NFL free agency could be around in the corner. It could be a week, a month, maybe even two months. However, even with the delayed start to the free agency period, there are lessons that each team needs to learn that will best serve them in their hunt for a marquee free agent signing in 2011.
First, act quickly.
With the lead time between free agency and training camp likely being less than a week, teams need to be quick with an offer to their most desired targets. Expect a frenzy of activity around Nnamdi Asomugha, who is the top free agent at his position.
Next, if a team is to act quickly with a contract offer, a smart offer needs to be made even if it is in haste.
It is expected that teams have done their homework in the four months since the lockout began, but the market may be thrown way out of sorts due to the accelerated nature of the process this year. Throwing $50 million at Asomugha may sound like a reasonable deal, but for a team who does not value the cornerback position, that would be an astronomical amount to commit.
Evidence from 2010 suggests that overpaying for a player has minimal returns. The Bears paid big money for Julius Peppers. Peppers had a substantial impact on the Bears pass rush, but not enough to warrant the contract he received. Peppers' issues with taking plays off and not giving a full effort could show up to make that contract look silly.
Lastly, teams need to be wary of committing high amounts of money to players who are either approaching the down slope of their careers or have over-performed in recent seasons.
See Giants safety Antrel Rolle, who commanded a $37 million deal in 2010. Rolle, a great athlete, but so-so cornerback, got ridiculous money for a slightly above average safety. That investment by the Giants has yet to pay dividends. Rolle has drawn ire for criticizing head coach Tom Coughlin for being "too uptight."
Free agency should be an interesting process in the post-lockout era. But the lessons of 2010 still linger and could prove to be costly if not followed properly.