Whenever the lockout comes to an end, be it this Friday, next Tuesday, next Thursday, or whenever, free agency chaos will sweep the league. As teams scurry about first trying to lock up their free agents for a few days and then dealing with general free agency for six days, things will be pretty intense.
However, after the lockout ends and before free agency begins, the league will likely set aside a few days that could prove to be the most important days of all. Once a CBA is signed, sealed and delivered, the projected post-lockout schedule includes four days to educate clubs on the new league rules. Heading into that time period, everybody will be on close to the same playing field. Some owners are more active than others in the negotiations so I could be wrong, but it's hard to know who is most active beyond just attending the negotiations. So for the purposes of this, let's just say each team is starting at the same point after the lockout.
Joel Thorman put together a rundown of five things each team needs to do when the lockout ends. The first was "Read The Collective Bargaining Agreement." I'd actually say it should be divided up into 1) Read the CBA and 1a) Re-read CBA over and over again. Joel was making that point in his rundown of what exactly he meant, but I figured I'd emphasize it:
Yes, an overlooked item on the post-lockout checklist but it's an important one. Last week while speaking with an NFL executive, I said the start of free agency would be a long and crazy night for him because it will come any day now when the CBA is completed. Not exactly, he said. The league is expected to give teams at least a couple of days to simply familiarize themselves with the new rules. Not many folks think about this but simply understanding the rules -- and doing so in just a few days -- could turn into an advantage for some. Some teams may not find the loopholes that will inevitably pop up in the new CBA and other teams will. That said, most front offices should have a general idea of what the new rules will be once the lockout ends.
I would say those first few days might not be crazy, but they will be long for executives around the league. They'll be reading through the CBA left, right and center trying to find every possible hole. And this is after just learning the basic rules on the salary cap and salary floor, general free agency rules, draft pick contract rules, and so forth.
It will be interesting to see how each team is able to manipulate the new CBA to meet their needs. They'll only have a few days to figure out what they can before free agency gets going so maybe we won't see the shenanigans until later contract extensions and 2012 free agency.