Setting the pace

Jason Cole
Yahoo! Sports

Brian Mackler has spent nearly 15 years as an NFL agent, getting his start just as free agency was about to begin. Never has he noticed the intriguing silence from league executives that has happened this year.

"Normally, you hear a lot of talk about numbers with the top guys in free agency," Mackler said. "People are saying, This guy is going to get this much,' or you read it somewhere that this is the range. But it has been quiet this year. Really quiet. I don't know that the executives really have a good idea about where the market is going to end up."

Specifically, cornerback Nate Clements and linebacker Adalius Thomas, a rare pair of Pro Bowlers who made it to free agency this season, could receive a pair of astronomical contracts when free agency begins as the clock ticks past midnight and into Friday morning.

Mackler doesn't represent either Clements or Thomas, but he has several players who stand to gain from whatever that pair might make. Specifically, Mackler has linebacker Cato June and defensive lineman Dewayne White who figure to cash in handsomely in an offseason that has already been strong for moderate players such as Dallas Cowboys center Andre Gurode, Miami Dolphins defensive lineman Vonnie Holliday and Buffalo Bills defensive end Chris Kelsay.

Still, the intriguing issue is what the contracts could be for Clements and Thomas, two guys who many teams consider game-changing talents.

"You hope that teams show restraint, but history is not a very good indicator of that," one NFL executive said last week at the NFL scouting combine. "If you're a team with so much money, you might think nothing of overbidding for a guy you really want. The problem with that is the ripple effect it has on the rest of the league."

Specifically, if Thomas, who has received interest from a number of teams including the San Francisco 49ers and New England Patriots, breaks the bank with a contract, that could force other teams to overpay in the future. Some people have estimated that Thomas, who as spent his seven-year career with the Baltimore Ravens, could get a deal which includes more than $20 million in the first year and approximately $10 million per year.

"That would be great if that happened," said Thomas' agent Bus Cook. "We'll see where the numbers come in [Friday] and then [Thomas] will look it all over."

Then again, Cook doesn't share the same perspective as a lot of executives. Many of them are already concerned with the reaction they might get from some of their top players or players who signed long-term deals in advance of free agency.

"You always have to explain to the players you commit to that there's going to come a time when their contracts might not look as favorable as another deal," said Philadelphia Eagles president Joe Banner, who has a history of signing players in advance of free agency. Most recently, the Eagles gave second-year defensive tackle Mike Patterson a 10-year contract which included a $10 million signing bonus.

"Part of the key is to do these types of contracts with players who really care about football and aren't as concerned about where their contract might stand with the rest of the league," Banner said.

That's a nice thing to say and hope. Reality is that players, particularly stars, have a tendency to compare contracts. From the likes of Terrell Owens to Ray Lewis and Ricky Williams, contract issues have constantly popped up even after players have signed long-term deals.

In fact, one of the murmurs out of the Eagles locker room over the past year is that players are now unhappy about what they perceive as cheap tactics by management. The fact that management was willing to take a long-term risk on a player is lost at this time of the year when contracts start to skyrocket.

"Everybody likes what the Eagles do, most of the time," the other executive said. "Even the players like it because it takes the anxiety out of their career. They get some money in their pockets. The problem is: they always want more and they start to wonder when they're going to get some."

Free agency is the ultimate time and Thomas and Clements, who has spent six years with the Buffalo Bills, could end up with the ultimate payoff. Cook remained quiet about who might sign Thomas.

"I think he'll take a look at all the offers and then he'll make a visit or two, maybe three," Cook said. "At a certain point, the money is great no matter where you are and it really comes down to other factors. Is the team good? How is the area? What's the local economy like? All those things."

About the only thing Cook seemed sure of was that Baltimore is unlikely to re-sign Thomas.

"I doubt it," Cook said of the Ravens, who cut running back Jamal Lewis on Wednesday. "Sure, Adalius would like that if it would happen, but they have a lot of money tied up in their linebackers already, so I don't see them going out and giving him a lot as well."

But somebody will.

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