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Friday, July 1, 2011
Lockout'11: An exclusive free-agent window

By Kevin Seifert

The latest round of NFL labor discussions, held smack dab in the middle of steamy NFC North territory, produced a number of rumors and a series of speculative reports about how free agency might be administered in what will be a short window between a collective bargaining agreement and the start of training camp.

Brandon Jackson
The Packers might be more inclined to re-sign Brandon Jackson because of the lockout.
My NFC South colleague Pat Yasinskas has discussed the idea of giving NFL teams a right of first refusal on some unrestricted free agents. I'm not sure if that one will fly with the NFL Players Association, but here is one proposal I've heard bandied about that makes some sense: Creating an exclusive, post-lockout period for teams to negotiate with their free agents before the full market opens.

It's true that teams had ample opportunity to negotiate and strike deals with those players in February. But in some cases those talks were weighed down by uncertainty surrounding the framework and timing of the next CBA.

Some decisions made sense no matter what the terms, and that's why the Green Bay Packers re-signed linebacker A.J. Hawk and safety Charlie Peprah. The Minnesota Vikings, meanwhile, re-signed defensive end Brian Robison. Regardless, I wonder if some teams would take a more aggressive approach with other players if they had the full slate of rules and the exact calendar in front of them.

Would it make sense for, say, the Chicago Bears to be more aggressive in re-signing center Olin Kreutz after they lost an entire offseason that might otherwise have been used to identify and develop his successor?

Similar changes of stance are conceivable throughout the NFC North. Might the Vikings be more compelled to bring back linebacker Ben Leber, whose experience in their system could be more valuable given the lack of development time for potential replacements? Do the Packers have a bigger need for running back Brandon Jackson, who could expertly fill the third-down role that the Packers might have targeted rookie Alex Green for?

At the very least, a 48- or 72-hour window would give teams a chance to make their own free agents a newly competitive offer if their roster outlook indeed has changed since February. I'm guessing the NFLPA wouldn't offer strong opposition; players could simply refuse their team's offer and wait for the full market to open.

The other option would be simply to open up full free agency on the first business day after a new CBA is reached. That kind of mad scramble would be fun for media types and agents, but to me it would make some sense for everyone to take a deep breath and ease into the process.