With negotiations for most high-round draft choices still in the preliminary stages, the Houston Texans have raced ahead of the rest of the NFL field, becoming the first team to reach agreement with a first-round draft choice.
Linebacker Jason Babin of Western Michigan, the 27th prospect selected overall and the latter of the Texans' two choices in the first round, has reached an agreement in principle and signed his first NFL contract on Saturday. Details of the contract were not yet available.
The speedy resolution to Babin's deal came less than two weeks after the Texans opened negotiations with his representatives from Eastern Athletic Services, based in Baltimore. Talks began around June 15 and escalated in surprising fashion.
Ironically, the consensus around the league is that the Texans' other first-round pick, cornerback Dunta Robinson of South Carolina, would be the initial No. 1 choice to reach an agreement. That's because Robinson's agents, from Sportstars in Manhattan, have a track record for being very proactive in negotiations and not waiting for the draft market to establish itself.
With the Babin accord, the Texans now have reached terms with four of their nine picks from the 2004 draft. None of the other agreements, however, is with a prospect taken higher than the sixth round.
Last year's 27th overall pick, Kansas City tailback Larry Johnson, received a seven-year contract that voids to a five-year, $6.7 million deal. It included a $3.31 million signing bonus. It is uncertain how Babin's contract will compare to that, since teams can prorate deals for only six years now, as opposed to seven years in 2003.
It is expected that Babin will sign either a five- or six-year contract.
A defensive end in college, Babin will move to linebacker in the Texans' 3-4 scheme, and general manager Charley Casserly and head coach Dom Capers have already named him a starter at the left outside spot. The former starter there, Kailee Wong, will move to the outside spot on the right side.
Babin, 24, was a two-year starter at Western Michigan and finished his career with 299 tackles, including 75 for losses, and 38 sacks. He registered 15 sacks in each of his last two seasons and his 38 career sacks is a school record. He also had eight forced fumbles, two recoveries, 43 pressures and two pass deflections.
Houston hopes that Babin will help re-energize a pass rush that recorded just 19 sacks in 2003, the second-lowest total in the league.
The Texans snatched Babin, a player they arduously coveted, by acquiring a second choice in the first round. They swapped second-, third- and fourth-round choices to the Tennessee Titans for the 27th overall pick.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.