Free-agent frenzy hits NFL
The free agency free-for-all has begun, mostly with obscure names from the college ranks.
It will get wilder.
Contract negotiations for free agents and draft picks started Tuesday, with draftees able to sign right away. The big names among veterans—Nnamdi Asomugha, Santonio Holmes, Matt Hasselbeck—can’t sign until Thursday, but their agents are negotiating deals right now.
Throw in dozens of players who will be cut, such as Dallas receiver Roy Williams and Baltimore tight end Todd Heap, which officially can’t happen until Thursday, and it’s “organized chaos,” according to Colts general manager Chris Polian.
“It’s a lot of stress, work, preparation. But it’s what we all look forward to. It’s our playoffs and our Super Bowl,” agent Peter Schaffer said.
Indeed, several agents said they didn’t expect to sleep Tuesday as the NFL reopened for business after 4½ months. In addition to their clients already in the league who are unrestricted or restricted free agents, they will have veterans released. And they are trying to set up youngsters, such as college starters safety Winston Venable of Boise State (Chicago) and quarterback Jerrod Johnson of Texas A&M (Philadelphia), with teams after they were passed over in April’s draft.
“I always have a lot of guys in that category, and it’s been absolutely nuts,” said agent Joe Linta, who placed Michigan State tight end Charlie Gantt with the Chiefs and Cal receiver Jeremy Ross with the Patriots on Tuesday. He also fielded calls from a dozen teams for Utah defensive tackle Sealver Siliga before he signed with San Francisco.
“There are times when you are fielding four or five calls at once,” added Linta. “Multiply, say, 10 guys you are trying to get signed by maybe three to 10 teams interested … you do the math.”
The math adds up to hundreds of transactions in a few days, as opposed to a few weeks had there not been a 4½-month labor stoppage.
“I think the best way to say it is whatever you can imagine, it’s probably worse than that,” Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “There is multitasking at its most furious.”
Normally, teams would bring in players to visit their facilities, have them work out and take physicals, perhaps even attend meetings and speak with potential future teammates. Some of that might happen in the next few days, particularly for a high-profile player such as Asomugha. Most of it won’t.
“I think all of the guys realize this is going to be a whole new world,” agent Jordan Woy said. “Most said, ‘Listen, the bottom line is the team I’m with I like. If somebody out there is really interested, if they come with a great offer up front, then we’ll look into that.’
“They realize they’re going to have to make quicker, probably less-informed decisions than they have in the past. They’re just going to have to do best they can.”
So are the teams. Sure, all 32 clubs have had more than enough extra time to watch video and dissect the games of every free agent on the market. Maybe that’s not such a great think; overanalysis has destroyed the chances of many an NFL team through the years.
And now there’s the added element of all those vets being released.
“In this climate, anything’s possible,” said Ravens coach John Harbaugh, whose team will release Heap, receiver Derrick Mason and running back Willis McGahee. “You may have an opportunity to bring some of those guys back. You may not. It just depends on how things shake out the next couple of days.”
What also might shake out: shorter contracts. Teams might not be comfortable with long-term deals (the five- and six-year varieties) in this post-lockout climate. The big bucks could be there, but not for as many seasons.
“Being a free agent in 2011 doesn’t necessarily mean that those players will all sign lucrative long-term deals,” said agent Ben Dogra, who represents soon-to-be former Cowboy Williams. “You will see more short-term deals than ever before. Agents will have to project into free agency of 2012 as much as this year.”
At least in 2012, things will return to normality.