First day ends with less activity than expected

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Though free agents can’t sign new contracts until 6:00 p.m. ET on Friday, the chase officially began at 10:00 a.m. Tuesday, when teams got the green light to talk to any and all free agents — and to strike deals to be signed later.

Early on, the day was more about who would be cut later this week, not who would be signed.

Late in the afternoon, the first big free-agent domino fell, with the Panthers agreeing to terms with defensive end Charles Johnson on a six-year deal with a whopping $30 million signing bonus.  Then, within the last half hour, cornerback Ike Taylor opted to stay in Pittsburgh on a four-year contract.

A smattering of other contracts were negotiated, as will be listed in a transactions page we soon will be launching.  But some agents privately are complaining about the lack of activity.  One agent said teams are expressing concern regarding the new salary cap, which comes in at barely above $120 million.  An executive with an NFC team speculated that some teams may be concerned about doing an agreement in principle and having the agent or the player shop that offer to someone else, since a deal isn’t binding until it’s signed.

That’s why it’s smart for teams to announce these agreements, like the Panthers did with defensive end Charles Johnson and like the Chargers have down with linebacker Takeo Spikes, tackle Jeromey Clary, tight end Randy McMichael, and safety Bob Sanders (whose agreement in principle was struck months ago but not signed).  Though these players technically could sign elsewhere, announcing the tentative deal makes it harder to walk away.

Another reason for the slow pace could be concern on the part of the teams (and possibly some agents) that mistakes will be made if deals are done before everyone fully understands the new rules.

There’s also a chance that some (or possibly many) teams have decided to let the market soften, hoping that veteran players who have been waiting for months for this moment will be more anxious about getting paid than teams will be to pay them.

Either way, look for activity to continue to pick up as the craziest week the league will ever see continues to unfold.