NFL free agents 101: Bearing a tough market

The 2010 NFL free agency period kicks off at 12:01 a.m. ET Friday with a slew of new rules thanks to the lack of a new collective bargaining agreement. In short, nearly half the free agents and a quarter of the teams will be restricted in their signing and spending.
 
The money and player movement won’t match years past because of such limitations, and the expected shopping frenzy of an uncapped year is unlikely to come to fruition.
 
"You’ll see a smaller number of players receiving the bigger contracts," said agent Tom Condon, who represents free agents Shawne Merriman and LaDainian Tomlinson. "Because there’s no floor on salary, some teams will spend lavishly but the same number may not participate."
 
Five big questions as the market opens:
 

1. Who are the best unrestricted free agents?

Carolina Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers and Arizona Cardinals inside linebacker Karlos Dansby are the headliners.
 
"They will command a substantial market because there are fewer options," Condon said.
 
Older players such as Darren Sharper, Joey Porter and Terrell Owens can provide short-term impact on teams with one missing piece.
 

2. How does the lack of a new CBA affect the players?

Unsigned fourth- and fifth-year players in their prime are restricted free agents, like third-year guys. Their current teams have the upper hand in tendering bargain one-year offers. Top talents affected include Merriman and three Pro Bowl wide receivers: San Diego’s Vincent Jackson, Dallas’ Miles Austin and Denver’s Brandon Marshall.
 

3. Will there be more interest in restricted free agents?

With more attractive players in this group and fewer unrestricted options, one would think teams would be aggressive in the restricted market.Any deal is a long shot.
 
It’s rumored that Chicago and other teams are interested in acquiring Marshall, but let’s consider that situation. The Broncos have given Marshall a first-round tender, putting the Bears in a position where they can’t even sign him to a lucrative offer sheet and make Denver match it — because they don’t have a first-round pick. The Broncos already own it, from the Jay Cutler trade.
 
The degree of difficulty gets only harder with Jackson, who comes with the first- and third-round tender. Before even considering the cost in picks, it will likely take more than $10 million to hope the Chargers can’t match.
 

4. Who is most likely to be traded?

Teams looking for a No. 1 receiver will make their best offer for the Cardinals’ Anquan Boldin, and the Eagles likely will deal QB Donovan McNabb and/or Michael Vick.
 
 

5. What’s this thing called the "Final Eight Plan"?

That’s how teams are affected by the lack of CBA. More specifically, those are the eight teams — Cardinals, Chargers, Colts, Cowboys, Jets, Vikings, Ravens, Saints — who were still alive in the division playoffs.
 
For the teams that advanced to the division championship games — Colts, Jets, Vikings and Saints — they are initially limited to re-signing their own free agents. Only after they start losing players to other teams can they sign outside free agents.
 
It’s really a much better situation for the Cardinals, Chargers, Cowboys and Ravens. Each of those teams is allowed to go after one player it can sign for $5.8 million or more for 2010, and any player it can sign for $3.9 million or less. It means all of them are still potential suitors for the best of the market. 
 
Vinnie Iyer is a staff writer for Sporting News. Email him at viyer@sportingnews.com.
The 2010 NFL free agency period kicks off at 12:01 a.m. ET Friday with a slew of new rules thanks to the lack of a new collective bargaining agreement. In short, nearly half the free agents and a quarter of the teams will be restricted in their signing and spending.
 
The money and player movement won’t match years past because of such limitations, and the expected shopping frenzy of an uncapped year is unlikely to come to fruition.
 
"You’ll see a smaller number of players receiving the bigger contracts," said agent Tom Condon, who represents free agents Shawne Merriman and LaDainian Tomlinson. "Because there’s no floor on salary, some teams will spend lavishly but the same number may not participate."
 
Five big questions as the market opens:
 

1. Who are the best unrestricted free agents?

Carolina Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers and Arizona Cardinals inside linebacker Karlos Dansby are the headliners.
 
"They will command a substantial market because there are fewer options," Condon said.
 
Older players such as Darren Sharper, Joey Porter and Terrell Owens can provide short-term impact on teams with one missing piece.
 

2. How does the lack of a new CBA affect the players?

Unsigned fourth- and fifth-year players in their prime are restricted free agents, like third-year guys. Their current teams have the upper hand in tendering bargain one-year offers. Top talents affected include Merriman and three Pro Bowl wide receivers: San Diego’s Vincent Jackson, Dallas’ Miles Austin and Denver’s Brandon Marshall.
 

3. Will there be more interest in restricted free agents?

With more attractive players in this group and fewer unrestricted options, one would think teams would be aggressive in the restricted market.Any deal is a long shot.
 
It’s rumored that Chicago and other teams are interested in acquiring Marshall, but let’s consider that situation. The Broncos have given Marshall a first-round tender, putting the Bears in a position where they can’t even sign him to a lucrative offer sheet and make Denver match it — because they don’t have a first-round pick. The Broncos already own it, from the Jay Cutler trade.
 
The degree of difficulty gets only harder with Jackson, who comes with the first- and third-round tender. Before even considering the cost in picks, it will likely take more than $10 million to hope the Chargers can’t match.
 

4. Who is most likely to be traded?

Teams looking for a No. 1 receiver will make their best offer for the Cardinals’ Anquan Boldin, and the Eagles likely will deal QB Donovan McNabb and/or Michael Vick.
 
 

5. What’s this thing called the "Final Eight Plan"?

That’s how teams are affected by the lack of CBA. More specifically, those are the eight teams — Cardinals, Chargers, Colts, Cowboys, Jets, Vikings, Ravens, Saints — who were still alive in the division playoffs.
 
For the teams that advanced to the division championship games — Colts, Jets, Vikings and Saints — they are initially limited to re-signing their own free agents. Only after they start losing players to other teams can they sign outside free agents.
 
It’s really a much better situation for the Cardinals, Chargers, Cowboys and Ravens. Each of those teams is allowed to go after one player it can sign for $5.8 million or more for 2010, and any player it can sign for $3.9 million or less. It means all of them are still potential suitors for the best of the market. 
 
Vinnie Iyer is a staff writer for Sporting News. Email him at viyer@sportingnews.com.

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