As we’ve been hearing in recent days, there’s hope that the current labor strife may be mercifully coming to an end.
The talk is that should there be an agreement in early July, there could be a week-long ‘regroup’ period league-wide, giving teams the opportunity to focus on their plans for the upcoming free agent period. After said regrouping, teams would then be allowed to talk to free agents, the part we’ve all been waiting for all offseason.
But that doesn’t mean it’ll be the same type of spending spree we’ve been used to in Washington over the years.
The first thing to consider is the length of this upcoming free agent period. Most training camps open up in late July, so after the week teams could be granted after the lockout, we’d really be talking about a three week free agency period here.
The question to think about is this: How will the shortened free agency period affect the Redskins negotiation methods once the lockout is lifted?
There’s no doubt that league wide, there will be a frenzy of acquisitions made in a short amount of time. If reports are true and players will be eligible for free agency after four years of service time, then we could quite possibly have the largest free agent class in history.
But that class won’t feature just the ‘elite’ players, the ones that will command top dollar, which have usually been the ones that the Redskins have indulged in acquiring in years past. Those guys will probably be gone within the first week of free agency, like they normally would if it were March.
What interests me are the mid and lower tier players. Those guys need to find new homes in a short amount of time as well. How will they be able to do so at the same time that the top guys garner more interest and bigger contract offers?
I’d like to think the Redskins free agent plan of attack this year is to spend big, but on a good number of the mid tier guys, rather than going after one or two of the top dogs. The price of getting Nnamdi Asomugha could wind up being the same as getting nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin, cornerback Ike Taylor, and perhaps even d-end Cullen Jenkins combined.
Bruce Allen has proven that he is adept at acquiring players for market value or less, and I would expect him to continue to use those talents to help acquire solid (if unspectacular) additions who will prove to be upgrades at positions of need while also proving to be being good character individuals.
One of the main traits of Allen’s negotiating tact appears to be patience. The prime example was during the negotiation of safety OJ Atogwe’s contract just before the lockout was instituted. The Redskins played hardball with Atogwe, letting him come to the facility, talk some numbers, and ultimately allowing him walk out without. Weeks later, he came back to Washington and signed the deal that was originally offered to him, which wound up being a great deal for both he and the Redskins.
The Redskins won't have as much time to play the hardball game due to this shortened free agent timeline. As mentioned earlier, the top players will always get top money, and rather quickly. But that may not be what this offseason will be about for the Redskins. They would ideally want the mid tier guys to come at great value, and that comes through hard negotiating.
Another factor could be desperation. Will the GMs cave to a player’s demands because it's close to training camp and they need bodies? Or will the players just be glad to be offered something that's more than zero dollars and sign the dotted line? That desperation factor will vary for each team, depending on how much retooling that team has left to do. For teams like the Patriots, Packers, Steelers, Colts, Ravens and Eagles, they have the leverage because they are already solid teams. For teams like the Redskins, they know they need help in a lot of areas and though this won’t be the ideal free agency period, it’ll be the best chance they have to improve the team in a hurry.
So as we sit and wait for this new CBA to be completed, it’s good to remember that this could be the second free agency period in a row that we don’t see this front office make the flashy deals. But that doesn’t mean this team isn’t eagerly awaiting the start of free agency. They probably have a really good idea as to what they want to do in July, and we’ll all find out what direction they will go.
All they need now is the green light.