Quasi-Rookie-Contract-Standoff Between Steelers CB Joey Porter Jr., Titans QB Will Levis continues

Two weeks from this coming Wednesday, the Pittsburgh Steelers will report to Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, PA for the start of the team’s annual training camp, and with that, fans are starting to worry a lot about whether the team’s rookie cornerback Joey Porter Jr. will appear. one time. Why? Well, because Porter still needs to sign his rookie contract.

Porter, selected by the Steelers in the second round with the 32nd overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, is now the team’s only unsigned selection a few weeks ago. Honestly, it’s not a huge surprise since it certainly seems like he and the player who was picked right after him, Tennessee Titans quarterback Will Levis, are currently in a quasi-standoff of sorts as far as percentage goes of guaranteed money in the fourth and final years of their respective deals.

This quasi-standoff between Porter and Levis is likely heavily skewed to Levis’ side, as he and his agent representation are likely waiting to see what percentage of year-four money Porter gets in his deal. With Porter being the 32nd overall pick this year yet a second-round pick, the thinking is and has been that he and his agents will push hard for a higher-than-trend in the final year of his rookie contract fully guaranteed.

If we rewind to several weeks ago, we see that the Detroit Lions signed second-round tight end Sam LaPorta to his four-year rookie contract. LaPorta was the 34th overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, and his rookie contract included just about 20 percent of his year-four money being fully guaranteed. Shortly before LaPorta signed, the Las Vegas Raiders signed tight end Michael Mayer, the 35th overall pick in the NFL Draft, and as part of his rookie contract, 15 percent of his year-four money was fully guaranteed.

Based on the way these second-round picks have been trending when it comes to year-4 guaranteed money, you’d think Levis would get 25 percent of his four-year money guaranteed and Porter 30 percent of his four-year money guaranteed . That’s not likely to be the end result, though, and especially since Levis is a quarterback and Porter is an unusual case of a 32nd overall pick yet to be drafted in the second round.

Even if Levis ends up signing before Porter does, his percentage of year four guaranteed money in his deal, plus another five percent, will be the floor for Porter and his representation when it comes to negotiations with the Steelers. If I’m Levis, I’ll try my best to wait for Porter and then ask for five percent less than he signed for. Can you see why this is a quasi-standoff?

I recently spoke about Porter’s situation with NFL rookie contract expert Daniel Salib not long after LaPorta and Mayer both signed their rookie contracts to get his take on Porter and Levis’ situations.

“[Porter Jr.] in a difficult spot where the 32nd pick is usually the last pick in the first round, and last year that pick was fully guaranteed every four years,” Salib told me. “For no fault of his own, 32 is now the first pick in the second round, but I think his agents have good reason to push the fourth-year guarantees pretty high. He’s got some pretty good agents, so I think that Porter Jr. will be one of the last players to sign and it may take some time because of the peculiar situation.”

It’s been three weeks since I had that chat with Salib and yet here we are now with Porter and Levis both still unsigned.

Porter is also represented by Athletes First, and his agents are reportedly Andre Odom and David Mulugheta. According to the Sports Business Journal, Athletes First represents the most first-round picks in the 2023 NFL Draft with eight, and they also lead the second round with four picks, of which Porter is obviously one of them. They must probably be expected to push the boundaries when it comes to Porter’s four-year guarantees.

“I think 75% could definitely be the deal if the Steelers are willing to go that high,” Salib told me when it comes to Porter’s four-year guarantee percentage. “It depends on what position Omar Khan wants to take on this issue. It wouldn’t be a matter of breaking precedent in this case because it hasn’t really happened before, so it would be more of setting a precedent. 75 percent to being fully guaranteed pretty much guarantees all the money, so I think it’s a fair compromise for a strange situation.”

So what does it all mean? Well, that means we continue to sit and wait. It’s clear the Steelers want Porter signed before the start of training camp. Still, I expect Khan and company to stick to their side of the four-year guarantees as much as possible. Personally, I still expect Porter to be signed when the Steelers hold their first training camp, but within that prediction, the signing might not happen until the 11th hour. Or even the 12th.

In closing, and if it makes any of you reading this feel better, it looks like 25 picks in the 2023 NFL Draft are still unsigned at the time of this post. Eight of those 25 unsigned rookies were first-round picks, while 13 others were second-round picks. In fact, all nine players selected 40th through 48th overall in the 2023 NFL Draft remain unsigned at the time of this post.

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