At point we had to wonder, even though the collective bargaining agreement is expiring in two months, could players be signed to long-term deals before then? For example, the Bengals have several key players with expiring contracts on March 4, the same date that the Collective Bargaining Agreement expires. Linebackers such as Dhani Jones and Brandon Johnson, cornerback Johnathan Joseph, running back Cedric Benson, defensive end Jonathan Fanene are just a handful of unrestricted free agents. Their restricted free agents includes center Kyle Cook, Nate Livings, Evan Mathis, Dennis Roland and Chinedum Ndukwe.
Restating the question. Rather than waiting on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, could the Bengals sign Joseph to a long-term deal before the current one expires? Now it obviously make sense for owners to wait, based on the uncertainty of the agreement's structure. Caps, scales, many restrictions for financial compensation could weigh in as a factor. However, we have a hard time believing that one of the team's best defensive players heading into free agency, wouldn't automatically be considered, no matter what the new CBA says.
However, according to a post on PFT regarding Michael Vick, Mike Florio writes that even though it makes sense that teams can sign their unrestricted free agents to long-term contracts before the Collective Bargaining Agreement expires, based on provisions in the deal, the Eagles can not Vick to a contract for the 2011 season. We highly doubt that this provision is exclusive to Vick, rather all players with expiring contracts in March.
Negotiations between the team and their free agents has, at least publicly, been sparse. We guess that Mike Brown's awesome scouting, which he says ranked 10th or 11th of games played by players they drafted, might simply suggest that they'll draft each player's replacement. Though don't expect them to be that great, considering the team hasn't drafted a Pro Bowl player in the past seven NFL Drafts.