Types of Free Agents

Each year there are lots of players who are free to sign with new teams. The union wanted everyone to have this right and the negotiation about free agency has been a major sticking point for some time. This history is long, but the general trend is for more free agency after the first contract.

This has been offset with the rookie salary schedule and the tagging system. Franchise players should really be considered players with team controlled contracts. The owners rightly noted that the value of a team is partially made up on the value of individual players and the ability to keep local players for a long time. The franchise tags recognize this, but it is limited in number and is defined by their set cost to further limit their use.

Some FA’s are quite sought out after and others eventually do not get signed at all. Players’ talent and their desirability range along a continuum from one end to the other and all kinds in between.

Often, free agency is just a reason for players to test the market and they sign with their current team. In fact, just the potential to sign with another team is a major strength for a player in negotiations. Many times a player never reaches free agency as the team locks them up.

On the other end, some players are not so desired. It is a potential red flag if a team does not make a major attempt to resign their own players, especially if the players are well known. Some players are just not NFL quality. Marginal players are on the fringes of being replaced every year. Yet, given different team needs and depth can play for a few years longer even if beat out by their current team.

The following discussion categorizes players into several groups to discuss their potential value to a new team. The categories overlap so players may not fit neatly into just one. Folks are invited to develop other groups and provide examples in their comments.

Stars - High value/high cost.

Discussion: One wants them because EVERYONE wants them.

One hopes that these players can transform the team. The classic example is Deion Sanders. There are a million articles each year about the each player that makes the heart flutter. Even informal fans want them as they recognize their big names.

Aside from their ability to transform the team, their high cost can also negatively transform the team’s salary cap. Dallas dodged a big bullet when the Asumogha signed with the Eagles instead. His cap hit would have prohibited just about any other changes to the team for several years.

The failure rate of many big name FA is due to mis-evaluation and of the mis-matches of the player to the new team. Scouts better have a good understanding of the player’s skills and how they fit into the scheme of their last team and of the potential team. A player may be over-rated if they were playing on a team with outstanding talent surrounding them in a scheme that matched everyone’s skills. The question is whether the good play is the result of that player or of the situation and whether that will continue in the new team.

Character flaws – high value/high cost [especially in non-monetary ways]

Discussion: One wants them because they are AWESOME on the field.

Just as we see potential rookies that are drafted later than their talent indicates, we see players in FA that who have demonstrated talent but have flaws. It is easy to determine what they can do on the field, but teams better understand just how disruptive those players can be to the rest of the team.

Terrell Owens defines the character risk category. He might be a HOF player, but teams better figure out if it is still worth the hassle. Several teams have signed him and let him go in the past.

Coaches Pet – medium to high value/low to medium cost.

Discussion: One want them because the COACH wants them.

The value of the player is due to the relationship with the coach. The player and coach understand each other and the player can translate what the coach wants to other players. This is particularly true when a team is changing coaches or schemes or both. These players have the ability to transform the team even if their own play is marginal. Thus their cost is relatively low as their individual play is most valuable to specific teams and that limits their potential market.

Bill Parcells is famous for his guys, but every coach has a few. A good example of more recent vintage is Elam at safety. His individual play was not that great, but he helped to install the Ryan defense during the lockout. The help in installation was valuable in itself.

Yet, also Elam led the Dallas secondary. He helped others to play better on the field, particularly Sensabaugh who could focus only on his own responsibilities. Yet, after the D was installed and practiced, his value was decreased and we did not keep him.

Aged Warriors – low to medium value/medium cost.

Discussion: One wants them because they have provided good value in the past and the new team wants to eke out a year or two more.

A good example for Dallas was Brooking. He made a big impression early for Dallas, but we also saw how his age finally caught up to him. It is a trade-off of cost, need, and how long one needs that talent. Brooking helped hold the fort together until Lee and Carter were ready.

Different teams have different philosophies on loyalty and cost/value of players. Risk taking teams can find gems by taking advantage of this risk/reward difference if their former team does not want to watch/pay for their degradation due to age.

The eagles were famous for cutting/not resigning players when they turned 30. Their lack of loyalty meant that players with value continued to play well for other teams, but that the team did not get old. The let Darrel Dawkins leave but brought him back after they missed his leadership.

Hidden Gems – high value/ medium to high cost.

Discussion: One wants them because they are behind stars on their current team and are blocked from showing what they can do. Sometimes one only sees the understudy’s value when the star goes down for an injury. A scout earns his keep but identifying part time players on other teams.

An example was Ron Stone. He was our third string guard, who left in FA to be a pro-bowler in his own right.

Post development – medium to high value/low to medium cost.

Discussion: One wants them because it takes a while for a player to develop. If you can find a player that hits his stride just as his first contract expires, one can reap their value without the development cost.

A good example is Bernadeau. He was a backup for several years. Yet it is well known that OL guys take time to develop. As he improved each year he was in the NFL, Dallas targeted him as the first FA they signed this past year.

We saw glimpses of what the scouts saw. Yet the initial impression of many people is dominated by his disappointing early play. Yet he had off-season surgery right after we signed him and he was slow to recover. Long term, he may be considered a steal.

JAGS. – low value/low cost.

Discussion: One wants them to fill holes.

If you can sign a veteran player that means that you don’t HAVE to draft that position immediately. That means that you can draft the BPA and get better value in the draft.

Good examples include Pool at safety, or Connor at LB. We ended up drafting safeties and LBs but we did that on BPA instead of needing the rookie to start immediately. Pool did not make it out of TC. Connor was signed as insurance as we did not know how well Carter could play. Carter showed what he could do and Connor became a backup. Yet we needed him when Lee and Carter were injured.

Injured players – high potential/low cost

Discussion: A player is injured in the past and may not even be still in the NFL. He might have been an active player who gets injured at the wrong time right before his FA, might be out of the league, or never got on active roster.

This is all about risk reward. If he hits – great; if not, it was no great loss. NEXT.

Brian Price is just the latest signing to define the category.

Another user-created commentary provided by a BTB reader.

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