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Analyst: Negotiation Window Brings Order to 'Chaotic Process' Before Free Agency

Posted Mar 11, 2013

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Clocks sprung forward across the country this weekend for the time change, but NFL players and personnel departments are more focused on a time change that will occur Tuesday.

All 2012 player contracts will expire and free agency and the league’s new year are scheduled to begin at 3 p.m. Central time. A small window opened Saturday that allowed clubs to enter contract negotiations with certified agents of players who will be unrestricted free agents when the clock strikes thrice at Baptist Sports Park.

ESPN analyst Bill Polian, who logged 24 years as a general manager in the NFL with Buffalo (1986-93), Carolina (1994-97) and Indianapolis (1997-2011) and became the first person to win NFL Executive of the Year from The Sporting News six times, held a conference call last week in which he talked about the negotiation window and strategies that executives use to navigate this part of the season.

“Well, we discussed (the window) when I was a member of the competition committee,” Polian said. “I think it's fair to say that everybody will be interested to see how it works out, what the results of it are. I wouldn't say everybody was enthusiastic about it. We all had some reservation. 

“But, on balance, I think it's fair to say that we felt that it was something that would at least bring some organization to what had been a very chaotic process,” Polian continued. “Agents can talk to clubs, they can go back to the old club with what one would assume would be a bona fide offer or some parameters. They can gauge who is interested and who is not interested.” 

Polian said he is interested to see how many deals “come out of the box” or if the window serves as a way to set the market before clubs and players begin to strike deals.

The Titans reached deals with kicker Rob Bironas and defensive end Keyunta Dawson on Thursday before the negotiation window opened. Bironas signed a multi-year contract, and Dawson signed a one-year contract.

Tennessee has 15 players scheduled to become unrestricted free agents: LB Xavier Adibi, DE Dave Ball, TE Jared Cook, LB Zac Diles, DE/DT Leger Douzable, G Leroy Harris, FB Quinn Johnson, G Deuce Lutui, DT Sen’Derrick Marks, LB Gerald McRath, CB Ryan Mouton, RB/RET. Darius Reynaud, RB Javon Ringer, LB Will Witherspoon and DE Jarius Wynn. The Titans also have two players who are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents this year: C/G Kyle DeVan and C/G Fernando Velasco, and one exclusive rights player: C/G Kevin Matthews. The Titans tendered Velasco on Monday.

Speaking at last month’s NFL Combine, Titans general manager Ruston Webster and coach Mike Munchak said free agency moves will impact next month’s decisions in the NFL Draft.

Munchak added that the overarching goal of free agency and the draft will be to improve the roster from last season by adding depth and competition at multiple positions. There will be headliners across the league, as well as other players whose value may be important to particular teams’ systems.

“We’ll have, when free agency starts, a chance to get those veteran-type guys that fit our roster,” Munchak said. “In free agency, you’re not going to just go to the top guys. There’s some guys that fit needs we have. There are positions where we need some veteran leadership, possibly, where it makes sense for our young guys.”

Free agency differs from the draft, Polian said, because teams are trying to sign a “finished product” who has been through the transition that occurs from college to the NFL, but usually at a higher cost than through the draft.

Polian said executives ask themselves, “Can I get a better guy that can come in and perform at a reasonably high level right away? And know that he's the finished product as opposed to one that I have to develop?”

“That is the allure of free agency,” Polian said, explaining what the dynamic relationship between team needs and costs that will be determined by the market each year.

Munchak said this part of the year requires a considerable amount of homework and preparation, as well as the ability to quickly react and respond to changes.

“The hard part is you do a lot of homework and then some of these guys sign with their teams in the last 48 hours or get franchised,” Munchak said. “I think there’s people that we’re going to find we’re interested in that can help us and it’s a matter of who’s available. The hard part is you can want them real bad, but five other teams want them also so we’ll see what happens.”

NOTE: Eight teams opted to use the franchise tag this year on March 4, allowing them to retain one player who was set to become a free agent at a salary that is decided by a formula at each position. The teams and players were:  Buffalo S Jairus Byrd, Chicago DT Henry Melton, Cincinnati DE Michael Johnson, Dallas LB Anthony Spencer, Denver OT Ryan Clady, Indianapolis P Pat McAfee, Kansas City OT Branden Albert and Miami DT Randy Starks.

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