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Adding five-year vets to free agency would make little difference

A few weeks back, we examined what the 2011 free-agent class would look like under 2010 NFL rules -- i.e., six years of service time required to become an unrestricted free agent. If you recall, it wasn't pretty. Not at all.

That list was a very small (roughly 200 players), very old (majority of players over 30) and often injured group of free agents severely lacking in star power and particularly bereft in some of the most critical areas -- quarterback, tackles and pass rushers. So, we thought it made sense to check out how the class might change under other rules.

Free agency could be little help
With the rules for the 2011 league year to be decided, Jason La Canfora examines a weak crop of potential free agents if the NFL operates under 2010 rules. More ...

» Unofficial list of potential free agents
» Watch: Strength of free-agency class

The NFL Players Association would be more than happy to go back to the 2009 rules, with four-year players able to freely hit the market. Right now, no one knows when the 2011 league year will start, much less what the free-agent guidelines will look like. It would be hard for me to project, at this point, a scenario where we play under those 2009 orders, but what would happen if we split the difference?

By that I mean, let's take a look at how the market might change if five-year players became unrestricted free agents? What would be the impact of that change?

Well, it would certainly get a few more elite talents to the market -- Santonio Holmes and DeAngelo Williams, to name two. But the reality is without four-year players in the mix as well, this still wouldn't be an overwhelming free-agent class.

For instance, at quarterback, adding five-year free agents would get Tarvaris Jackson, Matt Leinart, Kellen Clemens and Brodie Croyle to the market. At best, all are potential backup options and guys who would have to earn roster spots.

At running back, Williams and Joseph Addai would receive good play, but the rest of the five-year runners would fight for roster spots. The tight end market remains devoid of game-changers, even with the addition of five-year guys.

Holmes, Lance Moore and Malcolm Floyd highlight the list of five-year receivers, with Holmes clearly the best of the bunch. Most people I talk to believe there is no way someone will out-pay the Jets to pry away Holmes.

The tackle position won't be bolstered much if players with five years of experience are added to the mix. The Atlanta Falcons' Tyson Clabo and Pittsburgh Steelers' Willie Colon would generate a lot of interest, but the other eight guys in the group ... not so much. The interior offensive linemen in this category are serviceable, but with no standouts.

The conversation becomes slightly more interesting on the defensive side of the ball, especially at end. Ray Edwards of the Minnesota Vikings would be a key figure in free agency if he's able to hit the market with five years of accrued work, and Mathias Kiwanuka of the New York Giants also has pass-rushing thrust.

But the interior defenders and linebackers, among five-year players, offer no one ready to set any free-agent contract records. Cornerback is a different story, with Antonio Cromartie and Johnathan Joseph both holding five years of experience. Each would earn top dollar.

Overall, starting free agency at five years, in terms of the projected 2011 class, would add maybe 10 A-list players to the marketplace. There definitely wouldn't be enough options for most teams to fill all the remaining holes with intriguing possibilities.

Anything other than the 2009 rules would leave a lot of general managers underwhelmed. At this point, though, wouldn't you agree that all of us -- fans, execs, coaches and players alike -- would be satisfied with any old free agency and a return to the norm of the NFL offseason?

Follow Jason La Canfora on Twitter @jasonlacanfora.

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