The official start of NFL free agency is March 10, and the officially sanctioned tampering period (when teams can start discussing deals with the players' agents) starts on March 7. But already this season there have been some major moves. The biggest so far was the LeSean McCoy-Kiko Alonso trade between the Eagles and the Bills. The Brandon Marshall trade from the Bears to the Jets was also a major move.
Meanwhile, the Dallas Cowboys remain quiet, as Dave Halprin showed in his free agent status post. This is in line with the recent approach the team has taken and plans on continuing in free agency, where they have let the initial rush of activity play out and then gone in to find bargains like Jeremy Mincey. They also have been very limited in trade activity, using a similar template to get low-cost solutions as they did in acquiring Rolando McClain.
Dallas has made Dez Bryant their main target in free agency. But other teams are getting ready to plunge into the waters, and this may be a year that is going to see some huge contracts. There are some ridiculous amounts of money to spend available to some NFL teams. I pulled up some figures from Spotrac and found these figures for the team with the most cap space (all numbers are very fluid at this point, and may not reflect the latest moves). I chose $30 million as an arbitrary cutoff, and came up with 12 teams.
|Team||Current Cap space|
|New York Jets||$46,055,468|
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers||$34,004,255|
|Green Bay Packers||$33,065,735|
Remember, there is a salary cap floor in effect as well (although please don't ask me to explain the way the number is calculated using two four-year periods, since like all things having to do with the cap, it is somewhat arcane). These teams don't just have a lot of money they can spend, they pretty much have to use up a good chunk of this space. I don't know if this is a record amount of cap money going into free agency, but given the way the cap has been growing, it probably is.
And there will be more money. As has been widely discussed, the Cowboys have several potential moves to make that can quickly get them onto this list with up to $40 million in space. Tyron Smith's contract is almost certain to be restructured. The team wants to get a new deal worked out with Brandon Carr to alleviate his cap hit, and can free up $8 million by making him a post-June 1 cut if it has to. And Tony Romo represents a lot of potential restructuring, although the team is probably reluctant to go that direction unless it absolutely has to. The rest of the teams in the league have similar moves they can make, so the current numbers are just the beginning.
This is going to complicate things for the Cowboys, because this has the look of a real sellers' market. The top free agents are almost certainly going to become involved in bidding wars for their services, driving their price up. In addition to giving Dallas pause about pursuing players from outside, this is a very bad sign for those who want to see DeMarco Murray return. It only takes one team to decide he is worth something around $8 million a year to push his price tag beyond what the Cowboys are going to be willing to pay. With all that money floating around, and Murray being near the top of most lists of available free agents, that seems almost a certainty. This is also going to affect other key free agent situations that the Cowboys are trying to figure out. Either Doug Free or Jermey Parnell is expected to return as the right tackle,and both might see their price tags pushed higher. Rolando McClain and Bruce Carter are another couple of players who could have their market value spike quickly. This will directly impact what Dallas can do with them.
Although free agency hasn't really begun, the first indications that prices are going up have already appeared. Teams are able to sign their own free agents, and things look to be getting expensive fast.
This will also affect the Bryant negotiations, because he and his agent are certain to be watching what is going on in the market to justify as much money as they can get. It is not inconceivable that some team may even try to make and offer for him, despite the two first round picks they would have to give up for him. Bad judgment is a real thing in the league.
Additionally, this will probably make free agency a trying time for fans. If the Cowboys stick to their plan (and there is no reason to expect otherwise) they will remain on the sidelines during the initial flurry of activity. As big names are locked up, there will be anxiety that Dallas is missing out on all that talent. It is easy to forget that the odds are not in favor of finding real solutions in free agency. There are far more cases of players who do not perform up to their big dollar contracts (see Carr, Brandon) than ones who come in and offer a major lift to the team. Dallas' approach got them a division crown. They should continue with it, and wait for things to settle down to try and find those players who are available for low cost, low risk deals. It may not be a lot of fun, especially as the myriad articles are written about who is winning free agency. The Cowboys will almost certainly be listed as one of the major losers. This is a meaningless thing, since you can no more judge the success of a team in free agency before any games are played than you can their draft class. But it is coming.
Success for the Cowboys will be measured by how well they meet their own objectives, starting with Bryant. Since they already have him locked up for the season, you cannot call their free agency plan a failure. That is logic, however, which is not really used much in covering the NFL in general, and particularly Dallas.