Bracing for a free agent frenzy in the NFL

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Bracing for a free agent frenzy in the NFL

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.

Tom E. Curran can be reached at tcurran@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Tom on Twitter at http:twitter.comtomecurran

Unconventional NFL draft grades

Unconventional NFL draft grades

Miss the draft because you were watching other sports (or literally doing anything else)? We've got you covered. 

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Caserio: Brady's age has nothing to do with draft approach

Caserio: Brady's age has nothing to do with draft approach

FOXBORO -- The Patriots took four players in this year's draft. Four. That's the smallest draft class in team history

Instead, as Bill Belichick highlighted on Friday night, they spent multiple picks in this year's draft to pick up proven commodities. 

* Their first and third-rounders were sent to New Orleans in exchange for receiver Brandin Cooks and a fourth. 

* Their second-rounder ended up in Carolina, bringing defensive end Kony Ealy and a third to New England. 

* They lost a fourth-rounder to Deflategate and sent another away in order to pry tight end Dwayne Allen and a sixth-rounder from the Colts. 

* They sent a fifth-rounder to Buffalo as compensation for signing restricted free agent running back Mike Gillislee. 

* Before last season the Patriots sent a fifth to Cleveland for linebacker Barkevious Mingo. 

* Before last season's trade deadline they sent a sixth-round pick to Detroit for Kyle Van Noy and a seventh-rounder. 

"Obviously, we’ve been watching a lot of picks go by," Belichick said on Friday, "but I feel like overall our opportunity in this draft started a couple of months ago. The four players that we acquired already are also part of the draft process. Hopefully we’ve been able to improve our team, become more competitive. That’s the ultimate goal."

Even on the last day of the draft, the Patriots didn't stop trading picks for veterans when they sent No. 183 overall to Kansas City in exchange for tight end James O'Shaughnessy

But when Nick Caserio was asked on Saturday if his team's approach to the draft -- taking more established players instead of gambling on draft picks -- had anything to do with Tom Brady's age, he shot down that theory.

“That has zero to do with it,” Caserio said. “I would say really the team-building process is very fluid. How it is going to go? There’s no template. There is no book with how it is going to go. 

"There’s a lot of really good players that were in this draft that have been drafted and will help their respective teams. We understand that and understand we felt the same way. There were enough players up there that we felt good about. We take the resources that we have and we try and make the best decision for our team."

In reality, the approach of taking such a small number of draftees is probably more a reflection of the current roster than the quarterback's age. It's loaded, and it seems like there will be relatively few opportunities for rookies to make the Week 1 roster.