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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Free agent frenzy

It's been a perfect storm for free agents this year as teams have spent record amounts of money on players who are average at best.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have largely sat out this free agency period, though that is nothing new for them.

But this year more than ever, that's been the smart play.

When this 2007 free agent period is finished, it may be viewed as one that sent the NFL down a road toward ruin.

Why is that?

In the past couple of weeks we’ve seen average player after average player signed to big money deals – deals that were made for no other reason than because those player were available.

That’s why we’ve seen the likes of tight end Visanthe Shiancoe, wide receiver Kelley Washington and offensive tackle Tony Pashos find themselves in a whole new tax bracket in a matter of days.

Not to pick on those particular players, but Shiancoe was given a deal for five years at $18.2 million – with $7 million guaranteed – Washington got a five-year deal that could be worth as much as $22 million and Pashos was handed $24 million over five years.

And these are players with a combined 52 career starts in a combined 12 NFL seasons, an average of less than five starts per year per player. None of them have ever been or likely will ever be a star in this league. But they sure are making star-quality money now.

Certainly one team’s trash could be considered another team’s treasure, but this is ridiculous.

And those three players are hardly the only ones who have been given outrageous deals since free agency began earlier this month.

Heck, that’s why the always outspoken Joey Porter didn’t rip into the Steelers for releasing him on the eve of free agency. Instead of the $5 million or so in salary Porter would have earned from the Steelers in 2007, Porter walked into a five-year, $32-million deal with Miami that included a $12-million signing bonus. With that kind of money, Porter figures the Steelers did him a favor by releasing him.

But do you think there will be some unhappy veterans reporting - or not - to mini-camps this spring?

And do you think those veterans will be wanting their teams to pony up more cash to them?

When these veterans go into meetings with team officials, they’re not going to want to hear that their respective teams can’t afford to give them more money when those teams went out and spent this offseason like they were sailors on leave. They are not going to want to hear about the team's salary structure.

This was a lackluster crop of free agents who walked into the perfect storm. Thanks to the new collective bargaining agreement and more TV money than ever before, NFL teams had record levels of cap space available. Somebody should have told them they didn’t have to spend it all in one place.

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