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Unique Free Agency Circumstances Setting Up Weekend-Long Deluge of Transactions Beginning Thursday Afternoon

Okay, a quick step back in the wake of Tuesday night's news that the Pittsburgh Steelers had agreed with Ike Taylor on the terms of a new four-year contract. The language there is important -- 'agreed to terms'. Ike Taylor has not yet re-signed with the Steelers; nor will he Wednesday or Thursday.  Teams can not officially file their unrestricted free agent signings until 6 pm om EST this coming Friday.

Also of note, teams are not allowed to begin releasing players until 4 pm EST on Thursday afternoon. The Steelers have kept quiet about any plans (or lack of plans) to release players of note in an attempt to get under the salary cap of $120 million. I suppose we shouldn't consider Derrick Mason, Todd Heap, Kelly Gregg and Willis McGahee ex-Ravens just yet, as there's still roughly 40 hours to re-work contracts, draw up a contingency plan, whatever. Perhaps not likely. But still possible. There have been other leaks, but the vast majority of cuts on the horizon will not be reported on until mere hours before being executed officially, if at all.

Most felt (myself included) that this entire week would be a whirlwind of big-name signings and important transactions beginning on Tuesday morning . Yes, there have been quite a few transactions, but we're not to the good stuff yet. Most all the news has been about undrafted free agent rookie signings. There have been a handful of restricted free agent signings, but nothing much volume-wise or of significant consequence for clubs.

Well, that's just because teams aren't allowed yet to officially file new contracts with their unrestricted free agents. 

Here's where it gets interesting though in my opinion. Because teams can't officially cut players until Thursday afternoon, I think you're seeing teams trying not to tip their hand too much prior to learning what direction competing teams are going in with their own salary-cap conscious cuts. There's also the temptation to wait to see if a guy like Aaron Smith (not happening by the way) or Marion Barber available before committing too heavily in any one direction the moment negotiations were allowed between teams and free agents.

So from where I'm sitting, it looks like the real madness and action doesn't start in earnest until Thursday afternoon. I'd expect Friday and Saturday -- the first full day that teams can officially re-sign players -- to be just like a normal first day of free agency -- with the bulk of the big-name action coming right up front in the first 12-30 hours.

The timeline is truncated this year, so the transactions won't taper off too quickly, but don't forget, free agents that have signed new deals still cannot participate in training camp activities until the CBA is officially ratified on August 4th -- next Thursday. The union must first recertify before they can ratify the new CBA, and before they can even ratify a new agreement, there's actually still a few issues that can only be collectively bargained by a union. All that means really is that there's no while there will be a heightened sense of urgency for teams to quickly negotiate free agency and get their roster ready to compete with one another at camp as quickly as possible, there's also going to be some late-arrivals to camp no matter when they're signed between Friday and next Thursday -- all have to wait to begin participating at 100 percent.

Strategy and suspense still to come. The Steelers have dominated under previous rules. Will they in this unique framework? I wouldn't bet against them, even as one of just a handful of teams across the league forced to make spending cuts on salary in order to get under the new cap number for 2011.

Thank God we got the big action item out of the way already with Taylor. Playing with house money now as far as I'm concerned, but something tells me we're not done yet improving, even if some tough cuts must inevitably be part of the process.


Go Steelers!