We're still a far way from having a CBA, but the talk of a resolution within the next couple of weeks is heating up. Colts owner Jim Irsay thinks July 4th is the deadline for when a deal needs to be in place. SI's Peter King believes a deal should be in place by July 10, if for no other reason than the economic impact of canceled preseason games. And ESPN's John Clayton writes that it’s possible a deal could get done by the end of June.
Clayton also writes that an end of June timing would allow camps to start at their normal time around the end of July or beginning of August. He also speculates that free agency would start around July 15. This would give the teams a very hectic two weeks in which to get their main free-agent signings done - if they want their new signings to be in camp from day one.
I believe we can safely assume that most teams have already identified their prime candidates, have talked to the agents and potential trade partners, and have a detailed plan in place on how to proceed once the league re-opens for business. Some teams, like the boisterous bunch in Philadelphia, have even felt compelled to make this blinding flash of the obvious (Eagles have big post-lockout plans) known to anybody who will listen.
What complicates the whole free agent situation somewhat are the undrafted free agents. Dan Pompeii of the National Football Post speculated that UDFA players may have to wait through a period of veteran free agent signings before signing with any NFL teams:
The talk going around, some of it spurred by agents, is there should be a period in which teams can sign veteran free agents first, followed by a period in which undrafted free agents are fair game. Player agents and veteran players prefer it this way because they don’t want undrafted free agents getting in the way of their older players. Many teams like the idea too because it will enable them to take on one frontier at a time.
The Cowboys are likely to go after a couple of free agent signings, starting with guys like Doug Free, Stephen Bowen, probably Kyle Kosier and a couple of others from their own roster. But they're also likely going to be looking for veteran safety, defensive end and perhaps corner or guard help. Additionally, the Cowboys typically sign 15-20 UDFAs prior to camp, and they need to sign their eight draft picks as well. That's a lot of work for the front office to handle in two weeks.
With no additional rules in place to govern free agency, this could easily result in a feeding frenzy unlike anything we've seen in the NFL. But there is a silver lining: at the very least, we would have a lot to write and talk about.