In watching the activity at the recently concluded NFL draft, it looked some teams are planning for there to be no free agency at all. While that likely isn’t the case, one of the changes to this year’s draft brought on by the lockout is that the draft occurred before free agency. This left teams to draft more for need than any time in recent memory.
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With free agency coming after the draft, teams currently just don’t know what the rules will be or who exactly will be available. This could spell bad news for veterans slated for free agency following the 2010 season, particularly at some of football’s most glamorous positions.
You don’t believe it? Let’s start with quarterbacks.
Veteran quarterback market fluid
This uncertainty surrounding free agency could explain why Jake Locker (Tennessee Titans at No. 8) and Christian Ponder (Minnesota Vikings at No. 12) went off the board far earlier than most expected (some teams had a second-round grade for both players). Looking further, seven signal callers were selected within the first three rounds.
Where does that leave the veterans?
The biggest names on the market are actually under contract for 2011. Kevin Kolb seems the most likely to be traded once teams are allowed to trade. The man he was penciled in to replace in Philadelphia, Donovan McNabb, is a far more likely candidate to be released and enter the free-agent pool.
Under a big contract, turning 35 in November and coming off of a disappointing season in Washington, McNabb has been rumored to be destined to Minnesota once trades can be made. But the Vikings will be moving away from a West Coast offensive scheme, which is what he’s played in during his entire 12-year career. And he’ll likely want to start at least for a few more years, but these days NFL teams want their quarterback of the future to get playing time by the end of the first season and starting by year two. So don’t hold your breath for a trade to Minnesota.
With Kolb, the market should be interesting, as some teams have now seemingly filled their quarterback need through the draft.
You can scratch the Vikings, Carolina Panthers, Cincinnati Bengals, Jacksonville Jaguars, Tennessee Titans and San Francisco 49ers off the list. All six teams selected a quarterback within the first two rounds.
But the Arizona Cardinals, Miami Dolphins and Seattle Seahawks didn’t select a quarterback at all, fueling speculation that they’ll be in the market for a veteran quarterback.
Kolb, who has one year left on his deal with the Eagles, turns 27 in August.
And don’t forget about Matt Hasselbeck, whose contract expired with the Seahawks and is slated to become a free agent.
However, like McNabb and Kolb, he’s only played in the West Coast, and the Cardinals and Dolphins don’t use that scheme on offense.
While he turns 36 in September, Hasselbeck still should have a few good years left ahead of him.
Window shrinks for running backs
No position in free agency looks to be more affected by the timing of the draft than running back.
DeAngelo Williams (Carolina Panthers) could be an unrestricted free agent depending on the rules of free agency, but several teams filled the need for a running back during the draft.
Two teams which made sense for the 2006 first-round pick — the Detroit Lions and the Dolphins— addressed the running back position. The Lions selected Illinois’ Mikel LeShoure in the second round (and spent a first-round pick on Jahvid Best in last year’s draft). The Dolphins selected Daniel Thomas out of Kansas State in the second round, though he may ultimately be the only back on the Miami roster capable of being a featured back.
The only other teams left in need of a starting rusher are the Cincinnati Bengals and Washington Redskins, and the Bengals have indicated that they want to re-sign veteran Cedric Benson.
Cornerback market adjusted
Like quarterback, cornerback has become a high-priced position in recent years.
And the top projected free-agent cornerback — Nnamdi Asomugha of the Oakland Raiders — figures to reel in a huge deal.
However, the veteran defensive back, who turns 30 in July, might not have as many suitors as first thought because many teams filled their need at the position during the draft.
Seven teams selected a cornerback within the first two rounds. And when teams do that, it means those players will be expected to start at some point within the first three years of their contracts.
But at least a few teams are still expected to be in the hunt for a veteran starting cover man.
Those teams — particularly the Lions and Eagles — could be willing to spend big on the position in free agency.
Three other solid starting cornerbacks have not had their free agency status decided yet because of the labor uncertainty.
Johnathan Joseph (Cincinnati Bengals), Richard Marshall (Carolina Panthers) and Antonio Cromartie (New York Jets), if they become unrestricted free agents, could earn solid deals. And if those players wind up signing elsewhere, their former employers could be looking to spend money on the position in free agency to replace them. And other teams will be looking for nickel and dime cornerbacks.
Regardless of position or perspective, having the draft before free agency takes place will lower the demand for free agents. It’s all about filling positional needs and many have already been filled around the NFL.