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Less time for signings means more excitement

Less than a week after lockout ends, big names are making headlines and veterans are getting a bigger piece of the pie. It might be the way of the future.

July 29, 2011|Sam Farmer
  • Nnamdi Asomugha will take his All-Pro skills at cornerback from the Oakland Raiders to the Philadelphia Eagles.
Nnamdi Asomugha will take his All-Pro skills at cornerback from the Oakland… (Ezra Shaw / Getty Images )

Cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha … intercepted!

Running back DeAngelo Williams … brought down deep in his own territory!

Defensive end Ray Edwards … here comes the sack dance — with two overstuffed bags of cash!

The NFL stormed back into the headlines this week for the right reasons. After nearly five months of bitter arguing with players, and the ever-looming threat of the season being canceled, the country's most popular sports league stumbled onto something that just works.

Here's a vote for reducing the free-agency period to a wild few days when players are flying around everywhere, and, like Derek Anderson passes, you never can tell where they'll wind up.

Asomugha, formerly of the Oakland Raiders, was the prize of this free-agent class. It was widely reported Friday that there were two teams in the running for his services: the Dallas Cowboys and New York Jets. Up pop the Philadelphia Eagles and pick him off, capping a 24 hours in which they made another big splash by trading quarterback Kevin Kolb to Arizona for cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a second-round pick.

Carolina's Williams, the best running back in free agency, decided to stay with his old team, a trend that was repeated throughout the league. Pittsburgh held on to cornerback Ike Taylor. The Jets kept their best receiver, Santonio Holmes. Atlanta right tackle Tyson Clabo will keep protecting the front side of Matt Ryan.

Those same Falcons made former Minnesota defensive end Edwards a six-million-dollar man, signing him to a deal reportedly worth $30 million over five years, an early example of how the new collective bargaining agreement encourages teams to spread money among veterans rather than spending it all on rookies.

That's another great aspect of this new, accidental week of excitement: The signing of rookies has been greeted with minimal fanfare, as it should be. Yes, a few of them make major impacts in their first season, but most get far too much attention relative to their first-year footprint on a franchise.

When reports spread Friday afternoon that No. 1 pick Cam Newton had reached an agreement with the Panthers, hardly anyone lifted their heads to notice. That wasn't a knock on Newton, but there was too much going on with players who have already accomplished something in the pros.

What's more, the money the Panthers will pay Newton is much more in line with what the top rookie should make. The deal has been widely reported as four years, $22 million. A year ago, St. Louis quarterback Sam Bradford signed the largest contract ever for a rookie — six years, $78 million with $50 million in guarantees.

As for rookie holdouts, there might be fewer of those this year. First of all, rookies know there's less money to go around. But they also have to know that with this flood of free agents, there are ample players to spackle holes in a roster if a rookie is looking to squeeze his future employer for a sweeter deal.

In less than a week, we've gone from talk of locked-out players to lock-down corners, from gavels to sledgehammers, from legal eagles to the ones that landed Asomugha.

There's a mock newspaper floating around the offices of the NFL's headquarters on Park Avenue in New York, a phony version of USA Today with a masthead that reads "USA Tomorrow." The league's marketing department used it as a prop in a pitch to owners to turn football into a year-round game by showcasing major events such as the scouting combine and the draft. But it also talks about making lesser days, such as the ones when teams cut down training camp rosters, into marquee happenings.

Already, the NFL has done a good job of transforming the combine and draft into even better made-for-TV showcases.

Free agency could be the next in line.

Grow the pie all you want, NFL.

In the meantime, shrink this window for good.

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