Commentary

Free agency was a singular experience

Many players took one-year deals, but the market may not be much better in 2012

Originally Published: August 22, 2011
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

The amazing part of post-lockout free agency was how quickly players were forced to settle into one-year contracts.

The NFL salary cap of $120.75 million is more than $7 million less than it was in 2009, so you figured things would be tight. But the surprising part was how quickly many free agents settled on their contracts.

Running back Ronnie Brown has done well with the Eagles since signing a one-year, $1 million contract. New 49ers receiver Braylon Edwards, who made a nice one-handed catch Saturday night, signed a one-year, $1.6 million contract. Le'Ron McClain received a one-year, $1.5 million deal from the Kansas City Chiefs and has looked good in their two-back set.

Players were taking one-year deals after four or five days. As it turned out, 98 of 162 unrestricted free agents signed one-year deals. So far, 63 have accepted minimum-salary deals. The thinking of a lot players was that they could sign a one-year deal and hit the market next year.

That might not work much better. Many believe the salary cap won't be much higher than $123 million. If that's the case, a lot of players who signed one-year deals will be signing one-year deals again next year.

Regardless, it was a wild and crazy free-agency period. Fifty players received $3 million deals. Twenty received $5 million a year or more. The one-year deals may have been their strategy, but the money might not be better next year. We'll see.

Here are a few observations from NFL preseason Week 2:

•  Reggie Bush may be an interesting addition for the Miami Dolphins' offense. Quarterback Chad Henne tends to make "checkdown" throws when downfield targets are covered, but Bush can turn those checkdown throws into big plays.

• Brady Quinn's 10-completion performance against the Bills makes a stronger case that he will be the Broncos' backup and that Tim Tebow will be the third-string quarterback.

• Charlie Whitehurst is closing Tarvaris Jackson's lead on the Seahawks' starting quarterback job. He worked the Seahawks' West Coast offense with crisp, short passes. The Lions' Matthew Stafford continues to excel with his preseason performance, and the Browns' Colt McCoy, despite a shaky start against the Lions' safety blitzes, continues to do well.

• Finally, the Colts would be lost if Peyton Manning can't open the season as their starting quarterback. They can't do much with Curtis Painter or Dan Orlovsky at quarterback. Plus, the Colts' defensive tackling has been terrible so far.

From the inbox

Q: Terrelle Pryor was considered, hands down, one of the elite high school recruits. Now we hear that he'll never be a starting QB because of his throwing motion. In hindsight (besides not getting kicked out of school), what do you think would have made this incredible athlete into a star in the NFL? Is it a disservice to kids like this to try to make them into QBs?

Sam in Seattle

A: The NFL game is so different from college. Pryor was a top high school player when he was recruited by Ohio State. He was a top-level college quarterback. Tim Tebow might have been the best college quarterback of his generation. But the NFL game is geared more for quick passing from the pocket and accurate throws. Pryor could make it in time as a quarterback. His style and skills are similar to those of Dennis Dixon, who is with the Pittsburgh Steelers. The question is whether he can improve his skills to be an NFL-ready quarterback. Pryor can't expect much playing time in his first two years at quarterback. Tebow has been on a team for two years and is struggling with his conversion.

Q: Michael Vick, who has had an admirable comeback from his off-field issues, has indicated that Roger Goodell steered him toward the Eagles instead of Buffalo or Cincinnati. The way things worked out for Vick, it looks good. But what about Buffalo and the Bengals? Does this not undermine those franchises? Was it in Goodell's place to push for one franchise over another?

Jody in Punxsutawney, Pa.

A: I'm glad you gave me a chance to chime in on this topic. Goodell is considered a hard-nosed commissioner because he hands out tough suspensions to enforce player conduct. He shouldn't be criticized for handling a punished player with a delicate hand. The Vick story is a success story. A commissioner, particularly through a smart consultant such as Tony Dungy, can make suggestions. The suggestion to go to the Eagles instead of the Bills and the Bengals was the right one. Vick found a stable environment and great coaching. Although he might have received good coaching in Cincy or Buffalo, his arrival could have caused more of a circus environment, one that might have made it hard for him to be as successful. Vick needed to sit out most of his first season to get his body ready for football. The Eagles had to have patience. The commissioner and Vick should both be applauded for making the smart move.

Q: We're closing in on half of the preseason being over, and I get the feeling that most of the big and flashy signings are over with. As a Seahawks fan, I'm curious about what's happening with Lofa Tatupu. He's been on the market for close to a month now and has not signed with a team. I imagine that he's not going to get a long-term, high-salary deal at this point. What are the chances that he realizes a big contract most likely is not going to happen and re-signs with the Seahawks for a reasonable deal? Do you think that is something that both parties would be interested in at this point?

Drew in San Diego

A: Tatupu found the middle linebacker market in the 4-3 defenses were filled with good starters. Although I think the Eagles should look at him, the Eagles do prefer bigger, more physical middle linebackers in their 4-3. Tatupu will find a job. If there is an injury among the starters, he could be back in Seattle. He's a smart player who can help a team. He's had interest from Oakland and Chicago, too.

Q: Heard you on the radio out here in Denver while visiting Dove Valley and, as a die-hard Bills fan out West, couldn't help picking up on a comment that indicated you disapproved of the Bills trading Lee Evans for a fourth-round pick. I have the utmost respect for Evans and the leadership he's provided to a franchise that's been anything but stable. That said, I love our young corps of receivers and totally get the fact that we're in a four-to-five-year plan to rebuild this team (once again) organically via the draft. My question, given Lee's lack of a Pro Bowl appearance, as well as his decrease in productivity (only two 1,000-yard seasons), do you disagree with Buffalo letting him go in the first place in favor of developing young talent, or do you think the Bills could've received better value in return?

Andy in Denver

A: Andy, you've witnessed the Bills make too many of these types of moves through the years. They trade a running back before the end of his rookie contract and then draft another running back. They made a change at quarterback. Evans is getting older, but the Bills don't have enough young talent in the receiving corps to merit such a trade. Go back into his history. He was double-teamed for years because he had no threat on the other side of the field. The reason he didn't make the Pro Bowl is that the Bills don't win enough games to put players in position to make the Pro Bowl. As you heard, I didn't like the move from the Bills' perspective. This is a talent acquisition game.

Q: Everyone seems to be discussing the effects of the new kickoff rules on touchbacks, but no one is mentioning onside kicks. I see the 5-yards-behind-the-ball limit for the kickoff team as a major change to the rules. Without a full head of steam, there is no way the onside kick team is going to beat the other team to the ball. Do you see successful onside kicks dropping 10 percent this year? More? Or do you see teams trying to adopt new strategies (i.e., kicking the ball 30 yards)? What are you seeing in training camps?

Jon in Washington, D.C.

A: You make a great point, and we probably won't see much of this until the regular season. Smart coaches aren't going to expose their secret weapons until the real games start. I think you will see a few more onside kicks. Kicking off from the 35 is an extra 5 yards of field position in case the coverage team doesn't recover the onside kick. That should allow for a few more onside kicks. Special teams coaches are among the most innovative in sports. Because kickoff coverage will be simplified by so many touchbacks, these coaches will have extra time on their hands to figure something out.

[+] EnlargeJulio Jones
Dale Zanine/US PresswireJulio Jones has been impressive for Atlanta in the preseason. Can he help propel the Falcons to the Super Bowl?
Q: I like the Falcons' upgrades during this offseason. Letting Michael Jenkins go while adding Julio Jones was a solid "win now" move (even though they probably gave up too much to get him). Ray Edwards is a huge plus on the defensive line as well. Other than staying healthy and the Philadelphia Eagles, what do you see as the biggest thing keeping the Falcons from a trip to the Super Bowl this year?

Rob in Raleigh, N.C.

A: Their biggest obstacle will be the New Orleans Saints. You're right about the way the Falcons have handled the offseason. They have made huge upgrades, though they didn't make a lot of moves. Jones might be the most impressive rookie I've seen this preseason. He's a force on short passes, long passes and blocking. Edwards has been nursing a knee injury but he's a much-needed addition to the pass rush. They lost Harvey Dahl, but they had two possible replacements waiting in the wings. They are one of the best teams in the NFC, but they have to make sure they stay ahead of the Saints, who had a great offseason and have Drew Brees.

Q: At this point it's a foregone conclusion that football will return to L.A., with the stadium ready to be built. So until a team does relocate there, why not just play the Super Bowl in L.A. every year in the new stadium, as long as L.A. doesn't have a team?

Stephen in Hot Springs, Ark.

A: The Chargers are the leading candidate, but Los Angeles can't take anything for granted. It was telling that the Chargers came out with a statement that they believe it will take years for a team to move there. It's one thing to reach a term agreement. It's another to start digging to build a stadium. If they build it, a team will come, but nothing is a foregone conclusion at this stage. I'm just glad they have made this type of progress. The NFL needs Los Angeles, and Los Angeles would benefit from the return of the NFL.

Q: The Cowboys scored a lot of points last year under Jason Garrett, but it was the defense that seemed to be the big issue holding them back. With basically the same personnel, especially in the secondary, do you see Rob Ryan making that much of a difference?

Daniel in Katy, Texas

A: I do see the defense improving, but it's because I believe the players will play better. I'm not going to knock Wade Phillips. He's a great defensive coach. Things just got lax last season, and he paid the price by losing his job. His corners played horribly. Each starter was burned on more than 60 percent of the passes thrown at him. They had been coming off a Pro Bowl season. Ryan will blitz more to put more pressure on the quarterback. I think a big factor will be the offense running the ball more and playing with a few more leads. I'm seeing at least a nine- or 10-win season for the Cowboys.

John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Follow Clayton on Twitter @ClaytonESPN

John Clayton

NFL senior writer