Free Agent Frenzy to Create Long-Term Issues

The approaching free-agency frenzy will lead to typical over-spending, and it will only be made worse by teams who need to reach the salary cap "floor" that will be part of the new deal.

Sometime in the next couple days - provided, of course, that a few of the named plaintiffs in the antitrust lawsuit against the league don't toss a detour onto the amply greased tracks of the proposed deal - the NFL and its soon-to-be-recertified union will pop the cork on a new 10-year collective bargaining agreement.

And sometime in the next week or so, when free-spending franchises begin frivolously throwing around money in the clusterfudge of a frenzied free agency signing period, there figure be a few players who won't feel quite so bubbly.

It's inevitable.

If the reported provisions of the collective bargaining agreement are approved as presumably proposed -- so much for the confidentiality order allegedly imposed on both sides, huh? - roughly one-quarter of the league's teams will have to invest big money simply to get close to the spending "floor" that will be enacted. There will be deals both quick and lucrative. Deals that, once the euphoria of actually having to go back to work wears off, might not sit so well with some of the players already under contract to the clubs consummating the windfall contract accords.

Sure, there are players who will be thrilled to ignore the wife's suggestion that the front lawn needs mowed, and who will happily traipse off to training camp. Some of those same players, though, might not be as excited when they find out that their new teammate, hurriedly signed as a free agent in the deal-making blur that figures to ensue next week, secured a contract that eclipses their own.

Let's say a team desperately needs, maybe, a defensive end or wide receiver. And in the opening days of free agency, it signs a veteran to fill the position, and awards him an overpriced contract. Think that might go unnoticed by the defensive end or wide receiver who is already under contract to the club?

Uh, not likely.

A few prominent veterans under contract through at least the coming season already have noted to The Sports Xchange that they will pay particular attention to any of the contracts their teams reward players at the same position.

This is still, regardless of the supposed unity created by the lockout, a me-first league. The long-perpetuated myth that players are always happy when someone signs a huge deal, because there is a trickle-down effect, is only partly valid. The equation works only if players believe a guy is worth the money, and provided that the incumbent players are satisfied with their own contracts.

It might take a little while, but the positive vibes of having accomplished labor peace could be superseded by some harsh contract realities. Make no mistake, once the signing moratorium officially ends, deals will come quickly. One prominent player agent likened it to a date without the movie and dinner.

"There isn't going to be a courtship," the agent assessed. "No foreplay. At least in the first wave, it's going to be a phone call, an offer and 'deal or no-deal' decisions. That is the way it probably will come down."

Over the past four months, personnel departments supposedly have readied for the commencement of free agency by reviewing available players, sitting in front of the video machines for long hours and stocking up on Visine. But in addition to grading players, smart general managers have probably evaluated how a veteran and his contract will mesh with the leftovers a club employs, exactly how the new guy's presence affects the locker room.

There will be, no matter the prolonged preparation period, a few franchises whose personnel departments will overlook that critical component. And those teams, no matter how much money they haveto spend in free agency, could turn a bounty into a boondoggle.

Len Pasquarelli is a Senior NFL Writer for The Sports Xchange. He has covered the NFL for 33 years and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee. His NFL coverage earned recognition as the winner of the McCann Award for distinguished reporting in 2008.

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