If you are a free agent Offensive tackle, offensive guard, Defensive end, Defensive tackle, Cornerback or Safety, chances are you’ve already found a home in the first 24 hours of free agency. Most of the top tier guys, and even some of the 2nd and 3rd tier guys in these groups signed within the first 24 hours to by and large good sized long term deals. If you played another position you are probably still on the market and for some there stay there could take awhile.
On some level this is nothing new for NFL Free Agency, as we typically see a very active first 24 hours, followed by a steady market for the first week and then it becomes more sparse. What’s different this year is perhaps more that the market seems to be more position centric, and different positions are being targeted than usual. Typically in free agency we see most of the big names move in that first day regardless of position, but probably a greater focus to some of the more hyped positions. Quarterbacks, wide receivers, tight ends, running backs, typically have gone quickly in free agency, even if they were 2nd tier guys. Yes there wasn’t a top QB on the market, but the only one to move so far is Josh McCown to the Buccaneers. You still have Mike Vick, Shaun Hill, and Josh Freeman who are considered in the stopgap/top back-up category. Running back and tight end has seen a couple guys move, but most of the big names and the market overall has been quiet. Wide receiver is probably the biggest surprise. Though there may not have been a Mike Wallace or Vincent Jackson on the market this year, there are a number of quality number 2 and number 3 receivers. So far only three guys have changed teams (Andre Roberts, Dexter McCluster and Golden Tate). That is surprising considering just how many teams need receivers and how many quality options there are. Sure only a few guys are going to land big deals, but even the secondary market is moving pretty slow compared to other positions.
Another interesting thing is how the offensive line market is moving. It was pretty deep group with a number of very good starters and other guys with upside. Those players at tackle and guard were all signed in the first couple hours of free agency, but the center market has been barely looked at. Even if some teams may be wary about rushing into a deal with Alex Mack given the transition tag, Evan Dietrich-Smith and Brian De La Puerte are both under 30 quality starters that haven’t garnered much attention so far. They are on par or better than a number of the guards that have been signed already, yet we hear nothing about them. Perhaps teams are just holding out hope for Alex Mack, but those are two good starters who could be a big upgrade on a number of teams. Given that center is typically considered the 2nd most important position behind LT, you would think the market would be hotter at this spot.
Another interesting early trend is the heavy focus on the defensive side of the ball. The only offensive positions moving quickly are those that protect against the defense, while by in large the defensive positions are enjoying a much hotter market. Even the “cold market” positions on defense like outside and inside linebackers, are moving faster than the “cold market” positions on offense. While some of it is just a reflection of the talent that is on the market, some of it is probably tied to the success of the Seattle Seahawks this past year. The Seahawks were the best team in the NFL despite suffering a myriad of injuries among their offensive line and wide receivers. They still had offensive talent, but it was well below their defensive talent. We are seeing pass rushers and defensive backs (the primary strengths of Seattle) move quite quickly on the market. A great example of a team being influenced by the Seahawks approach was their opponent in the Super Bowl. The Denver Broncos are letting WR Eric Decker, G Zane Beadles (already signed with Jacksonville) and RB Knowshon Moreno walk this offseason (among others), and directing all their cap room to bringing in big time defensive talent. Denver has already locked up defensive end DeMarcus Ware, safety T.J. Ward and cornerback Aqib Talib in the first 24 hours. The Broncos likely aren’t done yet upgrading their defense just yet and figure to add one or two cheaper starters.
It will be interesting to see how the market shapes up over the next couple of days and if any other positions start to really get a lot of attention, or if the current trends continue throughout the week. The first day of free agency was interesting and filled with a lot of big names, but there are still plenty of starters and quality contributors out there, and now the bargain shopping begins as budgets start to tighten.