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Free Ragency Is Upon Us

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Free Ragency will soon be upon us. And ya know what? It makes the lockout worth while.

We won't call the lockout a win for the owners, but it's not a loss, either. The players maybe had to learn how to live without the direct guidance of their coaches and team doctors for a few months, but that, too, will pass.

I bet, if needed, both sides could work under the same condition next year, although far more efficient, strategic and beneficial. They didn't ultimately lose much.

But the fans gain quite a bit.

We get Free Ragency. And I'm fine with that. It's a lesson in delayed gratification.

I grew up in Minnesota, where state law says school cannot start before Labor Day, Kindegarten through college. It had something to do with making sure kids would be available for harvesting in the late summer. I always wondered, since I didn't farm, if I could trade that last week or two of summer in late August for an earlier release than the second week of June.

By the time May rolled around, I had checked out completely anyway. By the time two-a-days for football started, it felt like the summer was over, and I was excited for fall. So I'd rather be done in late May and start in late August.

The waiting period sucks.

Free agency in the NFL typically starts on or around the beginning of March. We're just winding down from the Super Bowl and the end of games. Immediately, we perk back up for the excitement of Schefter posts each day detailing who's looking at whom, or what team will do what in free agency before the draft.

Then, as quickly as it started, it ends. And we have nothing to do but wait until the draft for our fix of football.

The draft comes and goes, usually far more anticlimactic than exciting. In our minds, we know the naming of Mr. Irrelevent signals the start of the worst period of football: minicamps through to the start of training camp.This year, we went from the final selection of the draft to nothing.

Not this year.

We have excitement equity now. We've been waiting for something to happen. Since we passed on free agency at the beginning of March, and skipped over minicamps entirely (where the only news is players blowing ACLs or Achilles' heals), our reward is an extremely truncated and wonderfully exciting mad dash of dollars known now as Free Ragency.

If the owners and players ratify a CBA by July 21, as expected, the period of time where teams can sign their own players and/or get under the salary cap. Free Ragency will likely begin at midnight ET July 28.

Agent Drew Rosenhaus appeared on ESPN's Mike And Mike In The Morning Tuesday, saying there are 500 unsigned players right now (a number that includes rookies). Rosenhaus said teams and agents aren't going to be able to play the cat-and-mouse game that typically personifies free agency. Now, we're going to be a full day worth of breaking news of who signed where. Teams will have to take an "aim small, miss small" mentality when it comes to sending front office types out to visit potential free agents. Some guys are going to be overlooked due to the volume of players available, and could still be on the table late in the day.

Teams like Washington that staff up big time in the first day of free agency may not be able hit all of their prospective targets immediately. Teams like the Steelers, who typically aren't involved in Day 1, may see someone slide off the rest of the league's radar.

We could go on for hours with possible scenarios, and isn't that exactly what we love about the NFL? It's the anticipation of what could happen. We're going to ignore the likely-to-be-imposed $120 million salary cap, and just watch the dollars fly. It's electronic excitement, transmitted to us one Tweet and blog post at a time.

The only downside is this will be the only Free Ragency we'll ever see. Next year, we'll return to the boring old free agency period knocking "Pitchers And Catchers Report To Camp" out of the headlines. So we need to cherish this.

When the rubber meets the road, I'll take what turned out to be a few months of groundless fear of not having football this season in exchange for Free Ragency any day.