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March 9, 2013

NFL free agency: Let the spending begin

Get ready for the feeding frenzy. NFL free agency is coming.

On Tuesday, with all 32 teams under the $123 million salary cap, the checkbooks open up. Some clubs, most notably Green Bay and Pittsburgh, barely will participate, while likely letting top receivers Greg Jennings and Mike Wallace leave for huge paydays elsewhere.

That’s just their style, and building from within surely has paid off: each team has won a Super Bowl in the last five seasons.

Others will eagerly be at players’ and agents’ doorsteps (figuratively and possibly literally) ready to hand out millions of dollars in salaries and bonuses.

It’s not a process former team executive Bill Polian particularly likes.

“You have very, very tough decisions to make. I’ve often said you can’t be right in free agency,” Polian says. “No general manager can be right in free agency. This system is designed to have you make mistakes (because) the union wants players to get paid, and people are going to make mistakes here.

“So ... at least from my perspective, you try to eliminate as many mistakes as possible by taking as few risks as possible. Some people may see it differently. And that’s what makes the world go round.”

Already, the biggest potential prize has gone off the marketplace. League champion Baltimore held on to quarterback Joe Flacco with the richest per-season deal in NFL history: $120.6 million over six years, with $52 million guaranteed. Flacco gambled by playing out his rookie contract, and after a Super Bowl MVP performance to cap a sensational postseason, he won.

And perhaps he set a trend.

“A lot of guys are going to look at what Joe Flacco did and say, ‘I’m going to do the same thing,’ “ says former NFL personnel director Pat Kirwan. “And most of those guys will get burned.”

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