The end of the 4 1/2-month National Football League lockout leaves almost 29 percent of returning players rushing to find roster spots among the 32 teams.
Of the NFL’s about 1,900 players from last season, there are 545 on the free-agent list the NFL released yesterday after a 10-year contract was approved by leaders of the NFL Players Association. Among the unrestricted free agents are Oakland Raiders cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, New York Jets wide receiver Santonio Holmes and New York Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw.
A provision of the previous labor agreement kept both fourth- and fifth-year players restricted last season as the two sides negotiated a new deal, leaving less time and more players to find jobs with the first preseason games just more than two weeks away.
“Now you have a lot of players in free agency, which is going to be to the detriment of players because there’s so many,” said Andrew Brandt, an NFL analyst for ESPN who was a vice president with the Green Bay Packers from 1999 to 2008. “It may be more like musical chairs with everyone trying to jump in and get their share before the music stops.”
Beginning today, locker rooms will be open for voluntary training and clubs will be able to make trades. At 10 a.m. New York time, teams can begin signing drafted and undrafted rookies, and negotiate with free agents.
At 4:01 p.m. on July 28, teams may waive their own players and on July 29 at 6 p.m. they can sign free agents and renegotiate contracts within their current rosters.
Teams can open training camp 15 days before their first preseason game. Following the cancellation of the Hall of Fame Game on Aug. 7 between the Chicago Bears and St. Louis Rams, the first preseason contest will be the Seattle Seahawks at the San Diego Chargers on Aug. 11.
“Any time there’s a deadline in negotiations, it’s a good thing,” Bill Polian, president of the Indianapolis Colts, said in an interview. “It means people negotiate faster and posture less. It’s more hectic, but probably more real.”
If not in a contract year, free agency would have begun March 12, leaving four months for player agents to negotiate before the preseason begins. This year, that date marked the beginning of the work stoppage.
Mark Bartelstein, whose agency represents about 90 NFL players, said the increased availability of players will create more competition for roster spots.
“It’s a lot of work, which is why I can’t spend too much time on the phone with you right now,” Bartelstein said, laughing. “It’s going to be very hectic, with a lot to get done in a short period of time. There’s a lot of moving pieces and you’ve got to get your guys in the right places.”
Asomugha, the 30-year-old cornerback who’s spent his eight-year NFL career with the Raiders, is considered to be among the top prizes in the free-agent market. Though Asomugha has only three interceptions since getting eight in 2006, he’s had just 52 passes completed against him over the past three seasons, according to ESPN.
Other coveted free agents, according to Brandt, include the Jets’ Holmes, 27, who had 52 catches for 746 yards and six touchdowns in 12 games last season, and Packers defensive end Cullen Jenkins, who had seven sacks.
“It will be like every year, where the top guys go off the board with what people call stupid money,” Brandt said in a telephone interview.
Quarterbacks on Market
Unrestricted free-agent quarterbacks include Seattle’s Matt Hasselbeck, whom Brandt formerly represented as an agent, as well as Chris Simms of the Tennessee Titans, Patrick Ramsey of the Minnesota Vikings, Alex Smith of the San Francisco 49ers and Rex Grossman of the Washington Redskins.
“There’s going to be an active market in proposed and/or consummated trades, with Kevin Kolb the most notable but other guys in play as well, like Donovan McNabb, Kyle Orton and Vince Young,” Brandt said.
Kolb started five games and played seven last season for the Philadelphia Eagles, throwing seven touchdown passes and seven interceptions.
Running backs available include Bradshaw, Julius Jones, DeAngelo Williams, Joseph Addai, Cedric Benson, Ronnie Brown, Ricky Williams, Laurence Maroney, Darren Sproles, Carnell Williams, Brian Westbrook and Fred Taylor.
Holmes is among unrestricted receivers, a list that also includes Braylon Edwards, his teammate last season with the Jets; Sidney Rice; T.J. Houshmandzadeh; Randy Moss, and Terrell Owens.
All 254 players drafted in April are unsigned by their new clubs, including No. 1 pick Cam Newton, the Auburn University quarterback who went to the Carolina Panthers, and Cheta Izougwu, a defensive lineman out of Rice University who was taken with the final draft pick by the Houston Texans.
Many undrafted free agents also will be looking for work on NFL clubs or practice squads.
“We’ve worked our plans, but it’s like the old adage, after the first shot is fired the battle plan goes out the window,” Polian said. “We have our needs, we know exactly what we’re going to do, how we’re going to do it, and then you have to adjust on the fly when things get going.”
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Sillup at firstname.lastname@example.org