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NFL's third-round issues delayed T.J. Graham deal

By Tim Graham

Wide receiver T.J. Graham was the final Buffalo Bills draft choice to sign a contract.

He also was the last out of 20 clients from the Sportstars agency to sign.

Why did it take so long to get Graham locked down?

The problem is where Graham was drafted. The Bills traded a seventh-round draft choice to the Washington Redskins so they could move up two slots and land Graham with the 69th overall pick.

That neighborhood -- the first 12 parcels of the third round -- is a trouble area for contracts this year.

Graham, the sixth pick of the third round, is the only one of that group under contract. The first five third-round picks and the next six after him remain unsigned despite a collective bargaining agreement that should make rookie contracts a snap.

First-round deals have been a breeze. Sportstars represents Bills first-round pick Stephon Gilmore, who signed in May. Sportstars also has the 14th pick of the third round, New York Jets outside linebacker Demario Davis, who came to terms in May.

But those first 12 slots in the third round are a muddy curiosity.

A market correction is the issue. Last year, the first under the new CBA, set a precedent for deals in subsequent seasons. Those contracts are viewed as the standard. But a few of them were out of whack with others in the vicinity.

Some agents, in a rush to get deals done, undervalued their players.

Carolina Panthers defensive lineman Terrell McClain (first pick of the third round) and Denver Broncos linebacker Nate Irving (third pick of the third round) signed deals that will cost them six figures over the lengths of their deals compared to their draft peers.

Their base salaries for this year will be $465,000. Seven players drafted after them in the third round will make more than they do. New England Patriots running back Stevan Ridley, Patriots quarterback Ryan Mallett, Seattle Seahawks guard John Moffitt and Jacksonville Jaguars guard William Rackley (the ninth, 10th, 11th, 12th picks from the third round) each will make at least $505,000 in base salary this season.

Rackley will make $507,467. But Tennessee Titans defensive lineman Jurrell Casey (14th selection of the third round) drops back down to a $490,000 base salary.

Buffalo linebacker Kelvin Sheppard (fourth pick of the third round) will make $480,000 in base salary this year.

The money wasn't aligned, and agents have been dancing with front offices.

Teams, of course, want to use favorable contracts as their model, while agents want to get those first 12 picks of the third round back in line with those around them.

Agents have resisted, trying to get their clients closer to Mallett and Ridley money than Irving and Sheppard money.

Graham and his co-agents, Jared Fox and Alan Herman, held for as long as they could, but Graham told the Bills' official website he signed because he wanted to report for rookie workouts today at One Bills Drive.

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About Press Coverage

Tim Graham

Tim Graham

Tim Graham returned to The Buffalo News in 2011 after covering the NFL for three years at ESPN and for one year at the Palm Beach Post. Before that, the Cleveland native spent seven seasons on the Buffalo Sabres beat for The News and was president of the Boxing Writers Association of America.

@ByTimGraham |

Mark Gaughan

Mark Gaughan

Buffalo native Mark Gaughan started working at The News in 1980 and has been covering the Bills exclusively since 1992. He is a former president of the Pro Football Writers of America, and he is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee.

@gggaughan |

Jay Skurski

Jay Skurski

Jay Skurski joined The News in January 2009. The Lewiston native attended St. Francis High School before graduating from the University of South Florida. He writes a weekly Fantasy column in addition to his beat writing duties.

@JaySkurski |