The League

Peter Schaffer
NFL Agent

Peter Schaffer

Agent and professor of sports law

Risk and Reward


Midnight Eastern Time on Thursday February 26th, a scant 36 hours away, begins the 2009 NFL's league year. The free agent signing period, or the "silly season," as it is known in football, commences. Teams and players' fortunes, successes and failures will all be made and lost during this very critical period. During this time, correct decisions result in financial security and Super Bowl rings. Mistakes can mean financial ruin and the unemployment line. The teams, players and agents who handle this critical period correctly survive and prosper, and the ones who swing and miss usually wind up disappearing. There are so many moving parts that the rules of engagement vary from player to player, agent to agent and team to team. However, there are some tricks of the trade that apply to most situations. Understanding these tricks of the trade can dramatically increase the chance of success.

Free Agency in the NFL is still in its infancy compared to baseball, having only come into the league after the settlement of the Freeman McNeil lawsuit brought by the players in the early 1990's. And while most NFL management and owners prophesized doom and gloom upon its inception, Free Agency actually has provided a boom for the league in many ways. Teams that have used the system intelligently and properly have succeeded and won. My favorite expression is "Don't save cap room for your successor!!" G.M's, while they may receive a patronizing pats on the back from their owners for saving them money if they don't spend the same, can not save their jobs without eventually winning games and championships. Very few owners have retained G.M's with losing records that have the lowest payrolls. At the end of the day, it is still the wins and losses on the field which determine longevity in the league.

Free agency also keeps the NFL in the forefront and the limelight during its standard off-season. The buzz created in March about team signings and possible signings is all good PR for the league at an otherwise down period for the game. The NFL is in the entertainment business and such publicity is good for the game. Free agency also provides teams with the opportunity to drastically and rapidly improve their teams to the point where all teams can legitimately give their fans true optimism that they could challenge for a playoff spot, even years directly following an abysmal season (see the Falcons and the Dolphins in 2008).

All this being said, free agency can be salvation for the prepared, intelligent and lucky, and suicide for the indiscriminate, ignorant and unlucky. Teams must not only evaluate players based upon talent on the field and on film but must include numerous intrinsic qualities and intangibles. This is the difficulty of NFL free agency. The reality is that in a sport like baseball a .300 hitter who routinely drives in 100 runs and blasts 30 home runs will historically produce similarly whether in St. Louis, San Diego or San Francisco. The same cannot always be said for the NFL, where schemes, coaching techniques, systems and teammates are as integral in determining the success of individual players, as individual talent.

Albert Haynesworth fits what the Titans do defensively to a "T". The staff know him -- his strengths and weaknesses -- and he has deep roots in the state. Whether he can be as successful on another team is unknown. Further, having played for the past two years on one-year deals, with his financial future on the line, will he maintain the same vigor and reckless abandon after being rewarded with an eight-figure guarantee? These are all questions which move past the traditional objective analysis of free agents into a subjective analysis.

From an agent and players' perspective, the same yet opposite approach is required. The key is to know the player and what is important to him and what is necessary for the player to succeed. Can the player perform in different systems with different coaching methodologies? Can the player handle the pressure of being a top dollar free agent? Will the player like the new city and team? These are all critical factors that have to be analyzed along with the financial remunerations in deciding the best teams and places to play. If the correct decisions are made, then positive synergy happens for the players, translating into success for the teams. This is what makes this period so interesting and ultimately good for the league.

By Peter Schaffer  |  February 25, 2009; 10:57 AM ET  | Category:  Free Agency , Peter Schaffer , Tennessee Titans Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

Blow it all up and start over with a real GM.... Vinny has no clue and we all know it. Danny boy is in the NFL to make money, and that's it. He has no true football acumen nor pension to do the right thing....

Posted by: skinfannomore | February 25, 2009 5:11 PM

Um, that's "penchant" to do the right thing. It means "inclination." "Pension" is what you live on after you retire.

Posted by: salescoach | February 26, 2009 3:01 AM

Hey salescoach, you have nothing better to do than to spell check someone's blog? Why don't you write something that is relevant to the topic? By the way, how is unemployment working out for you?

Posted by: skinfannomore | February 26, 2009 1:41 PM

I am with salescoach on this one. pension for penchant is pretty funny indeed!

on the topic though, I cannot believe that the redskin's front office is stupid enough to risk so much money at one position. Not even VC and DS.

It would make for headlines and nationally televised games though

Posted by: peaceful2008 | February 26, 2009 2:05 PM

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