Record-breaking deal for Gates

Chargers tight end Antonio Gates runs with the ball against the New York Jets in San Diego,...

Chargers tight end Antonio Gates runs with the ball against the New York Jets in San Diego, California on January 17, 2010. (DONALD MIRALLE/Getty Images)

BILL LANKHOF, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:40 PM ET

Antonio Gates yesterday became the highest paid tight end in National Football League history amid indications owners may finally be greasing the vault hinges to sign their first round draft picks.

Until Wednesday, they’d made Montgomery Burns look like a philanthropist, with Dez Bryant being the only first round pick to agree to a contract. But yesterday the Broncos agreed to terms with College phenom Tim Tebow (25th overall) and the Raiders agreed to a five-year deal with eighth overall pick Rolando McClain that includes a guaranteed $23 million. A day earlier, the Patriots signed Devin McCourty (27th overall) to a $13.2-million US deal.

Agents and owners expect the floodgates to open when No. 1 Sam Bradford, who missed yesterday’s opening rookie workouts, signs with the Rams. Reports say they’re close.

It can’t happen soon enough because as the last team’s open camp this weekend there are missing links everywhere. “Right now everyone is in a holding pattern,” said 49ers vice-president Trent Baalke, who has yet to sign any of the team’s top four picks.

The Chargers don’t appear close to signing Ryan Mathews (No. 12 overall), the heir apparent to LaDainian Tomlinson. The Bills are still trying to lock up running back C.J. Spiller (No. 9)

“Sometimes this is the way it happens when a first-overall pick doesn’t sign before the draft,” agent Kevin Poston, told the Detroit News. “Once Bradford signs you’ll see a lot of signings in a short period of time.”

Still, the McClain and Gates deals may finally signal a small crack in the logjam that has left veterans such as Tom Brady silently miffed and left so many rookies as training camp spectators. The McClain deal is interesting because it gives $8 million to a linebacker who hasn’t played a single NFL down while at the same time teams had refused to pay similar money to proven players. Brady, who gets $3.5 million this season is waiting on an extension and Peyton Manning is waiting to re-up.

Gates’ deal is worth $7.235 million per season for the next five years, with $20.4 million in guarantees. A six-time Pro Bowl player, he led the Chargers in catches each of the past six seasons.

It still leaves the Chargers with two key players unsigned entering today’s first full workouts including Marcus McNeill, the tackle who protects quarterback Philip Rivers’ blind side. Vincent Jackson, the Pro Bowl wide receiver, also remains unhappy and unsigned.

Meantime, the Lions haven’t signed either of their first-round picks Ndamukong Suh (No. 2 over-all) and receiver, Jahvid Best (No. 30). The Bucs haven’t signed defensive tackle Gerald McCoy (No. 3 over-all). One reason is that most agents are waiting for Bradford to sign what is expected to be the largest rookie contract (about $50 million) in NFL history.

The other sticking points are a potential work stoppage next year and this being an uncapped season, plus the potential implementation of a rookie salary scale in the new agreement.

All have combined to make owners tight-fisted and wary.

WHITE WASH

It didn’t take the Saints as long to get to the White House as it did for them to get their first playoff win. But folks were beginning to wonder.

The Saints announced yesterday they’ll visit Barack Obama Aug. 9. Normally, this trip comes between April and June. By waiting, several players who actually won the Super Bowl will be gone from the team and several others who had nothing to do with it could end up celebrating a game they never won.

According to a league source, it’s politics. Saints’ owner Tom Benson sees the world from a different political spectrum than Obama and wasn’t eager to make the trip. As the story goes, coach Sean Payton finally convinced Benson to take the team.

According to a team source, that explanation was “crap”. But nobody’s come up with a better explanation, right?

SNAP JUDGMENTS

Trent Edwards is the Bills starting quarterback. Talk about mixed blessing: Kind of like winning a lottery to be the first guy to face the firing squad.

Edwards had a majority of snaps in the Bills’ first practice yesterday, and opened each of the individual drills by taking the first snap. Edwards got 10 minutes during a walkthrough period, followed by Ryan Fitzpatrick and Brian Brohm, who got about four minutes each.

The Bills also signed nose tackle Torell Troup. Aaron Schobel was placed on the did not report list.

QUICK HITS

Quarterback Vince Young will not be disciplined by the NFL for a June 13 altercation at a Dallas-area strip club. Young, a first-time legal offender who received a misdemeanour citation for assault, has apologized for the fisticuffs ... Third-year pro Brandyn Dombrowski, who has never played the left side, is taking snaps in McNeill’s tackle spot in San Diego ... Patriots Wes Welker, Sam Aiken, Ron Brace and Darnell Jenkins missed practice with injuries. Coach Bill Belichick says “they’re all in that day-to-day category.” But, hey then, aren’t we all.


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