For the NFL, free agency kicks off in March following the ending of the league year. Shortly thereafter teams pilfer the college ranks for incoming NFL freshman through Aprils’ draft. Then a lull sets in and teams begin working out their players through mini-camps and OTA’s. In late July, where we are now, teams begin to settle in and get down to the business of becoming season ready. It’s called training camp, and with it comes the start of the leagues second free agent period.
Allow me the opportunity to explain.
Across the NFL landscape are unemployed players waiting for their phone to ring. Some are the non-consequential fringe players who by September first will stop training and turn their lives back towards normal careers. Then there are the aged veterans who still have some pop left in their game. They are the ones that will likely get a call in the next week or two.
As teams begin their practice regiments, players inevitably will go down. It’s why fantasy football players wait until late August to conduct their drafts. From QB’s to speedy wide-receivers and big offensive lineman, to every defensive player and fringe roster hopefuls hoping to make a splash and impact on special teams, the injury bug is going to hit. Some teams of course will be hit harder than others. And that is when the phone lines will open up.
Currently there are too many street free agents to list but some of the top names include TE Jeremy Shockey who played last season with the Carolina Panthers. Offensive lineman Jake Scott has made the visitation rounds to at least three NFL teams but left each without a contract. Nine year veteran Eric Steinbach is also on the free agent market as is TE Visanthe Shiancoe.
For the most part, at this time of year, most of the elite if not all of the elite free agents are long gone. Left behind are the aging veterans or the mid-level veterans with around seven years of service under the belt. Most come with some degree of injury history or drop in production. Others come with questions about their work ethics, attitude, or salary demands. Others like Aaron Berry, recently released by the Detroit Lions after his second run-in with the law this off-season, come with off-field baggage.
This period of free agency doesn’t come with bells and whistles and forum chatter regarding this guy or that guy visiting a team. Instead, it’s usually more somber because the guy who is coming on board more than likely is replacing someone already on the team who is lost due to injury. Fear not however, the third installment of free agency is right around the corner and could generate more interest from the fans.
When training camps break and the pre-season gets under way, NFL teams will need to start paring down their rosters and every year there are mid-level veterans who are still productive and wily long seasoned veterans who still have a lot to give a team both as depth and as a starter. Teams begin cutting players and soon a determination needs to be made about a veteran’s worth compared to their salary. For example, a QB may be released simply because the youngster behind him is the teams future.
Most fans and the media are gearing up for the start of training camps and rightfully so. It’s the signal, the “Bat sign” if you will, that the NFL is back in full swing and the start of the regular season is only a month away. Pre-season games will kick-off in a matter of weeks and soon enough we will all be talking about the starters resting in that fourth and final weekend of practice games and start our analysis of week one.
In the meantime, don’t discount those unemployed players who are sitting out there by their phones. Over the next month, some of those names are going to be headlines.