PHOENIX -- There were discussions in every corner of the Biltmore lobby about the state of the NFL, the free-agency period, the rules proposals and plenty of player agents still trying to shop their clients.
Last week, I mentioned to CBSSports.com viewers that one-year contracts showed up a lot earlier than usual, which means free agency is slowing down considerably. In years past, one-year deals usually started surfacing in the third week. Not this year.
Two agents told me they were OK with one-year deals at this point, with an eye on getting back in the free agency game next year. Owners and GMs couldn't be happier to hear that kind of thinking from the agents.
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In the first six days of free agency, we have seen at least 40 one-year deals. I project that we will have close to 100 of them by the time the free-agency period expires. That would put all 100 back on the market in 2014, along with all the players with contracts expiring in early 2014. We are going to see even a bigger flood of talent on the street next year combined with a projected flat cap, which means even more one-year deals next year.
Take a look at the good players already willing to take a one-year deal: Dustin Keller, Leon Washington, Michael Bennett, Matt Shaughnessy, Dan Connor, Aqib Talib, Dominic Rogers-Cromartie, Antoine Cason, Yeremiah Bell and Kenny Phillips to name a few. What's going to happen to the players on one-year deals if they incur a concussion or a knee injury next year? They will not have any leverage in the 2014 market. In the meantime, the clubs aren't taking any extended financial risks with long-term deals.
Players being discussed
Ed Reed's name came up a few times during the day. It might turn out that the 49ers could get into the mix for the future Hall of Fame defensive back. One comment I heard was, "Ed loves the Ravens, but too much has changed for him to go back." Houston is in the hunt but watch out for San Francisco.
There was lots of debate about what the real deal was with the Wes Welker contract. Patriots owner Bob Kraft said there was an offer and a desire to have Welker retire as a Patriot. The other side of the argument was there wasn't an offer of any substance on the table in time. It really doesn't matter what the truth is on this one, Welker is a Bronco!
I talked with Stephen Jones of the Cowboys about the Competition Committee's rules recommendations and his new defensive scheme. He said there will be a good presentation to the media on Tuesday about running backs and the crown-of-the-helmet issue. Jones made it clear he did not anticipate the new rule, if passed, would be called very often during the season. The sentiment around the Biltmore is that all six rules proposals will pass. As one GM said, "Roger wants the safety rules and it will pass." Before you know it, running backs coaches are going to have to try and change some longstanding habits for certain running backs.
As for the hiring of Monte Kiffin to run the Cowboys defense, Stephen Jones said the decision to switch from Rob Ryan's defense to Kiffin's was to add an element of simplicity to the package so the players could play faster rather than trying to win with complicated schemes. His hope is that there will be more turnovers caused by a defense that is running to the ball. Time will tell if the turnovers are a result of a fast defense, and my experience is that it will have a positive effect.
As for the salary cap, which was a challenge to get under, the key was Jonathan Vilma and Will Smith. The team convinced Vilma and Smith that the reduced deals they put on the table were still better than what the street had to offer and the players recognized the market. I could see it bothered Loomis to have to ask good, loyal players to take a pay cut, and as he said, "It's the bad part of my job."
With a little wiggle room under the cap, I expect the Saints to continue to be active in free agency, especially on defense. The change to the 3-4 package isn't really a total overhaul from Loomis' perspective. The coaches are in the process of letting the college scouts know exactly what they need for each position of the scheme. For example, even though the Jets didn't feel Vilma fit in their version of the 3-4, the Saints feel he has a place in their scheme. When it came to discussing the loss of Bushrod and replacing him with 2010 second-round pick Charles Brown, the Saints' fingers are crossed that Brown can stay healthy. If he can play 16 games, then they will feel they weathered the loss of Bushrod. If not, then things could be rough on Brees.
Beatty beat the clock
New York Giants offensive tackle Will Beatty did a contract deal with New York before the start of free agency. At the time, I thought it was a decent deal (five years, $37.5 million with $19 million guaranteed) but now that the Jake Long deal is in (four years, $36 million with $20 guaranteed) the consensus in the lobby of the Biltmore was Beatty would have never gotten the deal he received if his agent waited until free agency was under way.
There's little doubt in my mind that the agents at the owners meetings realize the well ran dry quickly this year. It appears that the best offer looks like the first offer for many of these players. It will be very interesting in the coming days to see what Andre Smith and Sebastian Volmer get in the way of a new contract.