Clayton: 1st uncapped year has sparked trends, changes in FA
What's next in free agency?
First uncapped year has sparked trends, changes
By John Clayton
Here are five fascinating trends and changes that have accompanied the start of free agency in the first uncapped year:
1. The uncapped year has some teams deciding to dump salary early in the contracts in case a cap returns: The Julius Peppers deal in Chicago is the perfect example. Peppers received a $6.5 million signing bonus but the Bears also elected to give him a $12.5 million roster bonus in 2010 and a $10.5 million roster bonus in 2011. Peppers will make $20 million in 2010, $11.5 million in 2011 and $9 million in 2012. Were the cap in effect in 2010, Peppers' cap number would be $14.853 million. Fullback Leonard Weaver of the Eagles received a $3.7 million roster bonus in 2010 on a three-year, $11 million contract that included only a $300,000 signing bonus.
2. Teams are doing extra to clean up their cap problems in this uncapped year: The Washington Redskins released nine veterans when free agency opened. Those released accounted for $62.2 million of dead cap money. If the $123 million cap were in effect, the Redskins would be $39 million over. The Dallas Cowboys kept their team intact. They would be $34 million over the cap and have $107 million in base salaries. Seven other teams, including the Vikings, Seahawks and Panthers, would also be over the cap.
3. Because of the cap cleaning, teams are getting younger: The Panthers are a classic example. They released five players who were in their 30s -- quarterback Jake Delhomme, fullback Brad Hoover, linebacker Na'il Diggs and defensive tackles Damione Lewis and Maake Kemoeatu. That leaves wide receiver Steve Smith, kicker John Kasay and punter Jason Baker as the only Panthers currently under contract over the age of 30. On the flip side, the St. Louis Rams, who got too young last year, are trying to get more seasoned with the signings of 32-year-old defensive tackle Fred Robbins and 32-year-old quarterback A.J. Feeley.
4. As expected, teams are working the trade market harder than ever because of the lack of quality free agents: There were seven trades in the first four days, and teams are willing to unload players quicker. The fact that teams are willing to accept 2011 picks illustrates their eagerness to make a deal. The Eagles took a sixth-round pick in 2011 from Tampa Bay for wide receiver Reggie Brown. The Seahawks took a 2011 pick from the Browns for quarterback Seneca Wallace. The Chargers took a third-round pick in 2011 from the New York Jets for cornerback Antonio Cromartie. In past years, teams were willing to wait longer for draft choices they could use in the current draft, rather than in subsequent years.
5. Moves in the first days of free agency point out where teams are likely to head in the draft: By signing Robbins and adding him to a three-tackle rotation, the Rams continue to show they are likely to take Sam Bradford with the first pick in the draft. They signed Feeley to be a bridge quarterback and may look to add another veteran, but Bradford seems to be the likely choice by the way the Rams are operating. The Lions are pointing to the selection of Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh by picking up Kyle Vanden Bosch at defensive end and Corey Williams at defensive tackle. Why Suh over Gerald McCoy? First, Vanden Bosch went to Nebraska, Suh's school. Second, the Lions don't need as much pass-rush push out of a first-round tackle because they can use Williams at the three-technique. That would leave McCoy to go to the Bucs, and the Redskins, who have the fourth pick, to select between tackle Russell Okung and quarterback Jimmy Clausen.
John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.