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  • It's a free-for-all for the free agents

    It's a free-for-all for the free agents
    By Jim Thomas
    Of the Post-Dispatch
    03/26/2005

    The competition for talent early in free agency has become so keen that neither the team nor the player wants to mess around.

    Almost every year since the start of the current NFL free agency system, the top players go quickly, and this year has been no different.

    On March 2, at the start of the free agency period, the Post-Dispatch listed the top five free agents in nine positional categories. Of the 45 players listed, only eight are still looking for jobs just 3 1/2 weeks into free agency.

    So the feeding frenzy hasn't changed. If anything, it has become even more frenzied. It used to be that free agents visited several cities before deciding on a new team.

    Remember the Reggie White "Tour Across America" in 1993? The late Minister of Defense visited enough towns to have a division named after him before deciding on Green Bay in '93, the first year of the current system. But such tours are nearly nonexistent these days. Players usually go to a city to sign a contract. No fuss. No muss. Some sign without even taking a visit.

    "This year, it seems to have been very dramatic," said Jay Zygmunt, the Rams' president of football operations. "I don't know the exact percentage, but so many players are not making the multiple visits."

    The competition for talent early in free agency has become so keen that neither the team nor the player wants to mess around.

    "The best players are available early on," Zygmunt said. "The most money's available early on. And it's almost like there's a synergy that just says, 'Hey, this is the time to make a deal.'"

    This year, the Rams did just that, signing linebackers Dexter Coakley and Chris Claiborne on the first two days of free agency.

    Similarly, Dallas made waves early in free agency by signing cornerback Anthony Henry (Cleveland), defensive tackle Jason Ferguson (New York Jets) and offensive guard Marco Rivera (Green Bay). Those three players accounted for nearly $28 million in signing bonus money.

    Carolina jumped on cornerback Ken Lucas (Seattle) and offensive guard Mike Wahle (Green Bay), for a combined $16.4 million in signing bonus.

    "Everyone's looking for the big splash," Zygmunt said.

    But the best players aren't necessarily the ones with the most name recognition. Teams frequently fall into the trap of buying "names" instead of buying players.

    "As you well know, the best players (often) are the guys signed that the public doesn't even know who they are," Zygmunt said. "As opposed to signing the aging veteran, which everybody does. ... Sometimes you get caught up in the thrill of the chase."

    The flip side to the big splash is getting your roster raided. Since their 1999 Super Bowl championship season, the Rams know this better than most. They've lost the likes of defensive end Grant Wistrom, cornerback Dre Bly, linebacker London Fletcher, wide receiver Az-Zahir Hakim, and offensive tackles Fred Miller and Ryan Tucker to name a few.

    This year, Green Bay lost both of its starting guards (Rivera and Wahle) from the offensive line that has done such a great job of protecting aging quarterback Brett Favre in recent years.

    Such is the state of today's free agency - striking whenever possible, trying to minimize losses, and rolling with the punches.

    "There's an emotional roller coaster in free agency when there aren't a lot of names out there, and you're competing for them, and you lose them," New York Giants general manager Ernie Accorsi said.

    Retaining free agents is as much a part of the plan as luring them.

    "A retention is just like signing a free agent," Zygmunt said. "There's no free agent we would have rather signed on the marketplace this year than Orlando (Pace)."

    After playing for two years as a franchise player, Pace signed a seven-year, $52.9 million deal on March 16 that included a $15 million signing bonus.

    On this year's Post-Dispatch free-agent list, only six of 45 players have re-signed with their old team. A couple of other interesting developments are reflected in what has happened to this year's free-agent list:

    Other than former New York Jet Lamont Jordan, who signed a $27.5 million contract with Oakland, running backs aren't making much money in free agency.

    The fact that Shaun Alexander, Edgerrin James and Travis Henry are on the trading block has made it a buyer's market. So has the fact that it's a good year for running backs in the draft, particularly at the top of the draft.

    Cornerbacks are cashing in. Ty Law, who's coming off foot surgery in January, is about the only elite free agent still looking for a job. But Samari Rolle, Fred Smoot, Gary Baxter and Henry have commanded signing bonuses of $9 million or more.

    This comes at a time when the franchise tag number for cornerbacks ($8.816 million) amazingly has topped that of quarterbacks ($8.078 million). Go figure.
    The more things change, the more they stay the same.

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  • ramsplaya16
    Smart teams spend little in free agency/Gosselin
    by ramsplaya16
    Smart NFL teams spend little in free agency

    I love what the Green Bay Packers have done thus far in free agency.

    Nothing.

    Absolutely nothing.

    The Packers haven't signed any players in free agency nor have they lost any. The Indianapolis Colts also haven't signed any players.

    Football is figuring out what baseball discovered in the 1970s you can't buy a championship. Which is contrary to public perception.

    There's a frenzy in the fan bases of 32 NFL teams each off-season. Spend. Buy free agents. The bigger the contract, the better the signing. If you're not spending, you're not trying to get better as a football team.

    Au contraire.

    The Green Bay Packers haven't panicked in free agency at the thought of Aaron Rodgers or another quarterback in charge. The Cowboys, Cleveland Browns, San Francisco ***** and Seattle Seahawks each signed a free agent to a contract in excess of $39 million last off-season. In addition, the Washington Redskins gave aging middle linebacker London Fletcher a $10 million signing bonus, and the Jacksonville Jaguars gave journeyman offensive tackle Tony Pashos another for $9 million.

    All the while, the New York Giants were sitting out the spending spree. To borrow a Jerry Jones term, the Giants were "keeping their powder dry."

    The Giants wound up signing one free agent to fill a specific hole on the depth chart, bottom feeding in late March for linebacker Kawika Mitchell. They gave him a modest one-year, $1 million deal.

    Mitchell is now wearing a Super Bowl ring and 2007 multi-millionaires Leonard Davis (Cowboys), Eric Steinbach (Browns), Nate Clements (*****), Patrick Kerney (Seahawks), Fletcher and Pashos are not.

    In 2006, the Indianapolis Colts signed only one free agent, and he wasn't even a position player kicker Adam Vinatieri. The Colts wound up winning the Super Bowl.

    In 2005, the Pittsburgh Steelers also signed only one free agent wide receiver Cedrick Wilson to a four-year deal worth less than $10 million. He didn't even start for the Steelers. But guess who won the Super Bowl that year?

    Free agency never has been and never will be the answer. Teams are realizing the game's best players no longer become free. So the smart teams invest their salary cap dollars in re-signing their own players.

    Back in the 1990s, you could sign a difference-maker like Reggie White or Deion Sanders in free agency. But with each passing year, the quality of free agents decreases, yet the quantity of the money increases.

    I had breakfast with an NFL head coach last week, and he shook his head at the fiscal craziness, saying that average players are getting superstar money.

    There were 112 players signed in free agency through the end of business last week....
    -03-21-2008, 09:22 AM
  • HUbison
    Rams figure to be busy as free agency begins today
    by HUbison
    Rams figure to be busy as free agency begins today
    By Jim Thomas
    Of the Post-Dispatch
    03/01/2005

    With Pisa Tinoisamoa (50) moving to strong safety, the Rams are in the market for linebacker help.

    By design and financial necessity, the Rams usually are little more than interested spectators this time of year. With rare exception, St. Louis sits out the feeding-frenzy stage of free agency, and has done so ever since the 1999 Super Bowl championship season.

    Let the other teams overpay and throw greenbacks around like Monopoly money. In most instances, the Rams had little to spend and used most of it trying to re-sign their own players.

    Last year, for example, the Rams re-signed guard Adam Timmerman and quarterback Marc Bulger and matched outside offers on restricted free agents Jerametrius Butler (cornerback) and Brandon Manumaleuna (tight end). But they couldn't afford to keep defensive end Grant Wistrom and defensive tackle Brian Young.

    This year promises to be different. The Rams could be active early players in the free agency period, which begins today. The team enters free agency with about $7 million in salary cap room, a figure that could swell to more than $10 million if left tackle Orlando Pace - and his new agents - can strike a multi-year deal. That would remove the burden of Pace's $8.4 million franchise tag from the team's salary cap.

    And unlike most recent offseasons, the Rams don't have much in the way of priorities on their own free-agent list, which numbers 13 unrestricted free agents.

    Among that group, the Rams are resigned to losing defensive end Bryce Fisher. They have had conversations with his agent, but Fisher's strong final month of the season and team-high sack total (8 1/2) almost certainly have priced him out of the Rams' market.

    The Rams appear to have little to no interest in re-signing linebacker Tommy Polley, whose much-improved play over the final third of the season only made one wonder what the problem was during the first two-thirds of 2004.

    Safety Antuan Edwards seems intent on shopping the market, so the Rams rescinded what's believed to be a three-year offer Tuesday and will look elsewhere.

    Injured guards Chris Dishman (knee) and Tom Nutten (toe) are expected to head back to retirement. The team isn't expected to offer safety-cornerback Aeneas Williams a contract, either. He's 37 and ended the season on injured reserve with an arthritic shoulder.

    The only other unrestricted free agents who saw much playing time for the Rams were tight end Cam Cleeland - who caught only seven passes in the regular season - and safety Rich Coady, who had several rough moments in coverage.

    So the Rams are expected to use most of their money on outside free agents, and for a change will try to spend at least some of it early....
    -03-02-2005, 06:24 AM
  • rammiser
    I'm beginning to hate free agency.
    by rammiser
    Free agency is getting out of control. As I watch average player after average player get signed to record deals and the really good ones get even more it really is out of control. This is something the NFL should look into. I dont know how they can do it but they need to figure this out. Performaced based maybe? Do you think the Whiners believe Clements is worth his contract from last year. He's a nice player sure but he's not worth more money than Bailey. It's just getting out of control every year the free agents get rediculous contracts that set the price tag for an even higher payoff the next year. Most of the time it isnt even worth what you paid. The draft is almost the same way, the number one pick get all this money and for what? Being the best college player? I like the NBA's system where there is a cap on how much you can make based on how long you've been in the league. It can be tough on older vets but it's not getting out of control anymore. I want the Rams to get some good players but I hate to see them get an average player for top tier money and that is free agency in a nutshell.
    -02-29-2008, 12:35 PM
  • Sanantonioram
    December 23, 1975
    by Sanantonioram
    A date that will live in infamy. That is the date that Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally ruined professional sports forever when they successfully challenged the reserve clause and brought about the mess we have witnessed for the last 30 years. Free agency with all the agents and money-grubbing and the inability to build and keep a team. Man, how I yearn for the good old days when you drafted a player and built a team around him...those were the days.:sad:
    -03-16-2006, 11:17 PM
  • r8rh8rmike
    Agents Gear Up For Big Blitz
    by r8rh8rmike
    Agents gear up for big blitz

    BY JIM THOMAS
    Sunday, July 24, 2011

    In a normal offseason, the prime players get signed in the first 10 to 14 days once the free agency begins in early March. Then, the pace of signings slows considerably but continues leading to the start of training camp.

    In April, several hundred undrafted rookies are signed within a day or two after the conclusion of the draft. Many are signed mere minutes after draft.

    As for the actual drafted players, the vast majority aren't signed until July, with many of the first rounders not inking deals until just before - or even after- the start of camp.

    This has been the way of the world in the NFL since the advent of the free agency system in 1993.

    But since the lockout began 4 months ago, no players can be signed, and officially, at least, no negotiations can take place.

    Sooner or later, the lockout will end and the NFL Players Association will sign off on a new labor deal. It might happen in a matter of days, and when that happens, five months of player acquisition will be boiled down to a frantic week or two.

    For the agents who represent those players in contract negotiations, it will be a gridiron version of speed dating. Harold Lewis, of the St. Louis-based National Sports Agency, says he's in training for the grueling signing period that's on the horizon.

    "I've been doing my pushups," Lewis joked. "We're going to do five months' worth of work in about five days."

    Lewis' firm isn't one of the industry giants, such as the 500-pound gorilla in Clayton - the CAA football agency of Tom Condon, Ben Dogra, Jim Steiner and Co.

    CAA is No. 1 in the country in terms of its stable of football players, including quarterback Sam Bradford and offensive tackle Jason Smith of the Rams. Lewis' firm is maybe in the top 15. It represents few top draft picks, but excels in getting second contracts for players who were relatively unheralded coming out of college.

    New York Jets linebacker and Lewis client Bart Scott out of Southern Illinois Universities Carbondale is a prime example. So is Rams center Jason Brown.

    "This offseason, we'll have 20 guys that we have to take care of," Lewis said. "Can you imagine CAA. They're going to have 100-plus at one time."

    But somehow, sports agents and agencies - big and small - are going to have to get it done once the player-signing period begins.

    "Whether it's a five-month period, or a five-minute period, we've been preparing for all these things for a long time," said Dave Butz of Sportstars, one of the game's largest agent firms. "I've you're not prepared at this point, then you've made a mistake."

    Butz lives in St. Louis and is the son of former...
    -07-24-2011, 08:06 PM
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