Westbrook waiting to catch on

July 14, 1995|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,Sun Staff Writer

It has become almost an annual ritual for the Washington Redskins.

They draft one of the nation's top college football players in April and then open training camp without him in July.

That's what happened to Desmond Howard in 1992, the fourth player picked in the draft who missed all of training camp in a holdout, and Heath Shuler, the third player selected last year who sat out the first 13 days of camp.

Now it appears likely to happen to Michael Westbrook, the fourth pick by the Redskins in this year's draft.

Westbrook doesn't appear close to a deal, but if he is a holdout when the Redskins open camp Thursday, he might have some company.

With the majority of teams opening camp next week, only one -- offensive lineman Tony Boselli of the Jacksonville Jaguars -- of the first 10 players drafted has signed a contract.

Boselli's contract -- a seven-year $17.024 million deal with a $6 million signing bonus -- may have helped create the logjam.

Although Boselli's $6 million bonus was a record for a rookie, the deal doesn't include any "voidable" years, so he's locked in with the team for seven years.

Voidable years is the concept that agents have used as a loophole to get around the rookie salary pool that limits what each team can pay its rookies.

An example of this is quarterback Drew Bledsoe of the New England Patriots, who received a $4.5 million signing bonus in a six-year deal in 1993.

If Bledsoe starts 10 games this year, the contract will void at the end of this year. That means that instead of being locked in for three more years for a total of $6 million, he can now negotiate a new deal in the neighborhood of Troy Aikman's $50 million

contract.

Last year, several rookies, including Cincinnati's Dan Wilkinson,

the top pick, got deals with voidable years. Since Boselli didn't get one this year, owners are using him as an example.

Leigh Steinberg, the agent who did the Bledsoe and Wilkinson deals and represents the first and fifth players in this year's draft, Ki-Jana Carter of Cincinnati and Kerry Collins of Carolina, said: "I think management has made its position on voidable years pretty clear. There's some resistance. There always is."

Steinberg, though, predicts the Carter and Collins contracts will be done soon regardless of how they're structured.

"The point is to have the player well-paid," Steinberg said.

Mike Brown, the Cincinnati owner who negotiated the Wilkinson deal with Steinberg last year and is negotiating the Carter deal with him this year, said owners are in a no-win position.

"You hear you have nobody to blame but yourself [if you agree to a good deal], but if you don't, you hear you're a cheapskate and no wonder your team is no good," Brown said.

It's likely that Carter and the two quarterbacks in the top five, Steve McNair of Houston and Collins, will get some type of contracts with voidable years.

That leaves Westbrook in the fourth slot. Although neither general manager Charley Casserly nor Westbrook's agent, Steve Zucker, will comment on the substance on the talks, voidable years probably is a key issue.

Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke gave Shuler voidable years last year, but he's a quarterback. Cooke's more likely to want to give Westbrook, a wide receiver, a 15 percent raise over the contract that defensive lineman Willie McGinest got in the fourth slot from New England last year -- a four-year $6.19 million deal with no voidable years.

NFL ROOKIE CONTRACTS

1994

Contract terms

3)No. Player, Team, Pos., Yrs. Total, Avg.

1. Dan Wilkinson, Cincinnati, DT, 6, $14.407 million, $2.04 million

2. Marshall Faulk, Indianapolis, RB 7, $17.178 million, $2.45 million

3. Heath Shuler, Washington, QB, 8 $19.25 million, $2.406 million

4. Willie McGinest, New England, DE, 4 $6.19 million, $1.55 million

5. Trev Alberts, Indianapolis, LB, 6 $8.125 million, $1.35 million

1995

7-1. Ki-Jana Carter, Cincinnati, RB, Unsigned

2. Tony Boselli, Jacksonville, OT, 7, $17.024 million, $2.432 million

3. Steve McNair, Houston, QB, Unsigned

4. Michael Westbrook, Washington, WR, Unsigned

5. Kerry Collins, Carolina, QB, Unsigned

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