Saturday, March 10, 2007

Free Agency 1987-2007

Free Agency1987- 2007: Is it a Boom or Bust for Teams or Players?

This is the first Year where there are more teams with extra room under the cap because of the extended labor agreement. This years-cap number is just over 109 Million dollars, and several teams are doing more then just window-shopping. They are going after viable players who will fill needs. This will result in more changes to teams big boards for the draft then ever before. Teams are also moving quickly to replace players they loose to other teams (like the Ravens deal with the Bills for Willis McGahee one day after Jamal Lewis left to play in Cleveland). Yes, that was a trade and not a free agent signing, but make no mistake, it happened because of the cap and free agency. Even teams who have traditionally stayed pretty quiet in the off-season only picking up a player here and there have been busy, like the NY Jets dealing with the Bears for RB Thomas Jones.

Other teams are content to grab marginal players, someone who has never been a starter, but who could be a starter if he had a chance, to what some might consider overblown contracts. An example of this is the Vikings signing of Vishante Shancoe, who was mostly a second TE for the Giants behind Jeremy Shockey. Sure he started some games when Shockey was out with injuries over the past two seasons, but the talent level dropped off when he played. Still he was earning back up money, and now he's getting a five year 12 million dollar deal. Will we see more of this between now and the summer? Sure we will.

Some teams are looking to cherry pick players who got released in what is called "the era of financial restraint", are getting good bargains in the short team. So what happened to that era? When the owners and the players rotten excuse for representation, known as the NFLPA, got the players to agree to plan "B" several years ago, they never told them how long it would take them to catch up to the salaries of baseball players. When the cap system started, the whole team could not make more then 38 million dollars. Remember, this was almost 20 years ago. Sure player's salaries had improved steadily from the mid seventies on. The owners wanted as much control over the inflation of salaries as possible. Heaven help the person who would even think that the players should get a larger share of the profits then the owners; he would be brought out to the shed and flogged! But the second player action of 1987(Strike) changed all that. The "fans" would not accept the replacement players as genuine, and the owners had to give in. So they agreed to let players move around, with limitations. Still not an ideal system, but the players generally got their money or went where they would at least get more then the last team paid. The owners got to keep control over the profit to some extent

So where are we now? You have players moving around to different teams, earning more money then ever before, but there is still no middle class of players or player salaries in the NFL. You either earn 500K a year or 3 million. There is no one making say, 850K a year for 5 years. Everyone's salaries rise each year, creating a "Floating payroll" that moves each team closer to the edge of a "cap penalty". The owner's answer to that? "The cap rises each year with the need to raise players salaries" one agent told me. "It's a win win situation for the players and the owners." Sure it is, if you are a "big market" team with cross endorsements and a stadium deal. So what if you are Green Bay? Jacksonville? What if you are bidding for a free agent against Dallas? So you see where I am going with this? The rich get richer, and the Poor either put up or get left out.

So then there is no real Parity in the NFL except on the computer that spits out the schedules each year because Green Bay can't compete financially for the same player as Dallas or Miami or San Francisco. But are more players really moving to other teams? Looking at the history of NFL free agency, no more then 11% of the total group of players in the NFL has ever changed teams in any one year. This is out of a total of roughly 25% of the NFL players that are eligible to move to another team. This year, 448 players (or 27.7%) were free agents as of March 2nd. While we won't know the total results until the summer for this year's free agent class, it doesn't seem like the total number of players will rise, only the money that they are awarded. In speaking with Great Blue North Draft report's Colin Lindsey for our Podcast this week, He echoed the same sentiment. "I don't see a greater number of players then usual taking advantage of free agency this year over years past" he said. "I do see them getting bigger deals because the cap has grown, and there is a class of players who are aging fast, and not worth the same dollar value that they would have been even two years ago. Players who have done well in free agency by negotiating a good contract with a new team will say that the system is good. Players who have changed teams with less success then expected will tell you that something stinks. One player who spoke to us on the condition of anonymity said "it just plain Sucks! I wanted to stay where I was, but my old team wanted me to take a cut to the minimum, I was willing to take a cut, but that much? And did i really wanted to move my wife and kid to another city?"

I leave you to draw your own conclusions about the success of free agency in the NFL. It seems to work better for some then for others.

LSU's JaMarcus Russell - A Video Look

At first I was all set to buy into the idea of JaMarcus Russell as the next Vince Young. But after seeing this video I'm off that bandwagon, and on this one: he's better than Vince Young. Why?

Because Russell worked in a drop-back passing system which called for him to read defenses, throw into tight coverage, and basically make more decisions than Vince Young had to make at Texas in the Spread Option. I'm not taking anything away from Young, it's just that Russell's got everything Young has -- size, speed, leadership -- plus the training in a pro-style passing offense.

Yep. He's head and shoulders over Brady Quinn. I don't think there's much of a comparison. Watch this video: