There's a rumor floating around NFL circles that if the union wins its courtroom battle, which begins on April 6 but is sure to last a while, that free agency could start May 1.
That's right: the day after the NFL draft will be completed.
Let it soak in for a minute. It might be complete and utter madness in the NFL for about a week straight. Normally, teams get to decompress a bit following the draft, minus any rookie minicamps that typically happen in the weeks that follow. Not this year if this scenario plays out.
We've talked at length about the potential effect of a draft held before free agency. So goes the theory, teams might be more edgy having not filled their needs yet, and they could reach for players to fill specific positional voids.
It makes sense. But what effect might the trade market have, assuming this is the schedule we're looking at? Consider: There might — and I stress, might — be some progressive teams who draft players for other teams to be traded later. Think the Eli Manning-Philip Rivers trade. (Manning was taken by the Chargers, Rivers by the Giants, before the trade was executed.)
The difference is they'd be trading the player a few days or a few weeks or months later, depending on when the lockout ends. It just wouldn't be a few hours later, as was the case with the Manning-Rivers swap. But NFL teams obviously would know when free agency would be starting — May 1 or whenever it might be — ahead of time to make their picks.
So let's say Peyton Manning was on the trade block, just for illustration purposes. He, of course, is not. But let's say the Colts and Redskins had a deal worked out ahead of the draft. The Skins would select a player for the Colts with the 10th pick in the draft, a player Mike Shanahan might not have chosen if his team were making the selection without the trade in place.
Then, when the league year starts, either in the form of a successful injunction held up in the courts or a newly negotiated Collective Bargaining Agreement, the Redskins and Colts execute the trade and Manning would be in D.C. with the player selected 10th heading to Indy. Just to make sure such a hypothetical scenario could occur, I ran this scenario by Greg Aiello, the NFL's senior vice president of public relations.
His answer: "When the league year starts, player transactions will resume." I took that as an all-systems go.
Now here's the downside to that kind of situation happening — it's very risky. One team involved in the prearranged deal could get cold feet and back out afterward, and the other club would be left twisting in the wind. It's something that would involve a great deal of trust between two teams because the trade would have to be agreed upon by only the teams' word with nothing binding.
Another potential pitfall: We have no idea when the new league year will begin. Right now, that May 1 date sounds nice and appealing, but it's pie-in-the-sky conjecture. Could it happen? Yes. But there's no substance to it. Not yet anyway. As it stands now, any future trade arrangements like we just talked about would be completely unofficial and totally back channel. None of it would be binding at all.
"(Player trades) cannot happen this year due to the work stoppage rules," Aiello wrote in an email. "A trade right now must be draft pick for draft pick. Once a pick is made, as in the Rivers-Manning scenario, the player cannot be traded this year. No player transactions are currently permitted."
What kind of trust are we talking about? It likely would have to involve two teams and two veteran decision makers who have dealt with each other before. Andy Reid mentioned at the owners' meetings in March that he and Bill Belichick have made at least one trade together every year, so that's the kind of arrangement I am talking about.
If players are not allowed to be traded before or during the draft, things will be vastly different this year. Player trades have been on the rise the past five or six years. General managers feel more comfortable making deals now, whereas league rules previously had made trades more difficult to pull off.
So perhaps a few inventive and progressive decision makers will consider this route: the trading of draft rights. What are the benefits? Well, for one, getting veteran players involved. It could effectively serve the Eagles and Reid, who appear to be flashing Kevin Kolb's name all over the league in the hopes of a good offer. But would they accept 2012 draft picks for him? Would they want to wait and acquire veterans in return? Surely, the Eagles would prefer handpicked rookies over what might be available on the veteran trade market.
It's something to keep an eye on as the draft approaches.