Fashioning a contract for all will need creativity

INDIANAPOLIS -- For those teams interested in acquiring former Michigan quarterback Drew Henson, who hopes to be traded before having to re-enter the draft, here's some good news: The price tag for Henson doesn't include any 2004 picks.

Of course, as is typically the case in such good-news scenarios, the Henson deal includes a requisite downside -- any team dealing for the highly regarded QB prospect needs to be particularly creative in fashioning a contract that works for all parties involved.

Officials from two franchises interested in Henson said Friday that the conditions laid out by Texans general manager Charley Casserly are not exorbitant. The Texans are seeking: 1) a second-round choice, or 2) a conditional third-round selection in the 2005 draft that could subsequently escalate to as high as a first-round choice.

Under the second scenario, if Henson achieved certain predetermined performance levels, the original third-round pick escalates to a first-rounder. Houston would take that first-round choice but send back to the team that traded for Henson a second-round pick. The conditions, while somewhat convoluted, are deemed by many as unusually equitable.

Said one GM whose franchise is flirting with jumping into the Henson Sweepstakes: "To tell the truth, (Casserly) has really developed his asking price in a very fair manner. I don't think he's been (exorbitant). It's obvious that he wants to make a deal and is trying to make the terms as palatable as he can."

But as Buffalo Bills GM Tom Donahoe noted early in the week, dealing with Casserly isn't the big obstacle.

Coming to a contract accord with Henson and Tom Condon, his agent, could represent the biggest speed bump. That's because any trade for Henson would entail first having him sign a contract with Houston, which has only minimal money remaining in its rookie allocation pool from 2003.

While he might settle for a one-year minimum contract, Henson is going to demand a deal more commensurate to his avidly sought skills, and that means trying to squeeze big bucks into a very small safe deposit box.

"There are a lot of hoops to jump through," said Donahoe, whose team has not set up an individual workout for Henson. "Dealing with Charley isn't the problem. I really don't see how you do the contract. Everybody talks as if this trade is going to get done at some point. But I don't see how it's a slam-dunk ... for anyone."

As first reported by The Miami Herald in its Friday editions, Condon is toying with the idea of a landmark 10- to 15-year contract in which many of the base salaries would be fully guaranteed. Known for his creativity and for doing some of the biggest quarterback contracts in NFL history, Condon has floated the concept past some NFL Players Association officials to see if it might fly.

If such a structure is shot down, Condon and his associates at IMG Football could negotiate a contract that voids after just one season, and then forces the team that trades for Henson to pay a large bonus after the 2004 season to trigger subsequent options years. Beyond those two concepts, it could be difficult for Henson to sign a contract that matches his status, and he might then opt to re-enter the draft pool.

The sticky contract problem aside, most teams assume Henson will eventually be dealt rather than roll the dice again in the 2004 draft since he desperately wants to get to a situation where he has some control. If Henson re-enters the draft, he risks being chosen by a bad team, one for which he might not want to play. The trade route ostensibly allows him to choose his team.

To this point, the Miami Dolphins seem to be most eagerly pursuing Henson, but they figure to be joined by three or four other serious suitors once the combine concludes and general managers return to their home offices. Casserly has said he will allow teams with legitimate interest in Henson to bring him in for individual auditions on their turf. Look for several teams to accept that offer in the next week or two.

Even a few teams that attended Henson's workout in Houston last Thursday afternoon have now conceded the audition wasn't quite as sterling as advertised. Henson did not throw some routes and the workout, essentially administered by IMG Football, was designed to present the quarterback in the best light and heighten interest in him.

"There is no question that it was a show," one personnel director said. "And that the show was meant for Drew to look good. But he was a little rusty, wasn't as sharp as he could have been, and wasn't as accurate as you'd like. Then again, for a guy who hadn't played in a game in three years, what do you expect? I mean, he was good enough that we would like to see him again at our place, with our people dictating the workout, because we still think he's pretty darned good."

Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.