Free agency activity drops in 2010

If you want further proof of the big-money P.R. game in which the NFL and the players’ union currently are engaged, look no farther than one of the most recent entries on, the league-owned site dedicated to tracking the current back-and-forth regarding the process of, at some point, working out a new Collective Bargaining Agreement.

In comparing the first seven days of the 2010 free-agency process to the first seven days of free agency in 2009, the article shows that 52 unrestricted free agents have signed new deals — up from 39 in 2009.

But the item needs to be read carefully.  The total of 39 contracts in 2009 focuses only on players who would have been unrestricted free agents under the rules of the uncapped year; namely, players with at least six years of service.  Including the four- and five-year players who signed contracts in the first week of free agency last year, the actual number is 87.

The raw data makes even more curious a March 10 Associated Press article declaring that it’s “business as usual in NFL free agency.”


Barry Wilner of the AP claims that, as in past years, there was a “spending spree” to start the process.  But he points only to the Bears as a team that went nuts; this year, the Bears are the only team that splurged.  Sure, the Giants signed safety Antrel Rolle to a five-year, $37 million contract and the Dolphins by all appearances paid too much for linebacker Karlos Dansby.  The Lions gave good-not-great contracts to receiver Nate Burleson and defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch, and receiver Anquan Boldin finally got the new contract he coveted, a four-year, $28 million deal from Baltimore.  (The Bengals also got into the act a few days late, with a four-year, $28 million contract for receiver Antonio Bryant.  Without specific details regarding guaranteed money and payout in the first two years, however, it’s impossible to know whether the per-year average of $7 million has been artificially inflated by large non-guaranteed salaries in years three and four.)

All that said, only one team truly behaved like multiple teams had behaved in most past free-agency cycles, plunking down large sums of cash in the hopes of getting a leg up on their competitors.

In prior years the first wave of free agency, during which the money flows more freely, typically lasted a full week.  This time around it lasted a weekend.  And there simply were fewer teams paying market value for the available players, despite the absence of the salary cap.

Perhaps Wilner’s point is that everyone expected for years that free agency in an uncapped environment would result in reckless and frenzied acquisitions, and that in reality nothing has changed.  The actual reality, in our view, is that the process has changed, due in part to the absence of more than 200 players who in any other year would have been unrestricted free agents and in part to the use of artificial salary caps known commonly in the business world as “budgets.”

Meanwhile, you can bet that the NFLPA is tracking all of the signings very closely and comparing the dollars committed to the money spent in 2009 and previously.  And unless the market for restricted free agents picks up quickly, it’s safe to say that the union at some point will be claiming that most of the teams have agreed, expressly or implicitly, to engage in a uniform belt tightening.

20 responses to “Free agency activity drops in 2010

  1. Even with the potential work-stoppage, teams are learning that free agency just doesn’t work. Free agency is only good for adding the last couple of pieces to the puzzle, as opposed to the old Redskins method of just signing as many players as possible in the hopes of a quick-fix.
    Chicago Bears’ fans. Please be warned about your ‘incredible’ signings. It will not work.

  2. I do think the owners know it makes sense not to spend an awful lot of money, and that this has been communicated and agreed between all owners.
    However, I do believe there is some sort of understanding not to agressively go after each others RFAs.
    An RFA is a good deal – you know what you get. It’s probably cheaper to get a long term deal with an RFA offer sheet than an UFA. And a first round pick for a sure OL starter – say a quality tackle, isn’t that much. Especially when that guy can start immediately.
    This year you could even front-load the contract, but that’s a bad idea in many ways … especially when signing a guy from another team.

  3. False. The reason Free agency dropped this year is simple, just like it did in the Draft year of Young Cutler, Marshall etc. These two classes are extremely strong, and thus free agency becomes less appealing

  4. Dude, year-after-year the intial free-agency glut-fest has been declining. Teams are too smart now to let their best players go unless they’ve squeezed virtually all the top production out of them…
    This year’s best free-agent, Julius Peppers, is inconsistent and many people think he just doesn’t have the greatness in his heart to get the most out of his incredible talent. This is a guy who should be “the next Reggie White” only he plays, too often, like the next Joe Schmoe….
    After Peppers, the rest of the FA crop was not exactly earth-shatteriing — the vastly over-rated Rolle. Some second-rate linemen. A few burned-out running backs and suspect/#2 WRs… And some decent, but limited, talent on defense…
    So why would we have a splurge? This isn’t like the 90’s where guys like Reggie White, Ricky Jackson, Dieon Sanders, Ronnie Lott, Troy Vincent, Priest Holmes, Curtis Martin, etc. would hit FA…
    Except for Drew Brees, there hasn’t been a true top-talent, lacks-question-marks player hit FA since Priest Holmes was signed by the Chiefs in 2001.

  5. The Bears also gutted their draft to get that pus’sy Cutler. So it made perfect sense for them to concentrate on Free Agents.

  6. Is it really cullusion when A) The market sucks B) Best draft we have seen in a while and the overvalue of picks is RIDICULOUS!

  7. Again all of these articles now how wise it is for owners to not be spending the money on FA. I think you owe Tampa Bay an apology Florio!! Except for the fact that Morris is still coach 😦 As he seems like a pretty good DC instead of HC When we should still have Gruden 😦

  8. Nobody knows what the new CBA will look like. No team wants to tie themselves down to long term free agent contracts that may cost them dearly in a new CBA.
    Free agent talent pool is medium at best.
    Draft pool is strong and deep.
    The end.

  9. I feel like trout fishing today, but with Cavs/Celtics at 3:30, it’ll be a short trip.
    Oh, and lockouts blow.

  10. This article is hollow. Anytime Florio starts a sentence with “Sure comma” you know he’s pissing in the wind. Free agent signing this year is indeed “business as usual.” Florio’s take is that the big spending on big deals in the past was spread around among significantly more teams than this year’s Bears, Giants, Dolphins, Lions, Ravens, and Bengals. I say BS. Prove it, Florio.

  11. Does not take a genius to figure this one out Florio. Teams treat draft picks like gold. This whole restricted thing is stupid. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. The highest tender should be a 2nd round pick just to allow more movement in FA. Rookies shouldn’t get huge contracts, Free Agents should, they are the proven guys.

  12. This article is hollow. Anytime Florio starts a sentence with “Sure comma” you know he’s pissing in the wind. Free agent signing this year is indeed “business as usual.” Florio’s take is that the big spending on deals in the past was spread around among significantly more teams than this year’s Bears, Giants, Dolphins, Lions, Ravens, and Bengals. I say BS. Prove it, Florio.

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