I respect this organization for everything they did to get me through this."

Texans are talking a good game

In Houston, the pumping of Brock Osweiler's tires this spring has been noticeable, after the Texans gave him $37 million guaranteed to be the team's starting quarterback the next two seasons.

"He's been here every single day for the offseason program," coach Bill O'Brien told reporters last week. "He shows up early and stays late. He's been able to understand the operation of the offense. He sees something new every day.

"With all that's been thrown at him, he's made a lot of progress."

It sounds great, but how much "progress" is Osweiler making? No question, he probably is picking up the offense well, developing a rapport with his receivers, and impressing his coaches with his attitude and leadership.

But his work on the field is limited to two hours per day, and he's not facing a pass rush or taking any hits in practice. It's glorified flag football.

This is no fault of Osweiler's, of course — those are the NFL's rules for offseason workouts. But the Texans sure seem to be selling Osweiler hard to the fan base, or at least convincing themselves that giving Osweiler a huge chunk of money and handing him the starting job based on seven career starts was the right move.

Extra points

Wes Welker's sour departure from New England led him to sign with the rival Broncos, and now he's helping out another of the Patriots' enemies. Welker, whose NFL career took off with the Dolphins a decade ago, has been working with Miami's coaching staff this spring to help mentor some of the young receivers — most notably sixth-round pick Jakeem Grant, who, like Welker, was a slot receiver at Texas Tech. Grant stands just 5-7, earning nicknames "Mighty Mouse" and "Kevin Hart II" from teammates, but the speedster has been a mismatch nightmare during practice and has his coaches excited about his potential. "Wes set the tone for shorter receivers like me," Grant told the Miami Herald. "Just getting advice from him as a receiver and punt returner is awesome. He's coached me up on all those aspects." . . . Speaking of Miami, the Dolphins have had five full-time head coaches and just one playoff appearance over the past decade, but there's reason for optimism under new coach Adam Gase, who bases many of his coaching principles off what he learned when working for Josh McDaniels in Denver. Gase had an interesting quote last week about teaching his players about the intricate rules and specific situations that arise in the NFL. "We try to make sure we educate the players, because you'd be surprised how many times you bring something up and somebody will say, 'Wow, I didn't know that,' " Gase said. "And you start assuming something, and that's the worst thing you can do, because a lot of these guys, they've never heard some of this stuff. When you hear it for the first time, you probably screw it up in practice and then you make the correction. You want to try to make it to where when those situations come up on Sunday, you're not coming back Monday and being like, 'All right, we need to do this.' Instead, you're ahead of that, you make the right play, and you get the right result." Sounds a lot like the Patriots' philosophy . . . Yes, that was Roger Goodell's cousin — state assemblyman Andy Goodell — arguing against the legality of daily fantasy sports on Friday in front of the New York legislature. "In my mind, it's clearly gambling. It's sports gambling," Andy Goodell said, via attorney and legal expert Daniel Wallach. That's the opposite position held by the NFL's Goodell, who doesn't believe daily fantasy sports fit under the umbrella of gambling. Of course, several of Goodell's bosses (including the Patriots' Robert Kraft) have lucrative sponsorship deals with DraftKings and FanDuel. Roger Goodell has contributed thousands of dollars to his cousin over the years. This year's Thanksgiving dinner at the Goodell compound should be a lot more interesting.

Long and winding road

Delvin Breaux, who injured his neck in high school and didn't play college football, latched on with the Saints in 2015 after playing in the Arena Football League and the CFL. During his first season, the cornerback had three interceptions and 19 passes defensed in 16 games. He joined seven players who reached those numbers in their first season (passes defensed were first recorded in 2001).


Ben Volin can be reached at ben.volin@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @BenVolin. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.