Recalling free-agent deals of the past

What a busy night this is for NFL front offices. First, teams are making last-ditch attempts to keep their players from hitting the market at this, the height of their leverage with their teams. Interestingly, I remember two deals with the Packers done right before the stroke of midnight eastern to keep players in the fold -- players who are in that situation again tonight.

On the eve of free agency in 2004, we completed a deal for Packers left tackle Chad Clifton, a deal that truly went down to the wire. The comparable deals we were looking at were those of Luke Petitgout of the Giants and Flozell Adams of the Cowboys. Once those deals came in, the market was pretty much set for Chad, whose agent, Jimmy Sexton, was tough but fair and reasonable in his negotiations. I’ll never forget Chad -- and his wife -- coming in that night to sign his contract. He was dressed up and came with a camera to capture the moment.

Eighteen months earlier, Warren Sapp had laid out Chad with an injury that was truly career-threatening. Chad didn't know if he was going to walk, let alone play football, again. And there he was, signing a six-year, $32-million contract (which expires tonight). We all get a bit jaded in this business, but that was truly a special moment for a good guy and his wife, as there were tears flowing throughout the room (yes, some were mine).

On the eve of free agency in 2006, after months of negotiations, the Packers completed a deal for defensive end Aaron Kampman. General manager Ted Thompson came in from a trip and told me, in so many words, to pay whatever they were asking. Aaron was a true leader on the team, lifting the character level of those around him a notch. The key comparable of that deal was the contract of Kyle Vanden Bosch, now also a free agent, a four-year, $21M deal (which expires tonight). Now Vanden Bosch is also a free agent. After Aaron agreed to terms, we were going to hold the news until the next morning. I trusted Aaron to not tell anyone, but we didn't expect fans to break the news. As it turned out, the Packers fan event Fanfest was starting that night, and fans who were touring the stadium saw Aaron in my office -- despite the blinds being closed -- and put things together.

Both of these guys were signings on the eve of free agency…wonder whether that will happen again tonight.

Once the clock moves past midnight, negotiations with other teams' players can begin. Last year, while consulting for the Eagles, I went to the office around 10:30 p.m. and began negotiations with the Eagles' prime free-agent target, Stacy Andrews of the Bengals, at about 12:30 a.m. after Joe Banner made initial contact with the agent.

After proposals all night, and with agent Rich Moran accidentally confusing me with 49ers negotiator Paraag Marathe at one point, we were getting closer by sunrise so that both sides felt comfortable scheduling a trip to Philadelphia while negotiations continued. Finally, the deal for Andrews was consummated the next day, Saturday. Unfortunately for Stacy, his moment was overshadowed by the Broncos' aggressive play for the beloved Brian Dawkins (that’s a story for another time).

There will be lots of action tonight, both to keep players and to sign new ones. Let the games begin.

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