Free agency officially begins with the start of the new NFL league year at 1PM PT time next Tuesday. Some of the fun starts tomorrow when clubs can contact any free agent to begin negotiations. We will hear news of where players are visiting first. We will know what club position priorities are. We will start learning. The pace quickens over the course of week one when most of the big deals are signed. Each day will be a frenzy. It is more dramatic than the NFL Draft because there is no structure to the news or how you discover it. This is one of my favorite times of the year. Here are some notes as we barrel over the waterfall.
First, an overview of the dates to be aware of, and what goes along with them:
March 8-11: Clubs, after 9 a.m. PT on March 8th, are permitted to contact, and enter into contract negotiations with, the certified agents of players who will become unrestricted free agents upon the expiration of their 2013 player contracts at 1 p.m. PT on March 11. However, a contract cannot be executed with a new club until 1 p.m. PT on March 11.
March 11: New league year, free agency begins
March 11: Before 1 p.m. PT, clubs must exercise options for 2014 on all players who have option clauses in their 2013 contracts.
March 11: Before 1 p.m. PT, clubs must submit qualifying offers to their restricted free agents with expiring contracts.
March 11: Before 1 p.m. PT, clubs must submit a minimum salary tender to retain exclusive negotiating rights to their players with expiring 2013 contracts and who have fewer than three accrued Seasons of free agency credit.
March 11: All clubs must be under the 2014 salary cap before 1 p.m. PT.
Not all the news at this time of year is about players signing. Remember how Denver lost Elvis Dumervil last season because a fax failed to be sent before the league year? Do you think the Broncos could have used Dumervil last year? The bigger lesson there was that clubs are juggling a lot through this time. They are arranging visits, negotiating with their free agents, re-negotiating contracts, listening to trade offers or making their own, and submitting all sorts of contractual paperwork.
Michael Bennett hitting the open market is absolutely expected. News came out yesterday that he was not going to take the Seahawks offer without listening to others. He took what, by all accounts, was a surprisingly low salary last season with the hope that he could have a great year and get a big deal this year. He had a great season. The Seahawks got him at a discount. He is going to look to get the best deal he can now. If someone goes all Mario Williams on him with $50M guaranteed money, he is leaving. I think Seattle will stay in the game up to around $20M guaranteed. The odds of him coming back are still very good. And, in some ways, I am happy he is hitting the market because there would have always been some concern that the Seahawks spent more than they needed to in order to retain him. Prepare yourself to hear him visit a bunch of teams, and each one will try to get him to sign before leaving. If they blow Seattle out of the water, the Seahawks will not hesitate to move on. If they are $5M over Seattle’s guaranteed money, Seattle might budge.
Golden Tate hitting the open market is a little more surprising. Pete Carroll is incredibly fond of him, he is a favorite target of Russell Wilson’s, and he clearly wants to be in Seattle. His value on the open market is real question mark since his skill set works well in this offense, but may not be as transferable to others (think Brandon Browner on the other side of the ball). For Tate to not have re-signed already, the offer had to be significantly below what Riley Cooper got in Philadelphia, and that was basically a two year, $9M contract when you look at the guaranteed dollars. What we find out soon is whether the Seahawks valuation of Tate, which appears to be well below Tate’s valuation of himself, is in-line with the market. This is a situation where either we will learn that Tate is a coveted player and he is gone, or we find a depressed wide receiver market that makes the Seahawks spurned offer look more appealing to Tate. This one is a big mystery, and I have no gut feeling how it will play out.
There is so much talk, rightfully so, about who the Seahawks can retain. We will learn a lot about the team plans by who they bring in for a visit. It could range from no big names in the first week (expected) to shocking news that a top-notch player is on his way to meet with the team. John Schneider does a great job with keeping things in-house, so we will not see his hand until players start hopping on planes to Seattle.
Chris Clemons is still a Seahawk, but if the team finds a guy they would rather bring in (at any position), he could be cut loose at any time. That story is far from over.
A reminder on restricted free agents: They can still visit with any team, but if they are tendered, Seattle has the right to match. Also, if the team places a 2nd-round tender on a player, that does not mean a team must trade a 2nd-round pick to get the player. If a restricted player is to change teams, generally it would be a trade-and-sign scenario where the teams work out compensation–which could be less than the tender calls for–and then the receiving team signs the player to an extension.