If you've got an old college roommate who is either a football agent or a member of the front office for an NFL team, don't try to call them late Thursday night or early Friday morning. Chances are they'll be busy setting the stage for the 2010 season, since free agency officially gets underway just after midnight and history says the first day is a doozy.
This year could be a bit different. The lack of a salary cap makes for uncharted waters, although the general consensus is that teams will be approaching things without much difference in their budgeting. That consensus could disappear before Jimmy Fallon's show gets underway but that's the way things look now.
The Giants are one of the teams talking about showing restraint even though they aren't bound by any rules to do so. All the signals coming out of Camp Coughlin are that the Giants won't be breaking the bank for any free agents which probably means that Karlos Dansby won't be replacing Antonio Pierce at middle linebacker come minicamp. The Dolphins, Bears and others are expected to be hot on his trail and that should mean a hefty price tag.
Defensive tackles and safeties are in short supply, even on the restricted free agent front. Those positions will loom large in free agency this year because the rules of the uncapped year have created a lot more of them. Current teams get a right of first refusal on contract offers and receive draft pick compensation as well. The Giants, for example, will get a second rounder if Barry Cofield signs with someone else.
Otherwise, the big thing to watch with the Giants is whether they bring in a defensive end like Green Bay's Aaron Kampman or, going against the restraint cited above, Julius Peppers. If they do, you can start finding other uses for your Osi Umenyiora jerseys because his departure would be almost certain to follow in short order. Given Umenyiora's unwillingness to buy into what the team's been selling, that's hardly a bad thing and a trade would bring back draft picks the Giants could spend on a tempting restricted free agent.
If the Giants are limiting themselves, the Jets are being limited by rules meant to ensure parity in the uncapped year. They are only allowed to sign unrestricted free agents after losing their own and then can only sign them to contracts for the same value as the departing player. That's going to limit their options because none of their guys are going to demand big contracts.
The restricted player option is one worth watching for the Jets, perhaps more than the Giants. Drafting late in every round could make the Jets more likely to dangle a pick in exchange for a player. Panthers cornerback Richard Marshall would cost a second rounder and would immediately be the team's starter opposite Darrelle Revis, while pass rushers Ahmad Brooks and Matt Roth would each bolster the team's sometimes iffy attempts to get after the quarterback. They are also going to cost a second round pick, though, and neither has a long history of success.
That's the kind of risk the Jets have been willing to make over the last couple of years under Mike Tannenbaum, however, and it's worth watching the more traditional trade market as well. The Chargers are shopping corner Antonio Cromartie, who might fit opposite Revis, and the Cardinals are eternally shopping Anquan Boldin. Another receiver might not be at the top of the Jets' need list, but Boldin's talent is awfully tempting.
As for their own players, the Jets slapped Braylon Edwards with the highest tender offer. It will take a first and a third to sign him away, something that is prohibitive for most teams, while Brad Smith and Leon Washington would each cost a second rounder. Bet on both of them returning, even though Washington's agent calls his client's return a 50-50 bet.
It's also worth watching what the Jets do at running back, including a possible attempt to re-sign Thomas Jones at a price they find more amenable. It may be impossible if Jones decides to head elsewhere after the Jets balked at paying him a $3 million bonus, but they'll be in the market for a veteran back and Jones is the best choice of the ones currently available.
So that's the way the stage looks right now, but expect it to look completely different at this time on Friday because the chips start falling fast and furious.