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Will the economy affect free agency's economics?

2/16/2009

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
With NFL free agency less than two weeks away, it's a question hanging in the air: Will the national economic crisis impact contracts for big names hitting the NFL's free market at a time when the league and some teams have been cutting staffs?

I spoke with Colts president Bill Polian and Jim Steiner, an agent with CAA Football, about it Monday morning.

"I would not expect agents to recognize that there is a problem in the country, that's not in their job description or in their DNA, I guess," said Polian, whose team is not traditionally a big shopper in free agency and who won't have salary-cap room to alter that approach come Feb. 27. "Whether or not clubs will be responsive to that, especially given the fact that there have been any number of layoffs around the league, will remain to be seen. It's certainly going to be interesting."

Steiner, of course, said he and the agent community know full well about the status of the economy, but also know that many of the ingredients that make for big NFL contracts have not changed. Steiner's free-agents-to-be include Philadelphia safety Brian Dawkins and tackle Jon Runyan, Steelers quarterback Byron Leftwich and Miami tackle Vernon Carey.

"We all know what's gone on in the economy, that's no secret," Steiner said. "That's evident. It doesn't appear that it's having any economic impact on the deals in our specific industry at this particular time. I've not seen any evidence of it to date...

"The teams are still sharing their television revenues as they have in the past, the contracts haven't changed. I can't speak to what's going to happen in the future when those contracts come up for renegotiation with the league and the networks, but today nothing's changed. And cap room is cap room. I don't anticipate other sectors of the economy are going to have an impact on our business today."

Polian often touches on America's other major league sports for context, and said he's often seen football's free-agent market operate in a similar fashion to how baseball went before it.

"We have always historically followed baseball and if you follow baseball's lead this year, then the early going was business as usual and then it came to a grinding halt after that," he said. "I'll be interested to see if the same pattern holds true in our business."