Free Agency Going Nowhere Fast

All is quiet on the Cincinnati Bengals free agency front. Wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh remains unsigned and untagged, while two players the Bengals have said they want back, Cedric Benson and Chris Crocker, look like they will be on the market when free agency opens February 27. Crocker says he plans to sign somewhere in the first 24 hours, before the big money dries up, while Benson appears to set to let the market come to him.

Though this is frustrating to Bengals fans, Cincinnati may for once be taking the right approach. Compared to past years, there’s been a notable lack of activity around the league in terms of re-signing players, though clubs have begun to shed guys in order to free up cap space. Most observers point to the changing cap rules as the cause. In particular, three changes will make big-bucks deals tougher to come by:

– Teams can prorate new signing bonuses over only five years instead of six.

— The June 1 rule for signing-bonus acceleration of released players no longer applies. So, regardless of when a player is cut this offseason, the rest of his unamortized signing bonus accelerates to the ’09 cap.

— Most notably, a player can receive only a 30 percent pay increase from 2009 to 2010. This prevents teams from signing a free agent this spring with a small payment this year and then guaranteeing him huge money in 2010, where there is no cap.

How it all plays out, I don’t know, but at a guess I expect fewer really large deals, though on a per-year basis many will probably be comparable to those signed in years past. I think many players will be looking to ink one-year offers. Yes, if they get hurt (as Stacy Andrews did) it can come back to bite them, but the lure of an uncapped 2010 will surely be strong. And there may be a few surprise cuts later in March as teams ink some coveted big-money free agent, but then have to make some hard choice on cuts to get back under the cap. I’m not sure how willing even teams like the Redskins are going to be to do a lot of contract restructuring in the current economic environment.

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Tags: Cedric Benson Chris Crocker Cincinnati Bengals

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