CINCINNATI — The Cincinnati Bengals have signed none of the 17 players they selected in the National Football League's April 29 draft, but a team executive says that isn't surprising.
The rate of contract signings with this year's NFL draftees has slowed league-wide, as NFL teams push ahead with a concerted effort they began last year to reduce the ballooning salaries paid to rookies. The league office estimates that NFL teams have signed a total of about 25 rookies out of the 333 drafted.
"What the clubs came to realize was that too much was being paid the rookies--they hadn't earned it. It was money wasted," Mike Brown, the Bengals' assistant general manager, said. "Clubs are more prudent now. They're not prepared to pay at the same rate. They've learned their lesson."
Brown said he is not surprised that none of the Bengals' draftees have signed contracts.
"We knew it would be slower than normal, maybe even more so than we would have thought going in," he said. "There isn't a lot of discussion. There's some communication, but nothing that would make me think a deal is near."
Leading the unsigned rookies is University of Washington linebacker Joe Kelly, a 6-foot-2, 220-pound player who was Cincinnati's first-round draft choice and is regarded as a possible starter who can help revitalize the team's aging defensive unit.
"I've got a good rapport with Mike Brown," said Mike Blatt of Stockton, an agent for Kelly who represented former Bengals running back John Farley. "I respect him, and I think he respects me. We've talked a couple of times on the phone, and we're both pretty much sitting back.
"I haven't made any moves. He hasn't made any moves," Blatt said. "I think it'll heat up a little bit in the next couple of weeks."
The Bengals will open their summer training camp at Wilmington College, in Wilmington, on July 20 for rookies and July 24 for veteran players. The annual intrasquad scrimmage is scheduled Aug. 2, and the opening preseason exhibition game is Aug. 9 in Kansas City against the Chiefs.
Blatt dismissed a report that the Bengals have offered Kelly a four-year contract worth $817,500. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers reportedly have agreed to pay SMU cornerback Roderick Jones a total of $1.14 million over four years. Jones is this year's only only signed first-round draft pick in the NFL.
"I don't even know where those figures came from," Blatt said of the alleged offer to Kelly. "Don't you think that's low for a first-rounder? I told Mike Brown we're not going to negotiate in the newspapers. We're not going to mention figures to anybody."