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Could having the NFL Draft before the start of free agency be a good thing?
In the league’s current lockout situation, that question has been on the minds of Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh and General Manager Ozzie Newsome.
The answer is yes for Harbaugh, while Newsome is taking a wait-and-see approach.
“I don’t want to speak for Ozzie but I get the feeling that we both like it better this way,” Harbaugh said Saturday. “I think it plays out perfectly because now you can look at your team and you can pay for a free agent, a very specific guy that you might need to fill a need.”
Previously, free agency allowed teams to fill holes by signing veterans off the open market before adding extra components during the draft.
With the unresolved collective bargaining agreement, the order was reversed this year.
Newsome is unsure whether the NFL Competition Committee, of which he is a member, will address moving the draft before free agency permanently this offseason.
“We have some conference calls next week, and that may or may not be a topic,” Newsome said. “I don’t know. I have not seen the agenda. I don’t know whether this will lead to a groundswell or not, because, like I said, it does create a hole in the system.”
Harbaugh and Newsome believe the Ravens took advantage of their opportunity to focus solely on evaluating draftable prospects instead of performing double duty with free agents.
Now, clubs can move forward having addressed key positions via the draft and pinpoint the exact players they want to sign at an appropriate value, instead of potentially overpaying someone in a premature move.
“If we would have had free agency, we would have probably been able to acquire some other players [and] definitely got some of our own players under contract during that time,” said Newsome. “It allowed us just to focus on the draft and spend more time on it. Hopefully, it will pay dividends that it worked out that way.”
Newsome said one of the main reasons free agency is typically held before the draft is restricted free agency.
Teams assign tenders to their RFAs, and if those players are signed by another club, the original team receives a draft pick that same year as compensation.
“If you decide to go after someone’s player that’s restricted, they want the pick in this year’s draft,” explained Newsome. “So, that’s one of the big reasons that we have not been able to change it.”
Harbaugh was optimistic that the Ravens would better their roster situation once free agency begins.
“I just think it’s really unique this year. I just like it better,” said Harbaugh. “You’re always looking for need. You take the best available player but everyone knows that’s not a pure rule. Need is mixed into that whole thing, but you can’t be reaching for guys.
“Now, if you don’t get it filled now, you can look to free agency and try to pay for a guy.”