NFL free agency is upon us once again and yeah, like everything else these days, it feels a little off.
As of noon ET on Monday, teams can begin discussing contract terms with the agents for free-agent players. At 4 p.m. ET on Wednesday, the new league year opens and new contracts and trades can become official. If history is any indication, the 52 hours between those two will overflow with news of planned signings and agreed-to deals.
But things are definitely a bit weird. The salary cap, which had been going up reliably by about $10 million per year, is actually down nearly $16 million from last year as a result of pandemic-related revenue losses. The 2021 cap will be $182.5 million per team. The 2020 cap was $198.2 million per team. And when most current long-term deals were signed, there was an expectation that the cap would continue to rise. So really, this year's cap is down more like $26 million from where teams and agents expected it would be back in pre-COVID-19 times.
This means several veterans have been cut and will continue to be cut in the coming days, flooding the market with "street" free agents who are allowed to sign before the league year and the legal tampering period begin. Many teams are monitoring the wire to see whether they can find a better bargain on a released player than they might find on an unrestricted free agent this week. That could drive down prices.
The annual Indianapolis-based gossip mill that is the NFL scouting combine didn't happen this year, which means all fact-finding business for teams, agents and those of us who report on the league has had to take place by phone. This is a new challenge, of course, but we've been wearing out our phone and AirPod batteries trying to make sure we get you the best possible information anyway.
To that end, this notebook represents a collection of what we're hearing as free agency approaches. We recognize that some of this could be outdated by the time you read it. Things are moving fast. We're just trying to share with you some of what's been talked about in the days and weeks leading up to one of the most frenzied times on the NFL calendar.
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Will Seattle give Russell Wilson some help?
The wide receiver market is plentiful
Could free-agent corners get squeezed?
Which teams are in the edge-rusher market?
Trade talk: Three candidates to watch
What are the Bears doing at quarterback?
It's hard out there for running backs, right?
Updated: Sunday, 4:30 p.m. ET