The Changing Face Of Free Agency

Are teams becoming increasingly diligent in their handling of player contracts or has the scope of free agency taken a turn for the worse in the case of veteran players? Upon evaluating the changing scenery in the NFL, veteran players could ultimately see the short end of the stick.

In the days following the college player draft, leading up to the start of training camp practice sessions throughout the NFL, the focus on improvement through free agency had been prevalent in the past.

That hasn't been the case in 2004. The number of high-profile players with great impact potential has steadily decreased the past couple years. Being noted, there are some notions behind the reasoning which left the previously much anticipated June 1 release date as a non-issue throughout the league.

From teams learning to manipulate and use the salary cap mandated by the league to teams focusing on youth and development of talent within their current rosters, the free agent signing period that had been a spectacle heading into the summer season has been a dud.

"Some teams have positioned themselves in a manner that they are unable to take on additional salary, other teams have sat back in waiting for the right deal to materialize," agent Carl Poston said. "There will always be a handful of players available that have shown the ability to play in this league — in some cases they (the players) are waiting on the right opportunity to come along."

The days of teams beating down the doors of perspective players has slowed to a snail's pace only weeks prior to training camp as most league front offices vacation, strategize toward signing 2004 draftees, then prepare for training camp.

"There is always a lull in the action during this time of the year. Most teams are in the beginning stages of negotiations with us (agents and representatives), and teams are looking to see what players are on the market that may come at a bargain price to fill their rosters," Poston added.

With the focus appearing to sway toward teams becoming increasingly dependent on the college player draft and their ability to sign select players on their roster to longer, lucrative contracts, the time of free agency wars prior to training camp season may be coming to an end.

Bargains will be had, as teams part with players that do not fit within the scope of the organization. Age, increased salary, productivity and the players' own collective bargaining agreement are common reasons behind the demise of quality players to be left seeking an opportunity at the late stages of the game.

"The reasons teams release players are endless, some are legitimate and others are not. A player can handle being told he is being released for financial reasons. In the game today. Many players continue to give back salary to help the team obtain additional talent. While in most cases the player will benefit by gaining some immediate bonus, the team in question makes this type of financial assurance for helping them (the organization) with salary cap issues. This is the most common case," Poston said. "When proud players, veteran players which are still productive, work their way into the opportunity of earning the salary expected due to their excelled level of play and commitment, only to be asked to take a significant pay-cut, then there are going to be issues. Some teams cut the cord quickly in this game. Free agency will continue to take on a different look as time passes, but this was created to give players the rights they deserve and teams will always be competitive. That competitiveness, from both the player and team, will keep free agency active and prosperous, for all entities involved. "

Just remember, free agency lives in the NFL but it may not be what it once was — at least in June.

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