Will Lockout Hurt Free Agency?


By the time that the NFL and NFLPA get their acts together, teams will be on the verge of starting training camps.  A flurry of signings is expected once the market opens up with what will likely be fourth and fifth year veterans making up the bulk of that pool.  Traditionally, as you know, free agency would have been over long before the draft and this month would simply be a countdown to the start of camps.

Ah, but the lockout changed all that.

While the lockout is likely to have little effect on player movement the real question will become how the new additions to teams will integrate into a new system in a short period of time and be successful?  It’s one thing to sign a player, hand him a playbook, meet with the coaches, get into the weight room, and wait a few weeks for a mini-camp as opposed to signing a player, handing him a playbook, and telling him to get on the practice field.  Which is precisely what is about to happen.

It’s safe to assume that some positions will be easier to integrate into systems than others.  It’s also safe to assume that longer termed veterans will find it easier to acclimate to a new program than a younger player who hasn’t been around as long to fully appreciate how teams conduct training camps.  At the same time, you could argue that a 5 year veteran of one team may find it difficult moving from one system to another in a short period of time.

A bigger question would be how the lack of off-season and sudden flurry of player movement will effect the quality of play.

Of all the positions on the field, the QB may be the hardest to acclimate.  Consider that there is more than simply learning a new playbook or signals.  Audibles and checks.  There is also the timing issue with the receivers, runners, and center exchange.  Off-season practice has always benefited the timing between the offense and the QB so that once training camp opens, it’s more of a fine tuning.

Some will point out that there are exceptions.  Take Chad Pennington for example who joined Miami during camp.  While Pennington did a great job in his first season with Miami, he was familiar with the system to a degree but more importantly, he was not a “timing” QB but instead was a possession QB who relied heavily on the check down throws and the short intermediate throws as well.  I’m not taking anything from him at all, but I don’t see a QB on the market this year who would find the same success under the current situation.

If QB is the hardest to acclimate, then RB and Oline would be the easiest.  Luckily for the Dolphins, they need to find both in the shortened free agency.  Runners are runners and very rarely is a scheme or system greatly different from another team.  The language is different and there lies the learning curve but the plays are basically the same.  Dives, sweeps, pulls, etc…  For the Dolphins, signing a player like DeAngelo Williams or a Darren Sproles would not hurt the makeup of the team.  No more than signing a top or mid-tier free agent guard.  The assignments are more about language than timing.  It’s why you see teams trying to trade for these types of positions prior to the yearly trade deadline.

That same thing can be said about LB’s as well.  LB’s are plug and play type players.  They may be asked to play a little differently between one system and another but they are universally interchangeable if they stay within the same system.  Say a 4-3 vs. a 3-4 and so on.  DE’s are in a similar boat as well, as is most of the defensive units.

The real challenge however will be for those teams who will go out and sign a lot of free agents.  Integrating more than usual new faces in a short time will eventually hurt the continuity of the team.  What I mean by that is if the Dolphins sign a QB, RB, OG, TE, and add a WR as well to the offense.  It’s safe to say that the team will have to cut 5 players off their offensive roster at a minimum to accommodate the additions.  Especially if those additions are expected to be starters.

Teams who add more players will take longer to get their final rosters on the “same page” than teams who opt to sign key free agents to supplement holes or depth players who will contribute on special teams.

For the Dolphins, they have a lot of holes, but it’s where the holes are located that might benefit them if they choose to spend once the market opens.  The Dolphins don’t need to add a WR or as much as you won’t want to hear it, a starting QB.  They need depth at the position and someone who will challenge Henne as the season moves forward.  But they don’t need to make unnecessary trades for guys like Carson Palmer or Kyle Orton.  Instead, they can go the one or two year route and sign a player like Vince Young or maybe a Marc Bulger who will compete and be a viable back-up.

For the Dolphins, their offense could be ahead of the curve with the Henne led workouts and defensively nothing has changed since last year.  They need to fill a couple of spots but nothing glaring.  It will for sure be an interesting week that will include visits and signings that may very well be reported by the hour.  An entire month of free agent activity smashed into just over 7 days.

When it finally begins.