OK, so maybe no one was expecting a protracted negotiation or holdout or contentiousness between the Chiefs and Eric Fisher, the overall No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft.
Then again …
“You never know,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said, smiling and adding, “I thought he’d be here. But I’ve been in this long enough to know that until the fish is in the boat, you don’t count it caught, right? That’s how that works.”
So consider the big one reeled in as of Thursday night, when the eager Fisher started driving from Detroit in time to sign Friday, take a conditioning test in the morning and participate in the first true snap of his first NFL camp in the afternoon — where he was in demand by fans afterward.
“We almost had as many people here as we had at our games” at Central Michigan, he said.
He wasn’t exaggerating. Though it picked up some last year, Central Michigan in 2011 averaged an actual paid home attendance of 4,473; the Chiefs announced 4,000 were on hand Friday for the first full-squad day of camp.
That enhanced awareness of his radical new place in the world is just one of the reasons Fisher’s on-time arrival was no small thing, especially as the regime of Reid and general manager John Dorsey moves ahead and tries to set a tone of constructiveness and continuity and, yes, even harmony.
In this case, that meant a four-year contract worth up to $22 million with a club option for a fifth year.
Whatever the minor holdup in putting the deal together was, Fisher either didn’t know or didn’t see any reason to divulge. That’s why he has an agent.
“I can’t negotiate these deals on my own. I wouldn’t really know where to start,” he said, later adding, “It’s definitely a business, but it’s a game when all the business is taken care of. And it’s a game I love.”
Fisher is the most obvious investment and symbol of Dorsey and Reid’s approach to reviving the franchise. How he ultimately performs will say a lot about their wisdom and judgment and, in fact, their chances of long-term success.
And having him right here, right now is an important launch point that increases his chances of moving into the NFL and to the right tackle position all at once.
It enables him to further acclimate and allowed Reid to make good on one of his precamp goals to have his entire offensive line together from the get-go.
And, shoot, day one was a breeze for Fisher.
“Honestly, coming in I thought we were going to be in full pads today, so I guess it was a little bit of a relief,” he said.
It was a good way to start knocking off the rust, as he put it, particularly as Reid made it known the team was going to need to be in good shape for what was ahead, starting with full pads Sunday.
The one who stands to benefit most from Fisher’s development being expedited is one who’s also been in his cleats.
Quarterback Alex Smith, acquired by trade from the San Francisco 49ers in February, was the NFL’s overall No. 1 pick in 2005 by the 49ers.
It’s important, Smith said, that Fisher be in camp from the beginning. But he added a caveat.
“It’s more important to get the deal right and to have both sides be happy,” he said. “To be honest, that’s the priority, because it’s a long-term deal.”
He added, “You want both sides to be happy and content, I think, but it’s also important to get in here, I think. When you’re the No. 1 pick, you’re probably not going to be sitting very long, you know? And in Eric’s case, he’s not at all: Get in here and get as many reps as you can.
“He did a great job this offseason, but we didn’t have pads on, and his position’s a pretty physical position, so I think the more reps, the better.”
No doubt, Fisher can benefit from further insights from Smith, who struggled early in his career, not to dwell too much on the implications of his lofty selection, and fretted about what others thought of him.
No doubt, Fisher and the Chiefs will have growing pains this season. But they navigated a potential one early, extending a fresh start in the right direction.