By Tom E. Curran
CSNNE.com Patriots Insider Follow @tomecurran When the NFL lockout ends, free agency soon begins. And it's going to look a little like this(that's Rex Ryan at the 15-second mark). Between unrestricted free agents and undrafted college players, there could be morethan 700 players hitting the open market in the next few weeks. GMs, coaches,agents and - mostly significantly - players and their families are going to be heavily impacted by the newly hatched free agent rules. Action on the available players is going to be fast, especially if training camps are going to open as scheduled in late July. And so much is still unknown. For instance, the answer to the basic question of whether free agency will begin for players with four vested seasons (the old model), six vested seasons (a possibility) or the middle ground of five. "First of all, nobodys talking about it," said player agent Joe Linta. "Is (free agency) going to be after six (seasons)? Four? Will we do what happened in 2010? This is a huge concern to at least a quarter of the players or more. You dont see any discussion about that. You dont hear (NFLPA Executive Director) De Smith say what exactly they're fighting toward. It's such a mountainous point of will it besix or fouryears. You have 250 guys who are in that boat."In terms of their own roster, the Patriots don't have major concerns because their 2006 and 2007 draft were so awful. Only one player from each draft is still on the roster. There'sBrandon Meriweather from 2007, signed through the 2011 season.And there's Stephen Gostkowski from 2006 who missed out on free agency because of the 2010 rules change that delayed free agency to players with fewer than six years played. Gostkowski signed an extension through 2014 last year while he was a restricted free agent. But the Patriots are affected because they'll need to know who they can target, how much they can spend (the final owners proposal in March had a salary cap of 114 million, down from the approximately 126 million teams had in the last capped year, 2009) and how quickly they must act. There won't be much time for foreplay. "I dont know if there will be a lot of time for recruiting trips," said Linta. "The player and agent will, in most instances, get together, look at the opportunities and move from there. In phone calls with the teams, you would do the preliminaries of the contract so that the recruiting trip almost becomes the signing trip. I don't think you'll see the reunion tours you usually do when free agency starts in March."Agent Rick Smith of Priority Sports and Entertainment notes the two other unknowns in the equation - undrafted rookies and rookie contracts for players who were selected in April's draft. Those will also have to be done before camps begin."The way I look at how that works is it will be really, really busy," said Smith. "It will force everyone to get to deals a lot quicker. It will force teams and agents to get to a number pretty quick and not go through the dance we normally go through. Our office did basketball free agency after their lockout (in 1998-99) and we went in a conference room and laid out 30 contracts on the table and got to work. It will be like that in football. Go to work and grind." Because there's so much at stake, no details have leaked from recent negotiations. Information on the rookie salary cap, team salary caps, who will be a free agent, when free agency begins - it's all unknown. And, as internet strongman Mike Florio wrote Friday morning on PFT, front offices will need time to digest the new rules. Meanwhile, GMs and coaches - who have traditionally flouted the league's tampering rules prior to free agency at the NFL Combine in February - have seemed to hew to the cone of silence the lockout brought. "None of that stuff is going on right now," said Linta. "There are some pretty serious repercussions from tampering and you're just not seeing it."That leaves it to the agents and players to determine whatpossible destinations exist.
"The reality is, there'snot a lot that can be done besides internal research," said agent Jon Perzley from SportStars.
Perzley represents LSU wide receiver Terrence Tolliver, a promising 6-3, 212-pound target that went undrafted. "There arecertain teams he'll fit; certain teams he won't," Perzley said. "Hell have a job real quick, that we know."Where he'll be working, living, and how much he'll be paid, though, Tolliver can't know. Nor can the hundreds of other free agents who are waiting in limbo before the free agent gold rush of 2011 begins.