NFL players didn’t get free agency in the league until 1993, long after their peers in the other three major pro sports leagues in America. Reggie White was the player most fans associate with ushering in free agency in the NFL.
Many players have benefited from free agency since White joined the Packers more than 25 years ago, but overall the system isn’t as strong as in the other sports. That may change, though. A trend among top NFL quarterbacks this offseason could be a win for players throughout the league.
Franchise quarterbacks trying to control their destiny
Sports Illustrated recaps some franchise quarterbacks who are trying to control their destiny this offseason. Players like Deshaun Watson and Russell Wilson are publicly trying to either get their teams to change the way they’re treated or trade them, both with a list of teams they want to be traded to.
Meanwhile, the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers after his season ended indicated he might not play for Green Bay next season. It’s unknown if any of those players will move — Rodgers is probably unlikely — but they at least want to have their voices heard.
Watson is reportedly unhappy with not having a say in the Texans’ general manager and head coach searches this offseason, and Wilson has criticized the Seahawks’ roster-building around him.
The trade demands may be a bluff, but all three players are at least making public their dissatisfaction with their current teams, which isn’t something NFL stars have traditionally done.
Potential impact on the NFL’s future
NFL free agency historically hasn’t been as active as in other leagues, largely because of salary cap implications, which can ultimately be manipulated with creative bookkeeping. But if either Watson or Wilson does strong-arm his way out of his current team, it could have seismic shifts in player movement going forward in the NFL.
If this trend continues, it would be a boon for players who can choose what teams and/or coaches they want to play for, but it could be devastating for teams struggling on the field. Bad teams are used to improving with high draft picks. But if the players they select with those picks can decide they want to go someplace else, it would hurt the bad teams’ rebuilding efforts.
The big-market teams with money to spend, on the other hand, would be able to benefit because they’re the franchises that would be able to take on high-priced contracts of the league’s biggest players. Players may also be more willing to go to those teams.
The NFL could become more like college football, and “coaches will have to become recruiters of the league’s premium talent,” as Sports Illustrated explains. “Stars like Watson could become kingmakers simply by tapping the promising coaches they would like to work with.”
Respect could go a long way to keep players happy
NFL owners and teams have largely had a strong hold on their star players through the decades, but that could change with latest trend. Owners and management need to start treating their stars with more respect, to keep them happy and wanting to remain with the franchise. That is no more evident than with the situation with the Texans.
Watson found out on social media when his star receiver, DeAndre Hopkins, was traded to the Cardinals last year. After expressing displeasure with that lack of communication, he “was promised a chance to give input on the team’s GM and head-coaching searches.”
That didn’t happen, though. Watson again found out about the hiring of GM Nick Caserio via social media and neither of the two coaching candidates he suggested was hired — and one, Robert Saleh, wasn’t even interviewed for the opening.