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How to court a free agent

Free advice for executives and agents who are on the verge of dealing with the new league year and free agency.

1) Return all messages and make phone calls to share information with people who need it. I understand you’re very busy, and maybe there are some people on your voicemail or talking to your assistant who you can’t fit into your phone time. Delegate that phone call to someone else, but be sure it's made, ideally within a business day.

It never ceases to amaze me how basic communication fails teams. In an interview recorded with 104.5 The Zone in Nashville, Titans center Kevin Mawae recently said that his position coach, Mike Munchak, didn’t know Eugene Amano’s contract had been extended until Mawae told him. With the Titans we often hear veterans grumble about how they are not kept abreast of developments or, yes, non-developments.

It’s a lot easier to maintain a good relationship and have even departing guys leave with good feelings if you man up and be honest on the phone when his people call. Don’t avoid it because it may be awkward. Seems obvious, but not everyone does it.

2 ) Make your guys feel special. If you’re hoping to re-sign one of your own unrestricted free agents and he gets to the deadline, you need to woo him. Another bidder is going to fly him first class, pick him up in a limo, give his wife flowers and match them with a fancy real estate agent to show off their finest neighborhoods.

What are you going to do?

The home team needs to find a way to show its own guy the love. Send the flowers and presents for the kids. Send a limo and have the player meet up with his position coach at a favorite restaurant. Tell him outright, we understand that new courtship is titillating and enticing, but we love you too and we don’t want to split up.

3) Sell fewer deductions and warmth. Two things that seem to be huge factors to players should be played up whenever possible: taxes and weather.

The contract with Seattle, Jacksonville, Tampa Bay, Miami, Tennessee, Dallas and Houston may be a little smaller than the one from elsewhere, but with no state income tax in those destinations you may wind up with more money. These teams are crazy if they don’t bang that point home over and over. Agents are surely conscious of it, though they can be more concerned with a contract's total value than with deductions so may not harp on it.

Any team that has it should make mild weather a selling point. A guy’s less likely to leave for South Beach during your offseason workouts if he can be in shorts and flip flops at his home base, and if the opposition has guys bundled up in parkas as they walk into their facility, don’t doubt it’s a factor on the old pro-and-con list.

4) Pump competition. A high-priced guy who’s coming in knows he’s going to be a lineup fixture. But when trying to lure a lesser unrestricted free agent or get a restricted free agent to sign an offer sheet, don’t make promises. If you tell a guy he’s going to be your nickelback and he has an awful training camp and loses the job, he’s going to remember exactly what you said and be bitter about it.

So do not over-promise. Tell him if he performs he will get what he deserves and that you expect him to perform or you wouldn't be talking to him. If he doesn’t like hearing that or wants assurances, that should make you wary of him.

5) Don’t fake or force it. Some guys get to a facility and when it’s time to meet the position coach, they hit it off big time in a hurry. But in the wide world of position coaches you’ve got all kinds, and not all of them are gregarious jokesters who are great in what amounts to a bit of a cold-call situation.

You want a connection as part of your sale. But if there aren’t sparks on the personal level, football excitement can offset that.

If necessary, the guy who will have the player in his meeting room every day should be sure to differentiate his personality in recruiting chitchat from what he can do for you as a boss in the classroom and on the field. This suggestion applies to GMs, head coaches and coordinators too, but that position coach is going to be the most important relationship for the player.