Steinberg: Lockout is over, the fun starts now

July 30, 2011|By Leigh Steinberg

For weeks I've been predicting that a deal would be struck by the NFL prior to apocalyptic damage to training camps and the season, so credit the parties for getting it done with minimum public controversy and disturbance. Now comes the though part: making sense of the most frenetic period of business activity in the history of the NFL.

All the moves coinciding with the opening of training camps can be confusing, so let's add some clarity. Amid the Oklahoma Land Rush and speed-dating chaos, there is a method to the madness.

Normally the action begins in March with the beginning of free agency. Players with four years of experience and expired contracts would be able to sign with any team they choose. They are called unrestricted free agents. Players with less than four years of experience and expired contracts are called restricted free agents.


Teams that sign those players know they will surrender draft picks to the current team based on the size of the contract they offer. The original team can retain the services of the restricted free agent by signing them or matching the best offer they receive. Unrestricted free agents are generally talented players, but not the teams' biggest superstars. Normally franchises will not allow a superstar to get close to the end of his contract and will offer an extension for larger dollars.

 If those negotiations are unsuccessful, then a team can designate one player as its franchise player and force him to sign a one-year contract for the average of top players at his position. Because unrestricted free agents offer the best opportunity for a team to improve its outlook at a position, star — but not superstar — players get the advantage of competitive bidding and often sign disproportionally large contracts.

The wooing process has allowed a player to visit a variety of franchises and take over the decision-making process over his career for the first time. I have players look introspectively and identify their value and priority system.

They rank as follows:

1: Short-term economic gain

2: Long-term financial security

3: Family considerations

4: Geographical location — weather, size of city, proximity to home

5: Profile and endorsements

6: Winning team

7: Coaching

8: System employed by team

9: Stadium and facilities

10: Playing time

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