In exactly three weeks, teams will finally have the ability to negotiate with and sign free agents — a process that should occupy their and our attention for the rest of the month of March.
In April, final tweaks are made as teams prepare for the draft, which this year takes place six weeks after the free-agent market opens. In years past, those two events have taken place as many as seven or eight weeks apart, but the the gap is quite irrelevant.
The key, however, might be to reverse that gap entirely.
In a column posted yesterday on his website, former NFL general manager Ted Sundquist suggests that the NFL has it backwards. He argues that building a team is supposed to be based on the draft first and free agency next, which is a commonly-held philosophy in this and many other leagues. And that being the case, he can’t understand why the draft wouldn’t take place first.
A natural sense of urgency and pressure from fans and media means front offices are liable to overcommit during the free agency period, simply because it begins first.
“With the draft moved ahead of free agency,” writes Sundquist, “clubs would be afforded the opportunity to build through youthful potential before spending money on past production.”
“Nothing would please a GM more than to unexpectedly see a dominant rush end fall to his pick, versus getting locked in a bidding war to lure a veteran free agent in at inflated numbers. Such a scenario allows for more judicious decision making on the part of GMs and coaches. Free agency would be the closing pieces to the tinkering of a roster, rather than the foundation of a quick-fix rebuilding effort.”
So, why is the offseason schedule shaped in such a manner?
The NFLPA wants it this way. They want the money spent upfront first. They want their membership to reap the rewards of “time in service” through profitable NFL free agent contracts.
As a result the pressure remains on the clubs; wait until the NFL draft and you’re CHEAP, load up on NFL free agents and you’re STUPID.
Last year, because of the lockout, things were different. For the first time in NFL history, the draft took place before free agency. It’s apparent that the late start to free agency might have inhibited certain teams (see: Eagles, Philadelphia), but under regular circumstances free agency wouldn’t have to wait until late July to get started.
Under regular circumstances, the draft could be held in April (it would be almost impossible to move the draft up) and free agency could take place in May. That would give teams even more time to prepare for the latter process and would only delay a veteran player’s window to train with his new team by six or eight weeks.
When you consider that offseason activities have already been curtailed as part of the new collective bargaining agreement, that’s hardly a factoring drawback.
In fact, I can’t think of any significant drawbacks at all.