Free Agency Round 2

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There isn’t a worse feeling in the world for an agent than getting your player to free agency with hopes of a mega-deal, and it doesn’t materialize.

To those players who have not signed, welcome to Round 2!

The mega-deals are done. The big deals are done. The second-tier deals are on deck.

In my most recent conversations with GMs and capologists, there seems to be a similar approach to free agency by teams this year. That is to surgically target your premier free agent(s), set a hard ceiling on that player’s value and don’t exceed it. If you don’t get him, do not get caught up in a bidding war. If you’re not involved in the early action, sit back until one day this week and start jumping in on players whose value may have fallen simply because there’s less money chasing more players.

The anomaly I’m seeing compared to other years is that the second round of free agency is not blending with the first. Historically, there’s been a gradual dollar descent of contracts over the first week with an occasional spike for the player who decided to take five to eight visits and managed to keep all teams interested and bidding. This year, I’m seeing more of a “gap” between the first and second rounds. I’m seeing teams sitting on the sideline like Captain Marko Ramius commanding the Red October, waiting to do a crazy Ivan at the last second, and hoping agents will collectively lower the market and occasionally give up some panicked discounts.

I’m also being told by several GMs that they’ve been issued directives by their owners to spend very little, keep draft picks and conserve cash, especially as it relates to guarantees. This scenario is exactly why I decided to do a deal with the Falcons for my potential 2009 free agent, DT Jonathan Babineaux, before he hit the streets. Now I’m confident we made the right move.

So it’s day 4 of free agency, and your client and his family have the NFL Network on 24/7, watching deals go down and wondering where the deal is for their favorite son.

Players set their value based on what other guys receive because that’s all they know — to compare their own level of play to one of their peers. It’s the agents’ job to dig deeper, take all factors into consideration and set a realistic marker for their clients. And set the correct expectations. The biggest mistake made in free agency is that we — agents and players — sometimes set the price tag to high. When that happens, you start chasing the market down, which sends a message that you don’t have a firm deal elsewhere.

Agents who have strong relationships with their clients are not sweating the process. However, if client expectations are not being met, a sense of doubt can creep into the mind of a player and his family. When and if this happens, teams smell it like sharks sniffing blood in the water. The agent may start making desperate moves, like calling teams that didn’t show an initial interest, or repeatedly calling teams that have shown interest and desperately bluffing the market higher. If a team is interested, it will stay on you like glue.

In previous years, premium free agents received new bench-setting contracts, then the second-tier players (very good starters, but non-Pro Bowl players, for example)received Pro Bowl money and the third-tier players (usually role players and specialists) received the previous year’s second-tier money. Although there are more cap dollars available this year than ever before, the cash dollars are scarce. The market for free agents is becoming more stable, and fewer quality players are hitting the street.

The action this week should give us a good indication which owners are serious about winning, are dedicated to putting the best possible product on the field and have enough cash to put the fans and team ahead of their personal net worth.

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