BETHLEHEM -- Every year, before Lehigh starts, I tell myself not to get too caught up in what first-round picks say about not wanting to miss training camp.
But if ever somebody was emphatic about being here, it was this year's first-round pick, Danny Watkins, pegged as the Eagles' starting right guard. Watkins, who grew up in Canada pretty much ignorant of the ways of the NFL, didn't even know until a few weeks ago that he wasn't allowed to participate in training camp without a contract. He vowed this would not be a problem.
The Eagles, you might have heard, are hard-nosed negotiators. That's one reason they have the cap room and the overall cash to do some of the amazing things they've done this past week. And surprise, surprise, we've been at Lehigh since Wednesday, and Watkins isn't here yet.
Neither his agent group nor the team's front office is willing to comment publicly on the holdup. But you don't have to be a rocket surgeon (or a brain scientist) to figure it out.
Watkins was drafted 23rd overall. As of this writing, Nos. 21 and 22 have not signed, and neither has 24. More important, No. 20 -- Tampa DE Adrian Clayborn, the only draftee signed between slot 17 and slot 25 -- got all four years of his deal guaranteed. But the next guy signed, No. 25, Seattle OL James Carpenter, got only three of his four years guaranteed, according to Pro Football Talk.
Problem identified. (And subsequently confirmed by a team source.)
The Eagles apparently feel strongly that this should not be such a huge problem, that if Watkins is a good player, as everyone expects, the fourth year will take care of itself. Of course, if it isn't that big a deal, they could just give Watkins that fourth year right now. Watkins could get hurt before the fourth year, and end up not getting that money, unless it's guaranteed.
You can be sure Watkins's agent group, looking ahead to recruiting next year's college seniors, doesn't want not getting that fourth year used against them by their fellow agents. (A group whose pristine ethics and strong moral compass surely would guard against such dastardly behavior.)
And the league's oldest rookie sits at home, getting older.
Just to turn up the heat a notch, the Birds today signed former Bengals, Dolphins and Panthers guard Evan Mathis, 29, who has started 22 games in his pro career.
"I come from a scheme in Cincinnati where it was more bigger linemen, I didn't fit real well," said Mathis, whom the Eagles are listing at an extremely generous 6-5, 302. "To come here where athletic linemen are a little more respected, it's better for me."