While the recent labor talks are a positive sign, some interesting issues would inevitably surface from any deal.
Say, for instance, a CBA got done in early to mid-July, camps would probably have to open around August 1 in order to get teams ready for the season. That part is easy to understand, but it might also mean that a perfect storm would hit front offices when it comes to contract negotiations and the business of getting 80 players signed, sealed and delivered for the preseason.
Keep in mind, contract negotiations keep teams busy all year, and it's a job that I did for a number of years. There's a chance that 12 months worth of contract work could be crunched into a very small window of a few weeks.
Just about every team could be trying to execute between 50 and 60 contracts, with renegotiations, offers and settlements. With one or two people usually handling this end of the business, it might be nearly impossible to get the job done in time. Consider that some of the big agents might have to handle 20-30 contracts themselves in a two-week span. Team executives might be lucky to even get a hold of the agents to do a deal. When the 2011 league year finally opens, it will not be for the faint of heart.
The chart offers a breakdown of all the year-long types of contract issues that might come together all at once. The number of transactions for the exercise was arrived at by looking at six random teams and the business each did in 2010. There are always a few teams that will have a different number than the range, but this gives an idea of what will have to be done in very short order.
One general manger told me he thinks the cap-casualty market is going to be solid, and he has a list of over 100 good players that he's prepared to react on, if and when they are released.
While some of those players could end up restructuring their deals (maybe a Reggie Bush or Nate Clements), many others will join the free-agent crop.
In looking at groups 2 and 3, no one is sure if many of the restricted free agents will actually become unrestricted free agents. That only compounds the massive problems already facing the club negotiators. There are close to 250 players who have four or five years of experience and close to 100 of them are true starters. If they ever get deemed unrestricted free agents, the contracts could explode for a certain few (Sidney Rice, Ahmed Bradshaw, DeAngelo Williams, Santonio Holmes, Zach Miller, Harvey Dahl). Teams might have to drop everything and go after these guys first. Signing draft picks would have to take a backseat.
History suggests that as quality veterans get signed, teams turn around and release other veterans (group 7), and then teams sign them and release other veterans. For example, say the Cowboys acquire cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha. Dallas could then release Terence Newman, and a team would sign him and release one of its players. This has gone on in the past, but over a four- to five-month period. Now it might all happen in a two-week timeframe.
Without mentioning too many names, I came up with 35 defenders and close to 40 offensive players who could find themselves out of work if their team signs a quality free agent. It's not quite the 100 the GM mentioned, but my number is based on players realizing a restructured deal at this point is better than facing a very short free-agent period in a potentially flooded market.
As for as the undrafted players in group 10, they usually get signed right after the draft, but that didn't happen this year. Teams need to get anywhere from 10-17 players from this pool (Dallas signed 17 in 2010). Even though they aren't big-money items, they are critical to camp rosters. Right now, most teams have about 60 players under contract and need to get to 80. Can the chief negotiator pay attention to this crop on the first day of signings while trying to orchestrate a trade, re-signing a few free agents, recruiting two or three premiere free agents, listen to the doctor's reports, and arrive at an injury settlement with a another player?
Potential free agents
As one general manager said, "We need to bring in an extra contract guy to get through that period of time if we want to get the right players on this roster."
To get a broad scope of the potential business decisions that will quickly need to be made, here's a look at three teams in different situations:
» A team like the Panthers has 55 guys under contract, not counting their restricted free agents and draft picks. They have issues with Steve Smith, signing the top overall pick in the draft, quality restricted free agents that could all become unrestricted (Richard Marshall, Charles Johnson and DeAngelo Williams), a need for 15-20 undrafted players, and decisions on contracts for guys like Tyler Brayton scheduled to make $3.5 million.
» The Packers are the Super Bowl champions, but they also have 10 draft picks to sign, a top-flight unrestricted free agent in Cullen Jenkins, a possible free agent in WR James Jones, and potential issues with Ryan Grant, Justin Harrell and Mark Tauscher. They added 12 undrafted players last year and probably will be close to the same number again. Green Bay also has decisions on a few of its linebackers and is lucky not to be players in free agency.
» How about the Redskins? Donovan McNabb's future is just one issue. Rex Grossman needs to be re-signed. They have 12 draft picks to get under contract, seven unrestricted free agents, six restricted free agents -- some of whom could become unrestricted. With about 60 guys under contract (not counting the draft picks), they need to grab six to 12 undrafted players. There are probably three or four contracts that have to be restructured or the players released. You know Washington will be in on some trade talk. There's no doubt GM Bruce Allen can handle it, but time might be the challenge.
People will have to move quickly when business starts, but they also have to be smart. No one knows the market, so it will be important for agents, players and club negotiators to recognize a good deal, especially true for rookies thinking about holding out.