Free agency has not been the panacea everybody thought it was going to be when it was introduced in its full-blown form. The NFL is replete with examples of teams and players that have proven free agency, when misused, is a non-sequitur, a logical fallacy.
The 2011 Philadelphia Eagles will forever stand as Exhibit A in the free agent façade of the NFL. Nnamdi Asomugha, Jason Babin, Cullen Jenkins, Vince Young and others came together to form the “Dream Team” in Philly. Many people, including myself, believed this would be the team that shattered the free agent ceiling and would possibly change the way free agency was viewed in the league. Now it stands as a monolithic testament for all time of how failed and flawed free agency really is.
But it’s not just teams and ownership that have continued to flop in buying their ways to championships (i.e. Dallas/Jerry Jones and Washington/Daniel Snyder). Players have struggled to play well after being paid like franchise players when the team they previously played for did not recognize them as an integral piece to their master plan.
Although there are many examples of so many others that have fallen flat in free agency, Nnamdi Asomugha and Albert Haynesworth will forever stand in the modern era as the pillars of overpaid and why free agency is a non-sequitur. Both were at the paragon of their positions, recognized and acclaimed for their greatness league-wide; both were in the prime of their careers and were capable of changing games on a regular basis. Yet, both were major disappointments.
The problem is simple: football loves the wretched. Football loves the downtrodden, the forlorn, the hungry. Marquee free agents that get signed to huge contracts are not downtrodden, are not forlorn, are not hungry; they are not wretched. Free agency and production becomes a theoretical oxymoron because general managers had to pay the player more than what they’re truly worth to sign them in the first place. And never forget the human element: it’s extremely difficult to play the brutal game of football in all its bloody glory to the fullest extent when you have $20-40 million dollars already in the bank.
Even flow is needed when applying your general manager hand to free agents and those that do not heed the cautionary tales that exist will not be general managers much longer. Free agency needs to be used wisely.
GMs would do well to secure the free agent rights of a player that needs to prove something or is a solid starter that will “not get you beat” as coaches say. More importantly, these free agents come at a manageable cap number and you don’t have to think of cutting them two years into their contract because you overpaid for their services in the first place and their production does not match their pay.
Use free agency to find players that won’t get you beat instead of signing guys you think are going to be Pro Bowlers because that thought process has blown up in many a general manager’s face.
A soldier’s/grunt’s mentality is what’s needed, not generals.
General managers should be looking for players in free agency that are tough, dependable, physical, students of the game, and don’t come with a marquee on their helmet or drive a Brinks truck to work every day.
Find guys that might be getting a little long in the tooth but can still play; pay those guys and draft guys that will take their place when the day of departure comes. Find the guys that are getting released by other teams because they have a younger, cheaper version of the player behind them.
Sign soldiers, not generals.