SBJ/20090316/Labor & Agents

Led by Haynesworth, NFL free agents enjoy a strong first week

Although the free agent market got off to a sluggish start for MLB players, NFL players appear to have fared much better, at least in the first week or so.

In the first eight days after Feb. 27, when the NFL free agent market opened, 92 unrestricted free agents signed deals, versus 98 for the same period last year, according to Mark Levin, NFL Players Association director of salary cap and agent administration. But the big news is “the average contract value is up 16 percent” this year over last year.

The average amount of guaranteed contract money is $5.1 million a player, Levin said, although he did not have a comparison figure for last year on contract guarantees. The total amount of guaranteed money spent on unrestricted NFL free agents in the first eight days was about $460 million.

“Certainly the first week of free agency has been a lot more active than expected,” Levin said. “Teams have a lot of cap room to spend and they are spending, regardless of the economy.”

Agents, too, said the economy is not the factor that some thought it would be.

Haynesworth (right), with new coach
Jim Zorn, nabbed his deal in the first
hours of free agency.

“I see no reduction in the market,” said NFL agent Peter Schaffer. “I think the market is up. The big deals are up; the middle deals are up. Part-time corners are making more than they ever have.”

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello, asked to comment on the state of the market last week, said in an e-mail, “It’s too early in the process to draw any conclusions. We’re only two weeks into it.”

 HAYNESWORTH’S AGENT WANTED QUICK DEAL: The biggest NFL free agent signing as of last Wednesday was the seven-year, $100 million deal the Washington Redskins agreed to for defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth, with a $41 million guarantee, a record for a defensive player. The record had been $31 million in the six-year deal defensive end Jared Allen received to join the Minnesota Vikings last year.

Chad Speck said that he was on the phone with several teams when free agency opened at 12:01 a.m. Feb. 27. Speck said he and Haynesworth had a clear strategy in place to get a deal done early, as there was speculation that the economy could hurt Haynesworth’s market value. “We both collectively said we wanted to move fast to remove any speculation that the market may not be there for him,” Speck said.

“And we had a number of calls in the first 10 or 15 minutes. They wanted to know what it would take to sign him, general managers and salary cap people with different clubs,” Speck said. “We had to stay up all night. We agreed to financial terms with the Redskins at about 5 a.m. Eastern time.”

Speck became a certified agent in 2004 and is president of football for Knoxville, Tenn.-based Allegiant Management, which counts 15 NFL players or draft prospects as clients, as well as about a dozen baseball players, most of them minor leaguers.

Liz Mullen can be reached at lmullen@sportsbusinessjournal.com.

The NFL Players Association was scheduled to elect a new executive director on Sunday. For updates go to sportsbusinessdaily.com.
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