BETHLEHEM - If you ask Andy Reid - and reporters did exactly that yesterday evening, because Eagles training camp was opening for rookies and the 12th-year head coach was sitting at the front of a tent, behind a microphone - this first-round signing business has gotten way out of hand.
Eagles first-rounder Brandon Graham will not be on the field when those rookies work out for the first time today at Lehigh. Graham, expected to compete for a starting defensive-end role, talked during minicamps about how important it was for him to be here, and vowed he would be here. Of course, this was before he really talked to agent Joel Segal about how the process works. Or, in recent years, how it doesn't work.
The Eagles were totally amazed and frustrated last year when wideout Jeremy Maclin - who also had no intention of missing valuable learning time - didn't arrive until a week into drills. Maclin's agent, Jim Steiner, needed to see certain other deals get done around Maclin, who was drafted 19th overall. Steiner simply wasn't signing Maclin until he saw those deals.
So, this year, rookies reported to Lehigh with exactly one first-rounder signed in the entire NFL, Dallas wideout Dez Bryant, taken 24th overall. There is no structure on which to base a deal for Graham, a defensive end who was the 13th overall pick. Getting him here could take a few days, a week, or much more. Right now, nobody knows. Eagles sources aren't even willing to guess.
"Nobody around him has done anything," Reid noted. "There's one first-round pick that's really signed. To me, it's crunch time, but I'm not sure that urgency is there, and I'm not saying with Brandon, but with the agents that are involved with all of these first-round picks. To me, it's third-and-2. I've got to make that call right now. It's a shame for these kids. Every day that they get is a good day for them."
Segal did not respond to a request for comment yesterday on why the first round has been so hard to sign this year. Other sources close to the situation have said that the lack of a collective bargaining agreement past this season makes structuring future bonus payments problematic. Indeed, very few second-rounders had signed before a flurry of signings yesterday, mostly players taken in the 50s and 60s overall. The Eagles seemed to think - and Reid indicated - that their second-rounder, 37th overall selection Nate Allen, will sign very quickly and could even be on the field today.
Reid was asked if he has talked to Graham, who also said he would like to come to camp and participate in classroom sessions even if he weren't signed. Of course, that's against the rules.
"These guys are kind of in a bunker mode. Their agents kind of tell them, 'Don't pick up the phone unless it's me calling,' 'me' being the agent. So, I understand that game," Reid said.
Ultimately, there will be a new CBA, and one thing management wants to address is out-of-control first-round inflation that makes agents leery of just doing a deal off, say, what the 13th player selected last season got. Someone asked Reid if the NFL might move toward an NBA system of slotted values for first-round picks.
"I'm not sure I'm in a position to answer that, although I have a feeling that that's probably the direction things will end up going here, down the road," he said. "There's a little bit of a slot there as it goes anyway, but it's one that there's quite a little bit of flexibility with right now. I can see things going in that direction, possibly."
Asked about Graham and Allen not being present yesterday evening, Reid said: "I think it's important that they're here. These 3 days are great training for the young players and both these two are going to have a role on our defense, so as many reps as they can get will be very important. I think if you lose a day, you lose an opportunity to get better."
Allen's presence would seem especially critical, since he is the presumptive starter at free safety, a complex position in the Eagles' defense. His agent, Todd France, did not respond to requests for comment.
Asked if he thought Allen could practice today, Reid said, "Yeah, I think so."
Andy Reid caused a mild stir with his initial answer to a question about which players would start camp on the physically unable to perform list. Reid answered that center Jamaal Jackson (ACL) and defensive end Victor Abiamiri (knee microfracture surgery) would, as would left guard Todd Herremans (foot). Herremans was a surprise, because the Eagles said a specialist who examined him last month felt his repaired left foot was fine, and Herremans recently Tweeted as much.
Reid later clarified that he was listing the players PUPed at the end of minicamps.
"I want to see how he's doing before we take him off the PUP," he said of Herremans. "We'll gradually bring him back. I don't want him to jump in and hurt himself again, so I want to take it nice and slow here. We've got a little bit of time."
Asked if he is concerned that the foot is "still bothering" Herremans, Reid said: "Right now, it's really not bothering him. I want to see it. He's had time off here and he's been working with Rick [Burkholder, head athletic trainer], but I want to see myself, and I want to take it nice and easy here."
Jackson apparently is encouraged by his progress, but Reid said it remains unlikely that the starting center will be ready for the season opener.
"I will tell you he's in great shape. His leg is feeling good, it's just that it happened not too long ago here," Reid said of Jackson, who was injured Dec. 27 against Denver. "We'll see how it goes."
Abiamiri, meanwhile, said he was optimistic about being ready for the start of the season. Obviously, if the Eagles were all that optimistic about their oft-injured 2007 second-round pick, they wouldn't have taken Brandon Graham in the first round and Daniel Te'o-Nesheim in the third.
Do those additions (plus that of free-agent defensive end Darryl Tapp) put pressure on Abiamiri to get back?
"I hate being injured. Hate being off the field. Gonna try my best to get back on the field as soon as possible," Abiamiri said. "But you can't rush injuries. You've got to give things time to heal."
Microfracture surgery is very serious, but Abiamiri said he does not consider his situation career-threatening.
Andy Reid said cornerback Ellis Hobbs (neck) will be "full go" from the first full-squad workout, scheduled for Saturday . . . Asked about playing Kevin Kolb in exhibitions more than he normally plays his No. 1 QB, because of Kolb's inexperience, Reid said he planned to "play it by ear" . . . Seventh-round rookie safety Kurt Coleman said he tried to make up for missing OTAs (he wasn't allowed to participate because Ohio State hadn't held graduation yet) by spending "about 10 days" in the classroom at NovaCare subsequently, and then meeting with position coach Mike Zordich in Zordich's hometown of Youngstown, Ohio.
Daily News sports writer Paul Domowitch contributed to this report.
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