One of the essential reasons for the NFL’s tremendous growth in popularity is its free agency structure. In contrast to the other major sports, the NFL has the only offseason where equality triumphs.
In Major League Baseball and the NBA, only the teams with the most money have been able to sign the high-profile free agents. For example, the Minnesota Twins and Timberwolves enter free agency knowing they have no realistic chance of signing a big-name free agent.
They know that Josh Hamilton and Dwight Howard won’t even answer their phone call, let alone sign a contract. Yet, the Minnesota Vikings are perfectly situated to make a play for Mike Wallace just as the Buffalo Bills did a year ago with Mario Williams.
Come Tuesday afternoon, the NFL’s version of March Madness begins again with the arrival of free agency. This year’s class is loaded with emerging stars—Greg Jennings, Andre Smith, Dashon Goldson, Cliff Avril and Wallace—and fading luminaries—Ed Reed, Brian Urlacher, Steven Jackson and Dwight Freeney—which should provide a week-long frenzy of negotiations.
Decisions made during free agency, and the offseason in general, have proven to have immediate impacts in the NFL, helping the have-nots close the gap on the haves. Just look at the recent postseason contestants.
The 2011 playoffs featured six teams that didn’t qualify in 2010, and the 2012 playoffs featured four teams that failed to qualify in 2011. This gives hope to even the most downtrodden of NFL teams and even more optimism to the teams with money to spend.
The teams with the most cap space this offseason are Cleveland, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Miami, Tampa Bay and Philadelphia.
The less fortunate, cash-strapped teams are Dallas, Washington, New Orleans, Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Chicago.
So where will the talent land?