As has been well-documented, there are 212 restricted free agents who would otherwise have earned unrestricted status this spring if not for the uncapped year, which extends the requirement for such unfettered freedom from four accrued seasons to six years.
But of that group, what of the 64 five-year veterans who -- assuming they sign their restricted tenders and play under one-year deals in 2010 -- will become unrestricted free agents this time next year? The feeling of several veteran agents is that many of those players will earn big money and, in some ways, compensate for the current market.
"Teams are going to jump on those guys, even if it appears there won't be a season [in 2011 because of a possible lockout]," said veteran player agent Ben Dogra of Creative Artists Agency. "Some of [those players] are going to get big deals. It's an attractive group, and it's hard to see all the owners showing [restraint]."
The list of potential unrestricted free agents in the spring of 2011, even without a salary cap and with the more stringent qualifying rules in place, is impressive. It includes the likes of quarterbacks Jason Campbell (Washington) and Kyle Orton (Denver); tailback Darren Sproles (San Diego); wide receivers Vincent Jackson (San Diego) and Braylon Edwards (N.Y. Jets); tight end Bo Scaife (Tennessee); offensive linemen Jammal Brown (New Orleans), Logan Mankins (New England) and Chris Spencer (Seattle); defensive linemen Tony Brown (Tennessee) and Marcus Spears (Dallas); linebackers Derrick Johnson (Kansas City), Shawne Merriman (San Diego) and Barrett Ruud (Tampa Bay); and defensive backs O.J. Atogwe (St. Louis) and Nick Collins (Green Bay).
And that's just a partial list of the standouts.
The rationale is that teams will be flush with cash next spring, following a relatively quiet 2010 market and with clubs guaranteed their television revenues, whether or not there is football. And an unrestricted pool blunted by this year's limitations, which have ripped the guts out of free agency, could be hard to ignore. In the first 12 days of free agency, the number of older signees (six seasons or more of tenure) was up by 25.5 percent over the same time a year ago, because the rules eliminated most of the younger candidates. Many of those potential unrestricted free agents will return to the pool in 2011, because they'll have a sixth year of seniority.
The upshot: Players who would have been unrestricted free agents now, but will have to wait a year because of the uncapped 2010 season, may have to bite the financial bullet for a season. But the big payoff could be only a year away.
Noted one agent: "Patience now, payday later that's the formula."