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2013 Free Agency: The Year of the Tortoise

In his latest column about NFL free agency, Peter King argues that many teams will adopt a slow and steady approach to signing new players. Could this year truly be the Year of the Tortoise?

Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports

The 2013 NFL Scouting Combine is set to begin today, and that means teams will soon be stuffed to the gills with all kinds of new information on this year's batch of draft-hopefuls. Armed with ammunition in the form of interview impressions, 40-yard dash times, and medical evaluations, NFL scouts return to their respective headquarters and start putting together the final pieces in their draft board puzzles.

Sandwiched between the scouting combine and the draft, however, is a little thing called "free agency." You may have heard of it. It's the annual ritual where some teams massively overpay big-name players during the first week of the new league year while other teams wait patiently for the initial feeding frenzy to die down. In just a few short weeks, on March 12th to be exact, the 2013 free agency period will officially begin, and the cycle will start all over again. Or will it?

Like Commander Shepard, Sports Illustrated writer Peter King believes that this might be the year the cycle is broken, and man and machine will finally be reconciled into a peaceful union stingy contracts will win the day against their bloated counterparts.

The new young class of general managers are far more interested in building through the draft than with their checkbooks. Consider this point from one such young-turk general manager of a team that in the past has spent generously in the March free-agent market: "I'm more concerned with keeping our own team intact than spending money on players we could use, but who would create problems of their own." Although this team needs a wide receiver and pass rusher, this general manager fears the impact of high-priced imports on his locker room at a time when he's not going to be able to pay everyone big money.

Sound familiar? It should, because that is exactly how the Bengals approach free agency. They keep their head down for the first couple of weeks while looking for value externally and trying to re-sign their own key guys internally. King also argues that many teams known for being "smart spenders" in free agency are tight against the cap this year, which will lead them to set the market early with more reasonably priced contracts than previous years. More than ever, patience will be the name of the game in 2013, as King expects teams to be busier two weeks after free agency opens, rather than right out of the gates.

Ultimately, there will always still be a few teams willing to bet it all on a big-name player in the early hours of free agency. That part of free agency will never go away. But if King is correct, and more teams follow the approach of Mike Brown and the Bengals, then maybe the market for players like Andre Smith and Michael Johnson will be a little cooler than initially suspected. We won't know for sure until March 12th arrives, but in the meantime, King's speculation offers a glimmer of hope that the Bengals may be able to retain the services of two of their best free agents.