Ordinarily, the NFL would be full of massive free agency rumors this time of year.

The league’s new year begins on March 17, and with it hundreds of players will officially hit the open market. This year’s crop can’t match the star power of 2020, and how could we expect it to be without seven-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady in the mix?

But that’s not the only reason things are quieter than usual. There is significant uncertainty regarding the salary cap. Estimates place the number at around $ 183 million, more than the agreed low of $ 175 million, but still a significant drop from $ 198.2 million in 2020.

New TV deals are expected to be announced as early as this week, which will improve the capping situation. But the real gains from these deals won’t be realized for a year or two.

The immediate future is difficult for many teams. Nearly half of the league’s 32 franchises are currently expected to exceed this year’s cap or have less than $ 10 million to spend this spring. Considering that draft classes typically cost between $ 8 million and $ 10 million to sign, it’s not hard to see how financial concerns might limit the market for autonomous agents.

There is also another force at work. In any other year, agents would have spent the last week of February snuggling up in Indianapolis steakhouses with general managers, coaches and other front office staff during the NFL Scouting Combine. While free agent contracts are technically not allowed to be traded until the two-day “legal” forgery window just before the start of the league’s year, these informal meetings are key to reviving the market.

Agents don’t walk away with a deal in place, but they generate a list of realistic options for their clients. It’s clear which teams are ready to go big on a contract and which teams are more hesitant.

Agents could also learn important information about the dynamics of franchises. Sometimes a coach is very excited about their client, but the CEO may be less interested.

These details also help build the market. If even a member of an organization expresses interest in a player, it is enough to infiltrate the media and increase the list of public contenders. This, in turn, can put pressure on teams who have a genuine interest in acting faster.

At the end of the Combine, the right agents have a solid game plan for March. When the legal tampering window opens, they know which teams to call and where negotiations need to begin.

All of this helps fuel the flow of ads that arrive each year during those two days. Ads are flooding social media, fans are responding with joy and desperation, and the NFL is finding a way to continue to dominate sports discussion even in the offseason.

Only this year things could be different.

There was no Combine and therefore no underground grill meetings.

The market may take longer to develop and announcements may come a few days later than normal. In short, the window of legal forgery could mark the actual start of negotiations and not the closure, as it has so often done in the past.

It promises to be an unpredictable offseason due to all the unique factors.

Only a few teams have the money to become big free agency players, and it could quickly turn into a buyer’s market. Elite players probably won’t notice much of a difference. They will be paid early and start focusing on what spring training will look like in 2021.

But everyone below that higher level could feel the pinch.

There are already widespread predictions of a proliferation of one-year contracts. The idea is that players will look at the depressed market and choose to enter into “proven” deals with the idea of ​​returning to the market next year under presumably more favorable conditions.

The Arizona Cardinals drew the first surprise of the year when they landed defensive tackle JJ Watt last week. It could be a sign of things to come.

The Cardinals certainly appear to be a rising team, but they’re not on the shortlist of Super Bowl contenders for 2021. The Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers were among the teams most often linked to Watt after his retirement. liberation by the Houston. Texans. But both teams face salary cap issues and neither appear to be a major bidder.

The cardinals, on the other hand, had the money, the need and the interest. And now they have a new superstar defender to show off.

Expect a few more surprises when the market officially opens next week.

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