In a typical season, teams have the initial flurry of big-name free agent signings in early March, trades leading up to draft weekend, the signing of undrafted free agents following the draft and the second wave of free-agent signings following the draft. Many general managers use these different waves of activity to help build a team and, in many cases, it is the bargain free agents (not the megabuck signings) that make more of an impact on building roster depth.
While it has been just assumed that the teams will be able to do all of this work in a matter of days and weeks, not months, it may not be that easy. The second level of free-agent signings will be all but eliminated in the shotgun start of free agency and teams that have typically waited for the first flurry of signings to make their move likely won't have the option. Players are going to sign with the regularity of popcorn kernels going off in a microwave. Teams that wait will be left out in the cold.
Using the 2010 Vikings as a guide, from the opening of free agency to the start of training camp, the team added more than 30 players – not including the 2010 draft. The team signed three of its own unrestricted free agents, six of their own restricted free agents, five outside free agents and 18 undrafted free agents – a total of 32 players.
Those signings took place in March, April, May, June and July. Those same signings will have to be done (under the current plan) in about two weeks, not five months.
How these signings are going to take place hasn't really been discussed. All 32 teams are going to be in direct competition not only for the likes of players like Ray Edwards and Sidney Rice, but for hundreds of lesser-known veterans and hundreds of undrafted street free agents.
By the time the dust settles, NFL teams will commit (on paper, anyway) upwards of $1 billion in contracts in a two-week span. Three Vikings alone – Rice, Edwards and linebacker Ben Leber – will likely sign contracts that could call for them to be paid nearly $100 million combined. Rice and Edwards could each see deals in the neighborhood of five years, $40 million when they are allowed to sign.
The NFL has been forced to make a lot of changes in the 125 days that the league has been idle. However, the biggest changes to how business is done may be coming in the next three weeks, not the last five months.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.