I have just one unrestricted free agent this year, safety Tyrone Carter of the Steelers. My sole focus is to land him in a position where he can compete to earn a starting job. Tyrone has been an extremely productive force as one of the team’s top special teams players and top playmakers when he’s on the field.
Because of injuries to Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark, Tyrone has gotten significant playtime (62 percent of the Steelers’ defensive plays in 2009) and has put up some impressive numbers. He was also named defensive player of the week twice while filling in for the starters.
My job is to find Tyrone a solid contract that matches his production with a team that appreciates his skill set.
This is how most agents prepare for free agency:
1. Draw up a list of their free agents, which they hand out to GMs at the Senior Bowl and NFL Combine. There may be a sentence or two about each player. Usually there are no contract numbers since agents don’t want to be tied to a price range too early.
2. Some may send out a one-pager to all or selected teams with a comparison analysis of their players. It looks like a comp sheet used in valuing residential real estate. Here’s an example:
Statistical Comparison to Starting NFL Safeties:
Tyrone Carter, Pittsburgh Steelers, 2009 APY: $831,000 APY=average per year
Michael Griffin, Tennessee Titans, 2009 APY: $1.67M
James Butler, St. Louis Rams, 2009 APY: $3M
Jermaine Phillips, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 2009 APY: $2M
Deon Grant, Seattle Seahawks, 2009 APY: $5M
The Bottom Line:
These are only a few of many players that make significantly more money (by APY) than Tyrone Carter. All of these players have put up modest statistics thus far in their careers. When Carter has been given a chance to play on a regular basis, his numbers approach some of these players. When Carter was a starter with the Jets, he recorded more tackles than all of these players have in any season.
3. Overcome the objections or concerns like injuries, age or character. Agents will meet any concerns head-on by showing proof of health or improved character. In Tyrone’s case it might be his age (33). I will remind GMs that safeties seem to blossom in their mid 30s. Their experience helps to slow down the game, and they become masters at reading the offense. Examples: Rodney Harrison, Brian Dawkins, John Lynch, Robert Griffith and Darren Sharper, who turns 35 in November.
4. To visit or not to visit? There are two strategies here: One is to set up multiple team visits for your player. It’s typical for teams that are interested in a free agent to want them to visit with their coaches and pass their physical before making an offer. Needless to say, this can only be done at the start of free agency. Agents then line up visits in the order of who they think will pay the most. Two, don’t let your player visit anybody until a deal is struck. This sometimes makes teams nervous because they don’t know who they’re competing against.
This method can also backfire on the agent when teams move on to the next player on their list. In 2006, I told the Browns that guard Eric Steinbach would be visiting them first as they requested. However, the night before free agency, I told them they would be second. At 12:01 a.m. eastern, they quit posturing and told me that Eric was their guy. The deal, however, didn’t get done until he was on his way out the door to visit another team. The visit schedule reveals a lot in free agency.
5. Leverage the media. In an environment where most reporters and bloggers would rather be first than be right, there’s a lot of misinformation floating around. This plays nicely into the agents’ scheme since we can create an appearance of interest where they may be little. The biggest names in the business are used as our personal PR agents. The interesting thing is that they don’t care. So when you hear the term “NFL source,” it’s usually an agent. NFL teams also use the media to their advantage.
The bottom line is that free agency is a supply and demand market dictated by the teams but controlled by the agents. Every year, a few teams jump in fast and overpay or wait too long and miss the market on a good player. And sometimes agents pass up an early offer in hopes of a bigger deal and suddenly find themselves chasing the market.
With 2010 being uncapped with no minimum spending floor, I sense we’ll see some different trends prevail. My sense is that the market will be slower than in previous years.
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