by Jack Bechta
July 20, 02011
Despite the NFL’s mandate to teams to not contact players or agents, I received a call early on in the week from a GM who wanted to get an early pitch in for one of my free agents. To what degree NFL team execs are talking to agents, I am not certain. However, it’s happening and can happen because of long term trusting relationships forged over time between agents and team executives. In my conversation with the GM, I asked him if he had any details of the new CBA and if he was getting any intel from the league office. His reply was that he, “hasn’t gotten anything” and he and his team are “completely in the dark”, to the point where he was trying to pick my brain for any potential details affecting free agency, the cap or any undrafted free agents.
The fact of the matter is, from now until the beginning of camp there will most certainly be some chaos. The free agent process that normally takes four months will be crammed into one week. Lumping the undrafted free agents on top of that will certainly make for the most interesting and unorthodox free agent period ever.
Besides the five changes I predict the new CBA will bring, there will be some interesting twists and turns unfolding over the next few weeks. Here are some of them I foresee:
Packers' Tramon Williams was a UFA in 2006 and is now a Pro Bowler with a Super Bowl ring.
Undrafted free agents will get lost in the shuffle. Historically teams sign about 10 to 15 undrafted free agents each year. This year, I see the number being lower and teams keeping current players on their roster and even signing aging vets instead. Retired client, Bucs and Cowboys Guard Jorge Diaz told me yesterday that he “would have never made it under these current circumstances of having no OTAs and rookie mini camps”. Jorge said that he “needed every rep and every coaching session he got in the off season leading up to the start of camp”. He said, “rookies heads will be spinning and coaches will get impatient with them very quickly”. Jorge started his rookie season for the Bucs and several years thereafter.
Agent-GM relationships may rule the day. With limited time in this year’s free agency window, there won’t be any time to shop, wait and see what unfolds. Teams will be very surgical in their free agency signings and will strike hard and fast in their signings. Agents will always go for the most money but all things being equal they will do business with the front office they trust the most. Keep in mind that many player agents now represent personnel directors, GMs, and head coaches.
Say goodbye to the free agent tour. In a typical free agency period, the top ten most sought after players may visit up to five teams before inking a deal. The tour process, orchestrated by the agent, can also help create leverage for the UFA. However, under the current environment, don’t expect to see any player visit four teams or more. In addition, team doctors will play an important role in determining if free agents are healthy and ready. With coaches rushing and eager to get to work fighting for every second of coaching opportunity, the team docs and trainers will be under the gun to process the bodies and get them on the field.
No free agent tranches and the one call close. Historically, free agency unfolded in tranches where the most expensive and sought after free agents were signed in the first week or even first hour. The second wave would get signed about week three of free agency and then teams had the luxury of bargain shopping for the rest of the period throughout the summer. In addition, agents took their time in shopping their clients by fielding calls from all interested parties. However, with the time constraint on what could be just a few days, and with the anticipated increased mandatory minimum spending floor in place, we may be seeing a lot of money being wildly thrown around to get the deal done on just one call to the agent. I also anticipate that this environment will lead to more short-term deals.
In my conversation with the GM a few days ago, he summed up the whole picture when I asked him if he thought signings, transactions and overall camp will run somewhat smoothly over the next few weeks. His reply: “No, the problem through this whole process is that the league office and the NFLPA don’t make decisions from a football operations perspective. There are no former coaches or GMs (although maybe Rich McKay may have been involved) in the process and a lot of important considerations and details of the day to day operations of a team will be left to us to figure out on the fly”.
I have to go to work! Release the pigeons and let the chaos begin!
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