The big shift as NFL free agency advances

March, 25, 2012
3/25/12
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Leverage shifts from players to teams as NFL free agency moves along.

Contract values provide the most persuasive evidence.

As time passes, players with stratospheric expectations must lower their sights to find deals.

Team-issued statements from San Francisco 49ers general manager Trent Baalke have marked the changing landscape with unintended humor.

"We are extremely pleased to re-sign an All-Pro player like Carlos," Baalke said when the 49ers re-signed Carlos Rogers on March 16.

Notice the shift when quarterback Alex Smith returned to the team five days later, much deeper into free agency.

"We are pleased that Alex has chosen to continue his career as a 49er," Baalke said then.

The 49ers brought back Rogers. They waited out Smith. Big difference.

More of the same awaited Ted Ginn Jr.'s re-signing a day later.

"We are glad that Ted has decided to return to the 49ers in 2012," Baalke said.

Teams are more proactive in re-signing players early in free agency. Players come back to teams later in the process.

Forty-one unrestricted free agents from NFC West teams remained without contract agreements through Saturday. Eleven of them are at least 33 years old. Another 17 are at least 29.

As the chart shows, St. Louis saw little value in rushing out to secure players from a team that finished 2-14 last season. Nineteen of the 21 original UFAs from the Rams remain unsigned. Two, Brandon Lloyd and Chris Chamberlain, signed elsewhere.

Overall, only seven of the remaining 41 UFAs without contracts were players I listed as starters late in the season: Clark Haggans and Brandon Keith from Arizona; Tony Wragge, Brady Poppinga and Jacob Bell from St. Louis; and two Seattle linebackers, Leroy Hill and David Hawthorne.

Hawthorne stands out as a relatively young starter (26) with an established record of consistent production. He visited Detroit, only to have the Lions re-sign Stephen Tulloch. He visited New Orleans, only to have the Saints reach agreement with Curtis Lofton.

The Seahawks would be better with Hawthorne and Hill back on their roster. Like a lot of teams at this stage, however, they aren't facing a great deal of pressure.

That helps explain why it's been a quiet weekend around here so far.

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