The National Football Post's Jack Bechta wrote yesterday that the free agency market could be soft this year:
The word in the agent community is that some fear a "soft free agency market". Many agents I spoke to at the Combine and thereafter are not getting the feelers, sense of urgency and the secret handshake deals they have gotten in the past. Although this year’s free agency period starts March 13th, almost 10 days after it would normally begin, the action/deal-making at the Combine was lackluster at best.
Bechta is not only a columnist at the NFP, he is also an NFLPA certified player agent and owner of JB Sports Inc, which currently represents at least 20 NFL players, one of which is Cowboys free agent Mat McBriar. Putting aside the fact that the quote above is as blatant an admission of tampering as you'll get, Bechta's observations suggest that there may be less money spent in free agency this year than has been in the past.
Bechta points out that despite the massive amounts of cap space available to some teams (The Bengals, Chiefs and Buccaneers all have have more than $60 million available, the Redskins, Jaguars and Broncos are close to $50 million) there won't actually be a mandatory salary minimum per team until next year. For teams with an emphasis on the bottom line, this is one more year in which they get to keep more of their money for themselves and won't have to spend as much of it.
For the Cowboys, this will likely mean less competition for free agents, because while there may be up to $711 million of cap space available to all teams, not all of it is going to be used.
Additionally, the overall salary cap this year - which the NFL is likely to release sometime today - will likely be very close to last year's figure of $120 million, which would further dampen the enthusiasm of teams to spend freely in free agency - at least those teams willing to spend in the first place. And that may be another plus point for the Cowboys as they pursue their free agent targets.
Great free agents will always get great contracts and there will always be a handful of teams who will consistently compete in the free agent market. However, with no sense of urgency to spend right now, most organizations will tap the breaks and keep their powder dry (aka: keep it in their pocket).
The Cowboys have created a lot of cap space for this year, and they can create a lot more. $8.6 million more are available by changing Scrandrick's and Free’s salary into a bonus this year. Up to $6 million more could be added by cutting Terence Newman, which is expected to happen by next Tuesday.
Other players like David Buehler ($1.26 million) or Kenyon Coleman ($1.9 million) could end up as cap casualties as well. Restructuring Jason Witten and potentially Tony Romo and DeMarcus Ware again could free up just about as much space as the Cowboys could ever want.
The Cowboys will probably go about filling holes on their roster judiciously via free agency. But if they need to, they can create the salary cap room to sign just about any free agents they want to. And what better time to do that than when the market for free agents is soft?