NFL: Winning free agency often doesn’t translate into wins
PHILADELPHIA - Winning NFL free agency often doesn’t translate into wins on the field.
Check out the “Dream Team” the Philadelphia Eagles put together in 2011. They spent a ton of money on free agents, including cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha and defensive end Jason Babin. They were favorites to win the division and contend for a Super Bowl, but went 8-8 that season and 4-12 the next.
Lesson learned? No way.
Fast-forward to 2015. Chip Kelly led the Eagles to consecutive 10-win seasons after replacing Andy Reid in 2013. That wasn’t good enough and he demanded personnel control to take them to the next level.
Kelly signed running backs DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews and cornerback Byron Maxwell, among other major moves. The Eagles went 7-9 and Kelly was fired before the season ended. Murray and Maxwell followed him out the door in separate trades.
“Our batting average is never going to be 100 percent, unfortunately,” said Howie Roseman, the team’s executive vice president of football operations. “We have to learn from that and do a better job as we go forward.”
Roseman was in charge in 2011. He lost a power struggle to Kelly in 2015, so he can’t be blamed for that debacle. Now, he’s the man again.
The overall crop of free agents this year is mediocre, but teams will still overspend for players the same way Philadelphia did before. Many are looking for quick fixes or the one guy who can be a difference maker.
It seems Roseman may take a more cautious approach and continue to try to build through the draft to surround quarterback Carson Wentz.
“Ideally in free agency, you’re signing 26-, 27-year-old guys who can be part of the core,” he said. “Unfortunately, teams are doing a good job of locking those guys up, as well. So we have to try to balance that and bring in guys that fit what we’re trying to do, understand that there’s no way to do everything in one offseason, and just look at each situation individually.”
Many teams won’t follow that philosophy until they get burned once or twice.
The Houston Texans were desperate to find a franchise QB, so they lured Brock Osweiler away from Denver by giving him a $72 million contract last year. He flopped, even getting benched for unproven Tom Savage for a while.
That wouldn’t have scared teams away from throwing big money at Kirk Cousins, but the Washington Redskins put a franchise tag on the Pro Bowl QB to prevent him from testing the open market.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, Mike Glennon and Mark Sanchez are the most experienced available QBs. Glennon has made only 18 career starts for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and none since 2014, but that’s more experience than Osweiler had before he got paid. He should cash in soon.
The Pittsburgh Steelers put a franchise tag on Le’Veon Bell, taking the best running back off the market. Latavius Murray, Eddie Lacy and LeGarrette Blount should get nice deals. Then there’s Adrian Peterson and Jamaal Charles. Both are trending downward, have injury histories, and will have to take hefty pay cuts.
Wide receiver is one of the most interesting positions because there’s a dearth of No. 1 guys. Alshon Jeffery is coming off two down seasons for him, but he’s the best of the bunch and is only 27. If the Bears don’t keep him in Chicago, Jeffery could make a ton in free agency. Terrelle Pryor had a breakout year for Cleveland and should land a huge contract from the Browns or another team, but he’s raw.
Washington’s Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson are both 30, but that won’t stop teams from paying them big bucks. At least they’ve already accomplished more than three of the biggest free-agent busts at WR: Javon Walker ($55 million, Oakland 2008), Laurent Robinson ($32.5 million, Jacksonville 2012) and Jerry Porter ($30 million, Jacksonville 2008).
On defense, Calais Campbell, Dont’a Hightower, Chandler Jones (non-exclusive tag), Lorenzo Alexander and Stephon Gilmore are the biggest names. Their new contracts are likely to be big, too. But is the value there?
Whether it’s skill players on offense or defensive players who play top-priority positions, teams will be eager to spend massive amounts of money to sign free agents.
History says most of them won’t be worth it.