I'm a little nervous and on edge," Dolphins defensive end Tony McDaniel admitted. "I really don't want to go into free agency, but at the end of the day if I have to experience it I've just got to deal with it. But I don't want to be sitting at home with no job, no team."
As a result, numerous issues (18-game season, benefits for retired players, rookie salary cap, etc.) must be settled before the next batch of free agents find new teams, and get new deals. And there's widespread uncertainty about which players will be unrestricted, and who are restricted free agents? Will there be franchise tags, and what happens with exclusive-rights free agents?
With fear setting in, some teams are starting to use the uncertainty to coerce—if not strong-arm—players into signing extensions instead of testing the open market.
Starting tailback Ronnie Brown, who signed a one-year tenure worth $3.97 million last offseason, is seeking a multi-year deal that will carry him into the twilight of his career. Problem is, the Dolphins haven't made him a single offer
Ricky Williams, who earns $4.35 million this season, also is in the same pool of impending Dolphins free agents, as is the Dolphins' entire backfield (Lex Hilliard, Patrick Cobbs and Kory Sheets all have expiring contracts).
The NFLPA has instructed players to save their final three game checks because it should help them get through the lean days of labor negotiations this spring.
Owners have deeper pockets than players, and smart money says this looming lockout's loser likely will be the side that blinks first.
Will it be the billionaire owners, who must deal with an angry fan base, one already struggling to survive a recession? Or will it be the millionaire athletes, who could buckle to the pressure from pending bills for that new Benz, or the spacious five-bedroom home?
"They keep reminding us save, save because we don't know what's going to happen," said nose tackle Paul Soliai, another free agent. "We don't know how long it'll last. I'm trying to be prepared."
Omar Kelly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
and read regularly on the Dolphins blog at sunsentinel.com/dolphins.