Trade season commences after free-agent storm

The offseason is full of short-lived cycles in free agency, but this is the time when draft trade talks begin.

There are certain specific timeframes within the NFL year. In the spring, they come fast and furious, much like the weather. On Friday morning, Winter Park was blanketed under almost a foot of snow. By Friday night, much of it was gone. Things happen quickly in March and April.

The first season of the 2014 year began Dec. 30, 2013, when coaches started getting fired and regimes were replaced.

The day after the Super Bowl started the next season – teams unloading hefty contracts and giving players the opportunity to bypass free agency and start talking to other teams about contracts. This season was highlighted by when bonus money was due. Some guys had payments scheduled for February. Others had it in March. But that date always seemed like the drop-dead moment.

The next season came in early March as teams made their last attempts to re-sign their own free agents or slap them with a franchise designation. The tag has always been the bane of players, but it's the one hammer a team possesses to keep a player in the fold while they come to an agreement on a long-term deal.

The biggest season to date by far was the opening of free agency and the flurry of signings that happened in the first few days. Annually, this is a volatile time. It doesn't last long – neither does a shark feeding frenzy – but the waters are bloody when it's done. Teams steal away franchise-quality players with the promise of guaranteed money. More than $1 billion in contract money was committed within 72 hours. That's volatile.

Following the initial signing period, there is a brief lull and the second the signing wave hits. Players start signing for shorter terms and less zeroes associated with the guaranteed money. This aftershock lasts about a week and then there is another subsequent lull before the flurry of bargain signings – Maurice Jones-Drew comes to mind – of veterans looking to settle for what the market will bear.

That season is coming to an end. The new season that is dawning on the horizon is already the front burner topic in 32 war rooms around the NFL. What is a certain draft pick now worth?

It is a stealthy season that typically starts with a small pop, like the first kernel of popcorn blowing up. That happened Friday.

Tampa Bay, looking to get out of the Mike Williams business, less than a year into giving him a massive six-year, $40.5 million contract, traded him to Buffalo for a sixth-round draft pick next month. Sixth-round picks are 50-50 at best to be with a franchise six months after they're drafted.

At face value, even given the contract Williams signed, which, by the way, has the Bills on the hook for less than $2 million in 2014, doesn't include any heavy lifting until 2015 ($6.8 million).

As teams start to determine where the value of a pick is at, trade season has begun.

Many of the trades won't likely happen – even if mutually agreed upon – until draft day. Team A can call Team B (let's call them the St. Louis Rams). Team B has the No. 2 pick. If Jadeveon Clowney goes with the first pick, the natural assumption is that, if a team wants to get the QB in the Class of 2014 that it covets, the place to be is St. Louis. If Clowney is still available at No. 2, a new set of potential suitors are at the door with hat in hand.

Draft choices are never worth as much as they are before the draft. It's like buying a new vehicle. Once it leaves the lot, it starts to depreciate in value. But, before you buy it, it's what you decided to invest in for your long-term transportation needs. New England gave Oakland a fourth-round pick lower in that round than San Francisco gave division rival Seattle for Darrell Jackson to acquire Randy Moss. All Moss did was shatter receiving records that may never be touched again.

Teams are in the process of finalizing their own draft boards. While there are going be some obvious positional similarities, for a team in need of one player at one position, making a bold draft move can be the difference between winning and losing. Atlanta felt strongly enough about Julio Jones being a running mate with Roddy White that they jumped up high enough to get him.

The focus of Vikings fans is on who will be available at No. 8 in the draft. There are NFL teams looking at the same probability, but wondering what it would take to get the Vikings off that spot if a player they love is still on the board.

With the Pacific trade winds blowing in, we've entered a new season in the NFL year. Trade season. They might not be finalized right away, but that is the focus before the air-tight door on the war room closes Easter weekend.

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.

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