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Fandom in the Free Agency Era

June 24th, 2007

Being a Falcons fan has been tough over the years. It has been beaten to death that the team has never had consecutive winning seasons. We have seen so many promising starts end with disappointment. Some have asked me why I was a Falcons fan to begin with, and my answer is that I lived near Atlanta when I was younger, and started following the team because of it. The NFL has fans that have no such association, so I began to wonder why they attach to a certain team.

For the older fans, they may have liked a particular player, be it that the player went to a nearby college, or just had a personality they liked. Prior to free agency, these players would have been with the same team for a long time, so it would have been easy to keep up with the player and grow fond of the team.

For the younger fans, they tend to be children of NFL fans, may follow the team because their parents/alternative role models do. I know this to be true with my own children, as they can identify the Falcons and many of the players on the team, due to my fandom. If it were not for me, I doubt they would have any interest in the team whatsoever.

It begs the question, how does the NFL draw fans that live away from an NFL team and have no family or friends to draw them in? I strongly believe that free agency has hurt the league in this aspect. It is very difficult for those that are not truly invested to keep up with the players constantly changing teams, and the team doesn’t truly have an identity, unless it employs a long-term coach, which is also rare.

I believe that the NFL should restructure the salary cap and free agency rules to allow teams more flexibility in keeping players that were drafted by the team and players who have been with the team for a long period. Basically, the cap hit for these players should be smaller than it would be for another team if they switched. This will still allow players to change teams if they desire, but would give the teams that draft well the ability to retain their own players and keep an identity. There is nothing worse than seeing a Jerry Rice playing for the Raiders or Emmit Smith playing for the Cardinals due to a cap number. I think this would be good for the veteran players, as they could finish their careers where they are comfortable, and it would be good for the league, as fans would be able to follow the core players throughout their careers with the same team, and the league would benefit from having identifiable teams to the casual fans.

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  1. Aaron
    June 24th, 2007 at 13:39 | #1

    Good points. But this would erase much of the parity in the league. And frankly, as Falcon fans or any fans of the historically “lesser” teams around the league, parity is essential.

    I do think that there should be a bit more cap room so you don’t see the constant purge of dozens of veterans each off-season. But I think the new CBA has helped that in some regard.

  2. James
    June 26th, 2007 at 10:02 | #2

    The problem with increasing the cap, is that the teams will spend the money, regardless. This offseason shows that the increased money was spent on positions that historically did not command such dollars. See all the linemen that were signed this year, and our own Ovie Mughelli, who is the highest-paid FB in the history of the league.

    What I think should happen, is that a player that was drafted or achieved long-term status should only count 80% of their salary to the cap. Say a player that qualifies for this status is seeking $10 million a year. If he changes teams his cap hit would be $10 million, but if he stays with his current team, the cap hit is $8 million. This gives the team that he is currently with the advantage in retaining him, thus increasing continuity within the league.

  3. Tim
    June 28th, 2007 at 00:29 | #3

    I agree with what james has said here. None of my family were fans of the Falcons but I picked the Falcons as my team because of growing up in Alabama and before the Houston Oilers moved to Tennessee they were the closest pro football franchise to where I live. I was also a fan of the Braves because the rest of my family were huge Braves fans. So it was only natural for my to like the Falcons. This was also before free agency.

    But about as far back as I can remember is about 95 or so with Jeff George being the QB. I like the idea of a player achieving something like 10% of their cap number doesn’t count toward the team’s cap if the player has been with the team that drafted that player for 10 years.

    So for example like James said a player has a 10 million dollar cap number only 8 million would count toward the team’s cap but only if that player was drafted by that team and has been with that team 10 years. I compare it to the 10/5 deal the MLB has.

  4. Aaron
    June 28th, 2007 at 01:59 | #4

    Okay, that’s a pretty good proposal there. Although you’d probably have to change it to like 6 or 7 years instead of 10 since few players play that long in the NFL.

    That would dramatically cut down on teams getting rid of everyone that is 30 years old.

    A rule like that could have kept Kerney in a Falcon uniform.

  5. Tim
    June 29th, 2007 at 23:32 | #5

    Yeah it would have to be like 7 years. 6 would be just too short in my opinion. I agree. I feel it’s a shame Kerney had to leave because of the cap.

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