One of the surprises of the past week was the quiet decision by the NFL and NFLPA to shorten the free-agency period. Normally, free agency goes from the start of the league year (in this year's case, March 10) until June 2. This year, the unrestricted period ends May 12.
That doesn't mean teams can't keep signing available players. There is no end to the signing period for a team. All that changes is the status of the player in relationship to the compensatory pool. After May 12, if a team loses a free agent, it doesn't count toward the compensatory pool, which rewards teams for losing more free agents than they sign.
Over the past two years, only eight players signed after May 12, including two last year. Shortening the period may give a few free agents a chance to get on rosters because teams expected to get compensatory picks won't shy away from signing some of the players without jobs.
So what have we learned so far from the 2015 free-agency period?
Denver's 2011 draft class drew plenty of interest: The Broncos had a great draft in 2011. Seven players ended up making 231 starts over the past four years. Unfortunately, the Broncos may be able to keep only two players from that class: first-round linebacker Von Miller and seventh-round tight end Virgil Green. Four players have already left. Denver lost second-round safety Rahim Moore to Houston and second-round offensive lineman Orlando Franklin to San Diego. Nate Irving, a third-rounder, went to Indianapolis. Tight end Julius Thomas topped the tight end market with his five-year, $46 million deal from Jacksonville. Still unsigned is fourth-round safety Quinton Carter.
The $10 million cap increase is increasing free-agent spending: The cap was increased this year from $133 million to $143.28 million. Overall spending will exceed $1.5 billion in contracts. Last year, it was $1.43 billion. Two years ago, it was $1.271 billion. Agents for more unrestricted free agents are willing to test the market with hopes of getting the big dollars. With draft choices unable to sign extensions in their first three years with a team, rolling the dice and hitting the market could mean an extra $1 million or $2 million a year.
The Indianapolis Colts want to win now: A trip to the AFC Championship Game wasn't enough for the Colts. After three 11-5 seasons and three division titles, the Colts targeted key veterans to try to get them to the Super Bowl. They replaced Trent Richardson with Frank Gore. After Andre Johnson was released by the Houston Texans, the Colts gave him a three-year, $21 million deal. They hope free-agent safeties Irving and Dwight Lowery can help the defense.
AFC East teams are willing to spend to try to catch the New England Patriots: The New York Jets have invested $177.2 million in unrestricted free-agent contracts to add three cornerbacks, including Darrelle Revis, and guard James Carpenter. They also picked up wide receiver Brandon Marshall in a trade. The Buffalo Bills acquired tight end Charles Clay and fullback Jerome Felton in free agency and running back LeSean McCoy in a trade. The Miami Dolphins snagged the best player in free agency, Ndamukong Suh, replaced Clay with Jordan Cameron and picked up wide receiver Kenny Stills in a trade. Overall, the Dolphins have spent $134 million in unrestricted free-agent contracts.
Lovie Smith opted to go with familiar faces: Last year, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers spent $145 million in unrestricted free agency and struck out. After the season, the free agents they signed in 2014: left tackle Anthony Collins, defensive end Michael Johnson and quarterback Josh McCown. Two of Smith's three signings played for him in Chicago. Mark Barron and Dashon Goldson didn't fit in his Cover 2 scheme. Barron was traded to St. Louis and Goldson to Washington. They were replaced by former Chicago Bears Chris Conte, who signed this year, and Major Wright, who came from Chicago to Tampa Bay in last year's free-agent class. He also picked up former Bears defensive tackle Henry Melton.
From the inbox
Q: Are my beloved Cardinals circumventing the salary cap by making Larry Foote a linebackers coach with an option to return to playing by first cuts? They picked him up really cheap and probably told him he'd play in only six games last season, but with injuries and [Daryl] Washington's suspension, they ended up playing him in all 16 for which his salary might have been too low. It's the offseason, who is he coaching now? Isn't it simply a way to get more money into his pocket for his services last year?
Rohit in Tucson, Arizona
A: Foote will be 35 in June. He's ready to make the transition into coaching, and I think he's going to be a good one. At his age, he would have no leverage in contract talks. He would be looking at around a one-year, $1.05 million deal with an $80,000 signing bonus. The Cardinals recognized his value as a coach. I don't know if he has filed his retirement papers, but Foote wouldn't put himself in a position to risk anything by trying to cover his bases in collecting money as a coach and a player. No violation here.
Q: Regarding you mentioning the second overtime possession will increase tie games, what are your thoughts on mandatory 2-point conversation tries in overtime? I would fear little backlash from coaches because at the end of the day, they had a chance to win in regulation, plus an equal system in overtime due to the second possession.
Eric in Dongguan, China
A: If you score a touchdown in overtime, the game is over. There is no need for a conversion. It's hard enough to score a touchdown in overtime. To think you would have two touchdowns in overtime is pretty adventurous. That's why I don't think a mandatory two-point conversion would help in overtime. I still like the idea of sudden death. Score a touchdown and the game is over. I think it would be hard to go to a sure second possession without increasing the chances of getting more ties.
Q: Why all the hate for tied games? Given their relative infrequency, they add a great additional possibility to games once overtime starts. If two sides are that evenly matched over 75 minutes, why should they be separated at all?
Dave in Worcester, England
A: I covered the Carolina-Cincinnati 37-37 tie this past season. Players and coaches didn't know how to react because there was no thrill of victory or agony of defeat. There was this hollow feeling that 75 minutes of football produced no outcome. That's the problem with ties. You have a week of hype ... and then no result. There are only 16 regular-season games. To go through a week and have a tie as the outcome is terrible. Overtime was created to prevent ties. Ties may work in soccer; they don't work in football.
Q: It seems to me that the penalties received by the Falcons and Browns don't quite add up for what are similar transgressions. The Falcons pumped in field noise banned by the league and the Browns were using technology that wasn't supposed to be available during games. Yet the Falcons get fined and lose a draft pick whereas the Browns get fined and the GM gets suspended. Why weren't the punishments the same in nature as losing the draft pick is much more harmful than having your GM suspended?
Joe in Cincinnati
A: The league is willing to penalize transgressions by taking away draft choices, but it must be judicious in doing so. Remember, draft choices are part of the rookie pool. If too many choices are forfeited, the NFLPA would rightfully complain. I think the penalties were acceptable. The Falcons' transgression is much worse than the Browns'. The crowd noise directly affected the game. Browns GM Ray Farmer made the mistake of trying to get text messages to the coaches. That didn't directly affect the game itself, but was wrong nonetheless. A fine and a suspension was right on.
Q: Would it be feasible to place cameras in the end zone pylons directed both down the goal line and sideline? It seems to me if your alarm company can allow you to see comings and goings in your home with your smart phone, the league can do something with wireless video.
Keith in Upper Marlboro, Maryland
A: And that's why I think the league will eventually put the cameras in place. The question is going to be when. After the NFL owners meeting, the league started an intense study into the right ways to do it. Each stadium is different, so location in the stadium had to be analyzed. And player safety has to be considered as well. I think too many people dwelled on the league worrying about the costs. I'm sure the NFL could find a sponsor if necessary. Remember, the NFL didn't say no to the camera idea. It wanted to do it the right way, and that takes time.
Q: Many suggestions have been made on how to improve overtime and even out the "advantage" of teams winning the coin toss. What's your thoughts on eliminating field goals AND punts in overtime? This would force the receiving team to score a touchdown or turn the ball over on downs, possibly giving the defending team great field position. Coaches would have to put a lot more thought into their decisions.
Todd in Novi, Michigan
A: Eliminating the field goal would enhance the chances of having more ties, but your suggestion of eliminating punts is an interesting one. Playing the field position game in overtime is one of the factors that could lead to ties. If you have two possessions for each team in overtime, there is a great chance they'll have to drive 80 yards for a touchdown or 50 yards for a field goal. That would put coaches in interesting decision-making positions.
• Frank in Depoe Bay, Oregon, believes the current system of awarding compensatory picks is allowing the rich to get richer. I think you are right. While a team isn't getting the value of the lost player, the system is evolving so that the good teams are getting extra picks. It's an interesting trade-off. Bad teams are getting the players, but so often, high-paid free-agent deals don't last while drafted players stick around for about four years. But you are right when you mention that 22 of the 32 compensatory picks went to playoff teams.
• Thomas in Jacksonville, Florida, asks if it would make sense to allow salary-cap space as a tradable commodity. I think that would create too many problems. It might afford better teams an unfair edge because they could trade for cap space to keep their best players or to sign other players. The competitive issues would be the biggest problem.
• Matt in Richmond, Virginia, asks what happens if a player is cut and has an $8 million contract that includes $4 million guaranteed. It depends on the guarantee. In the case of Michael Johnson of Tampa Bay, he had $7 million of his base salary guaranteed and there was no offset, meaning he is paid the $7 million in addition to what he makes with the Cincinnati Bengals. If there is offset and the player gets $2 million, that money is subtracted from the team that cut the player.