Mailbag: Six things we learned from 2015 free agency

The 2015 unrestricted free-agency period officially ends Tuesday.

Thanks to a quiet agreement between the NFL and the NFLPA, the period in which teams can sign players classified as unrestricted free agents was shortened (it previously ended on June 1). It was a smart change. Very few unrestricted free agents get deals in May, and if they do, the deals are usually for minimum salary.

In fact, there is a decent chance the market will pick up for the remaining unsigned unrestricted free agents. Starting Tuesday, signings don't count against teams in the computation of compensatory picks. So the dozen teams in position to be awarded compensatory picks, which cover the net loss of unrestricted free agents, can jump into the market Tuesday without having any signings count against them. Street free agents -- players who have been cut or weren't under contract last year -- don't factor into the compensatory picks.

The remaining 138 unrestricted free agents become street free agents Tuesday. Shortening the unrestricted free-agency period gives those players a better chance to land with teams in time to participate in OTAs and minicamps.

Let's review what has happened in this year's unrestricted free-agency period.

1. A record $1.528 billion in total contract compensation was spent on 142 unrestricted free agents. Free-agency spending has been growing steadily over the past four years. It was $1.43 billion in 2014, $1.271 billion in 2013 and $1.16 billion in 2012. With the salary cap expected to rise to around $150 million next year, expect $1.6 billion to be spent. As always, spending is fast. In the first 11 days, 98 players received contracts worth $1.472 billion. After March 20, 44 players received $55.6 million. From that group of 44, the only player to receive more than $3 million was wide receiver Michael Crabtree, who went to the Oakland Raiders for a one-year deal at $3.2 million.

2. The New York Jets ($179.3 million), Jacksonville Jaguars ($174.5 million), Miami Dolphins ($137.2 million), Philadelphia Eagles ($121.2 million) and Oakland Raiders ($110.8 million) each spent more than $100 million in contracts. It was fascinating how these teams invested. The Jets, for example, hit the cornerback market hard, grabbing Darrelle Revis, Antonio Cromartie and Buster Skrine for $127 million worth of contracts to revamp the position, along with giving safety Marcus Gilchrist a four-year, $22 million contract. Chip Kelly put $51 million worth of contracts into the Eagles' backfield with the additions of DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews. The Chicago Bears (12), Jets (11), Raiders and Falcons (nine each) led the free-agency period in signings. No surprise. They were drafting in the top eight.

3. Defense ruled. Four of the top five contracts went to defensive players. The Dolphins paid defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh the kind of money you'd give a quarterback, signing him to a six-year, $114.3 million deal. Revis returned to the Jets for $14 million a year. The Cowboys gave Greg Hardy a one-year, $11.3 million, but that will be discounted by his suspension. Cornerback Byron Maxwell shocked the free-agent world with his six-year, $63 million contract from the Eagles.

4. Increasing free-agent salaries are making it harder for teams to keep drafted players. The 2011 draft was considered a good one. Twelve of the top 16 selections made the Pro Bowl. So far, 37 players from the 2011 class received second contracts from their teams, while 45 left in free agency. There are 15 first-rounders from 2011 who are on their fifth-year options, so those numbers will change. It's becoming harder for teams to keep second- and third-round choices. Ten second- and third-rounders from 2011 re-signed with their original teams. Twenty went to other teams.

5. The cornerback market was the biggest surprise. Revis received $14 million a year, which wasn't a surprise. The Maxwell deal ratcheted up the market. Maxwell, a sixth-round pick of the Seahawks, got $10.5 million a year. Antonio Cromartie (Jets) and Chris Culliver (Washington) each received $8 million a year. Tramon Williams (Cleveland) got $7 million a year. Skrine and Davon House (Jacksonville) each topped $6 million a year.

6. The AFC East might be up for grabs. The Dolphins, Bills and Jets entered free agency hoping to upgrade their chances of getting wild-card berths. But the possible suspension of quarterback Tom Brady could give those teams a chance to challenge for the AFC East crown. The Bills added tight end Charles Clay and receiver Percy Harvin as free agents and traded for running back LeSean McCoy. The Dolphins signed tight end Jordan Cameron and Suh. The Jets revamped their secondary, signed James Carpenter at guard and traded for receiver Brandon Marshall.

From the inbox

Q: Most media are talking about a suspension for Tom Brady and fines and/or a draft pick penalty for the Patriots. When it comes to team punishment, if they really want to send a message, why not dock their salary cap? For example, 10 percent for three years. That would be more impactful than any fine or draft pick.

Leanne in Portland, Oregon

A: The only way that can happen is if the league reaches an agreement with the players' association. That would be unlikely. The union is reluctant to take money out of the market, and giving the Patriots a salary cap reduction would do just that. Sure, the union accepted the $46 million reduction for the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys, but that was for overspending in what was an uncapped year. To get the union to accept a Patriots reduction, the league would have to offer something in return to the NFLPA. Fines, suspensions and draft choice reductions are about all the league can do.

Q: I'm super bummed that the Cowboys got La'el Collins. Did the Seahawks try to get him? Was it a risk-reward thing, because I heard they scooped him up for something like $1.5 million. I know Seattle offensive line coach Tom Cable is one of the best at what he does, but how great would the O-line be with top-tier talent?

C.J. in Seattle

A: I'm sure the Seahawks looked at doing something with Collins. He was the bargain of the year, receiving a $21,000 bonus to sign a three-year contract at the NFL minimum. Twenty-six teams inquired about him. But Collins' agents shortened the list pretty quickly. In the end, it came down to Miami or Dallas. Collins felt more comfortable with the Cowboys, feeling he was joining the best offensive line in football. He'll likely play left guard. Collins had a first-round grade. Jerry Jones did a great job of selling him on coming to Dallas.

Q: LeSean McCoy appeared to be a model citizen during his days in Philadelphia, but now that he's in Buffalo, every time he speaks I have flashbacks to the Philly Terrell Owens days. Do you think Chip Kelly was just desperate to get rid of a bad-attitude player before he blew up the locker room?

Jarrod in Sydney, Australia

A: I've always found McCoy to be a gentleman during my dealings with him. While I don't agree with his comments about Kelly chasing away some of the top black players on the team, it is evident Kelly had issues with some of the team's top players. Kelly got rid of McCoy, DeSean Jackson and others. Because of that, it is only natural that those players would want to fire back at Kelly.

Q: Sorry to beat a dead horse, but I don't understand the appeal of having two potential lines of scrimmage for the points after touchdowns. Doing that means you either are going to kick it for one point or run a play for two. I like moving the ball to the 1-yard line, because then you can have the fake PAT and go for two (as an option). To me, the fake kick (either FG, PAT or punt) is one of the most thrilling plays in the game, and moving the PAT to the 15 for a single point effectively eliminates that option. Rant over.

Dave in Cologne, Germany

A: There, I hope you feel better. While I am not against changing the conversion to something more exciting, I'm still questioning why it's being done this way. Regardless of what I think, the NFL is going to make a change. Owners want it. Putting the ball on the 1 might be a little much. I suggest the 1½ might be better. What I don't like I having kicks from the 15. You are right. It takes away the chance of an exciting fake play.

Q: What are your thoughts on Roger Goodell possibly punishing Jameis Winston? As I understand it, there were accusations of sexual assault but no evidence (as with Ben Roethlisberger, who was suspended six games, reduced to four games). Also, even though Winston was in college at the time of the accusation, Goodell should still punish him as he did to Terrelle Pryor for NCAA violations which had nothing to do with the NFL.

Brian in Butler, Pennsylvania

A: Goodell can't do anything with Winston because the incident happened while he was in college. Roethlisberger obviously was in the league when he had his suspension. Pryor was a unique case because he had to accept the suspension in order to get into a supplemental draft. Winston starts the NFL with a clean slate, although he naturally will be subject to criticism.

Q: The three-day draft format has been a home run based just on the advertising money from doing the first three rounds during prime time on weekdays. But tell me what you think and maybe what team executives have also told you about the advantages management has now with being able to break and regroup on strategies after the first round and then again after Round 3 instead of having to be on the immediate selection clock as was with the old draft format?

Bryan in Glen Ellyn, Illinois

A: Everyone likes it. It gives teams more time to discuss trades. It gives them a chance to meet and reflect on what happened in the first round. The three-day format has been a success. There is talk down the line of expanding it to four days and having it at two different sites. That might be a bit much, but it would mean more advertising and more exposure for the league.

Short takes

Matthew in Flint, Michigan, asks if Spygate and Deflategate could hurt Bill Belichick's and Tom Brady's chances of making the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Not in my eyes. Both are Hall of Famers despite the controversies.

Bob in Jollyville, Texas, has a wardrobe question for the draft choices. He wonders where the players attending the draft get the money to pay for their expensive clothes, knowing they don't receive salaries in college. Many first-rounders sign trading-card deals before the draft. If that doesn't work, agents could loan them money knowing players will sign contracts the next week, when they show up at team facilities. There is enough money out there to go fancy with the wardrobe.

Bill in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, asks if the Patriots believe in great special teams more than others. No question. Belichick knows the value of every position. He is willing to keep career special-teams players. That's why he is a Hall of Fame-caliber coach.

Robert in Pittsburgh wonders why the Steelers ignored the measurables in taking 5-foot-8½ cornerback Senquez Golson when there were taller corners available in the second round. The Steelers planned to take another cornerback later in the draft. Knowing that they were going to come up with two cornerbacks, they felt Golson was a good fit because he intercepted passes. He had 10 picks last year. He's a ballhawk. As much as Ike Taylor was great as a taller corner, he had only 14 picks in 12 years. The Steelers wanted some playmaking ability in the secondary.