With last year’s free-agency restrictions limiting the size of the class and with the threshold for unrestricted free agency expected to move back from six years to four, many are expecting a crazed, frenetic market once a new labor deal is finalized and the lockout ends.
But with all fourth-year, fifth-year, and sixth-year players whose contracts have expired (and who haven’t received the franchise tag designation) hitting the shelf at once (along with players with expired contracts who have seven years of experience or more, and who haven’t received the franchise tag designation), that could be a bad thing for plenty of the players. Each team will have a budget; even with the cash expenditure requirement expected to move well north of 90 percent of the salary cap, teams don’t have to spend all of that money on free agents. They can choose to extend the contracts of players already on the team.
And so, to a certain extent, a game of musical chairs will be played, with only so many players getting huge money, with plenty of players getting good money, and with a decent number forced to take whatever they can get, once teams have met their needs.
The good news is that some teams may choose to sign veteran free agents over giving undrafted free agents a chance to make the team, given that there will be limited opportunities to catch the team’s attention in training camp and the preseason. Still, veterans who are signed in lieu of rookies could have a hard time making the final 53-man roster. Which would keep them from earning whatever base salaries they receive. (Also, the presence of a veteran in lieu of an undrafted rookie could make it harder for a veteran already under contract to keep his job.)
Since supreme confidence tends to be one of the prerequisites for success in pro sports, the men who are poised to hit the market if/when the lockout ends surely are thinking they’ll be getting the big paydays early in the process, and not settling for whatever scraps they can get after the music stops. And the fact that the process has been delayed by more than three months surely is making them more anxious for the process to start.
Still, with so many guys hitting the market, however, plenty of them are destined to be disappointed.