The following suggestions are my own, following a pretty strong brainstorming session and watching the first couple of days of real-life NFL free agency happen in early March 2015.
Here are my top ideas, in no particular order.
1) After the season, have an NFL Network style “Free Agency Preview” show that highlights the top 3-4 players at every major position with rumors about where these players may end up. It should be done in the form of a 3-4 minute show (maybe similar to College Hoops 2K8's NCAA selection show) with player specific audio and either CGI faces like Madden NFL 15's Nantz and Simms or real faces like Fran Charles from Madden NFL 11.
Either way, this should really set the table for the free agent market to come. Leverage ESPN here. Use Adam Schefter, Chris Mortenson, John Clayton, and other network personalities, even if it's just audio recordings. The NFL Live Crew with Trey Wingo would be fine, just something to spice up the pedestrian off-season.
2) On the bottom of the screen during free agency, have a ticker with “Breaking News” and the ESPN alert sound to show when a big name signs a FA contract. The NFL is a 24/7, 365 league now and Madden needs to go a long ways to begin to somewhat reflect that. The off-season is as major a part of Connected Franchise mode as the season games themselves are for some gamers. Similarly, the NFL Draft needs it's own pre-show with mock drafts from McShay and Kiper Jr., but I'll save that for another article. For now, the offseason free agency period in Madden 16 needs to feel important. It needs to extend beyond menus, text boxes, and sliders for salaries. It needs an injection of personality and urgency.
3) It would also be nice to see some tangible feedback if you land or lose a superstar free agent. Maybe an email that season ticket sales have risen, or that fans have began to call into local sports talk radio and criticize the franchise. Any of these little things will go a long way towards immersing the player in their Madden world.
4) Free agent boom/bust system – Similar to the draft, some free agents should either thrive with their new team (think Drew Brees in New Orleans) or struggle (Albert Haynesworth anyone?) and under-produce. This would also add a sense of urgency to signing the right free agents and not just the highest rated players available. Scheme fit is a great step but we can go further. Is the player considered a team player or more self-centered? Is he coming off of a contract year where he's performed well above any prior season? Does the player have potential off the field issues? Is he a locker room leader or a locker room cancer? Give the player GMs more context and more variables to think about and deal with. Make it more interesting, basically.
5) Allow us to split the contracts up into guaranteed money vs overall money and allow us put performance incentives in the contracts (pro bowls, MVP awards, statistical milestones, etc). This too would more closely mirror the actual NFL landscape and allow the gamer to play yet another mini-game of risk/reward. Do you offer that can't miss stud WR with off the field concerns more guaranteed money to lure him away from his old team? These kind of decisions would be FUN above all else!
These are my top ideas OS. Please share some of yours in the comments below!