Thanks in large part to short, non-guaranteed player contracts, there are often major personnel changes from year to year for Arena Football League teams. Fewer than half the 2008 Utah Blaze, for instance, were on the team in 2007, and that's not unusual for teams around the league.
Now the Blaze, whose up-and-down season came to an end Saturday with a 49-44 home loss to Colorado in the playoffs, have numerous key people who will soon become free agents.
And that includes Danny White.
The only head coach and general manager in the three-year history of the Blaze has an expiring contract, and it's not a sure thing the former Dallas Cowboy star quarterback and AFL coaching legend will return.
Blaze president Jason Jones said Saturday that the next step was for him to meet with owner Jon Garff to discuss the next steps for the franchise. Obviously retaining White or else finding a new head coach and general manager is a priority.
White declined to discuss the future in any detail following Saturday's season-ending loss. He did say that "we found the nucleus of players that, if we can keep them together and add a little bit next year, I think the future looks bright."
White also didn't indicate that he had any intentions of hanging up his whistle and retiring even though his contract is expiring.
"We've got to get together as coaches and decide where we need to improve and what we need to go looking for (in the free agent market)," said White.
Not renewing White's contract seemed like a much bigger possibility a couple of months ago when the Blaze lost the first nine games of the season. At the time, White even said he would understand if the Blaze ownership felt a change was needed because the team wasn't getting the job done on the field.
But the Garffs let White and his assistant coaches finish out the season, and the Blaze ended on fire, winning six of their final seven to earn the first home playoff game in franchise history.
But Utah is still winless, now 0-3, in the postseason.
"Overall, it was a disappointing year," said White. "Going 6-10, 6-11 is not acceptable at all. It's not even close to being acceptable. But 6-1, if you look at the second half of the year, that's what what we expected for the entire season."
Two of the biggest bright spots for the Blaze were the wide receiver corps all year and the defensive backfield down the stretch. But those are the two spots that could be hardest hit by free agency. All three starting receivers can become free agents and two of the three defensive backs can as well.
Huey Whittaker, J.J. McKelvey and Aaron Boone, the trio that each caught more than 100 passes from quarterback Joe Germaine for more than 1,500 yards apiece, can all try to test their value on the open market if they so desire.
"This is my home. This is where I want to be," said Boone, who grew up in Fillmore. "I live in Sandy full time. I'm one of the few local players and would love to stay here, but it's a business, too. I've got to feed my family like everybody else. Hopefully, it will work out that I can be back here next year."
Whittaker, who was recently named to the All-Arena team, and McKelvey both said they would like to be back, too, but owed it to themselves to see what their value is on the free-agent market.
"I hope that we get most these guys back, I really do," said Germaine, who is one of the few AFL players to have ever signed a five-year contract. "It's going to be hard. That's just kind of how the league is. Guys are going to have to look at opportunities that are best for them and their families. But if we could have this group back next year, I'd take it in a heartbeat."
Veteran defensive backs Damon Mason and Eddie Canonico are both free agents as well. Both were acquired mid-season and came on strong at the end of the year for the much-improved Blaze defense.
"I'll wait to see what they say and if they want me back," said Mason. He then said he "definitely" wants to return to Utah.
Other key contributors that can become free agents include fullback Rodney Filer, defensive linemen Chris Janek and Vaka Manupuna and kicker Steve Videtich.
Among the top players still under contract for 2009 for the Blaze are all-rookie defensive lineman Maurice Fountain, linebacker Kelvin Morris, linemen Devin Wyman, E.J. Burt and Dwayne Missouri and defensive back Reggie Doster.
Germaine, who still has four years remaining on his contract, wants the team to stay as intact as possible."I wouldn't want to play on any other team in this league," said Germaine. "I don't care if another team is 16-0 ... These are guys you'd want to be in a dark alley with and go to battle with. I'm proud of how we finished the season."
The Utah Blaze can try to work out new contracts with their own soon-to-be free agent players before other teams can tender deals in August.
Blaze key free agents:
Huey Whittaker, WR
J.J. McKelvey, WR
Aaron Boone, WR
Tom Pace, WR
Damon Mason, DB
Eddie Canonico, DB
Steve Videtich, K
Rodney Filer, FB
Chris Janek, DLVaka Manupuna, DL
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