Mar 09 2014

NFL Free Agency: Buyer Beware



With football season over, it’s time for America to shift its focus to its second favorite sport … waiting for football season to start again.” -Jon Stewart

The 2014 NFL season will be the 22nd season with the current free agency rules in place.  In general, free agency is an exciting time for players, as they get the opportunity to cash in on their value on the open market.

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Of course, the most satisfied players at the end of free agency seem to be the ones that go to the teams that serve as suckers, tying up their team’s cap space while exhibiting a flawed philosophy of team building.

Dan Snyder: Free Agents’ best owner. (Jamie Mottram/Mister Irrelevant)


It isn’t a moment of revelation to say that the best football teams are built in the draft.  The teams that hit on draft picks not only stay out of the free agent onslaught, but they are able to replace the players who performed well with lower-cost options (i.e., a draft pick, an in-house reserve, or a free agent bargain).

Managing the cap is also a goal of successful NFL teams, as getting into trouble with roster flexibility leaves a team with a smaller margin of error. I criticized the New England Patriots and their failure to get over the hump over the past nine years in this space last month. However, they are always in the postseason discussion every season because they understand how to stay ahead of the game with their 53-man roster. … among other things.

Why are free agents available? Some of the reasons include:

  • Age
  • Injury/Durability Concerns
  • Position/System Dispensability
  • Character/Personality Concern
  • Performance Inflation/Inconsistency

Now, I’ve painted a picture of cynicism around free agents in general. But the reality is, every team makes some kind of move in free agency, and one of those teams winds up with the only thing that matters, a Super Bowl championship.

What has been the best move in the free agency period prior to every Super Bowl championship team since 1993? Are they big moves or minor?

  • 1993 Cowboys: DE Charles Haley re-signed
  • 1994 49ers: CB Deion Sanders signed
  • 1995 Cowboys: “Deion Sweepstakes”
  • 1996 Packers: FS Eugene Robinson (six INTs)
  • 1997 Broncos: DE Neil Smith (from division rival Kansas City)
  • 1998 Broncos: LB Seth Joyner (a stretch, but three-time Pro Bowler who played in all 16 games)
  • 1999 Rams: RB Marshall Faulk (a trade, and a re-negotiated contract)
  • 2000 Ravens: DT Sam Adams (the big body in front of the 2000 Defensive Player of the Year)
  • 2001 Patriots: RB Antowain Smith (led Patriots in yards from scrimmage and TDs in first year with team)
  • 2002 Buccaneers: RB Michael Pittman (only one TD all year, but led the team in total yardage)
  • 2003 Patriots: SS Rodney Harrison
  • 2004 Patriots: RB Corey Dillon (another trade for a running back)
  • 2005 Steelers: WR Cedrick Wilson (another stretch, considering he didn’t score a TD all season as 3rd WR)
  • 2006 Colts: K Adam Vinatieri
  • 2007 Giants: LB Kawika Mitchell (16-game starter)
  • 2008 Steelers: C Justin Hartwig (16-game starter)
  • 2009 Saints: FS Darren Sharper
  • 2010 Packers: SS Charlie Peprah (another stretch, 11-game starter who led team in tackles in Super Bowl XLV)
  • 2011 Giants: C David Baas
  • 2012 Ravens: WR Jacoby Jones (Pro Bowl as return specialist)
  • 2013 Seahawks: DE Michael Bennett (About to get paid for real)

Other than the six defensive backs, not many trends from this list. It is also notable that it has been awhile since any of these players truly broke the bank for their new teams. Faulk was the last one to get a big deal with a lot of years attached. That was in 1999, and it required a trade. Running backs don’t get any love now in free agency – the days of a Faulk-to-Rams impact are probably gone.

It will be interesting to see what kind of money is tossed around, and which teams are the most active. Just know that the teams making the subtle moves to set up the draft are the ones that have the best chance at winning the next Super Bowl.



2 pings

  1. NFL Compensation 2015 »

    […] Now, I covered last year why free agency is very hit-or-miss for teams trying to win a Super Bowl, except in the case of signing defensive backs. Go ahead and add CB Darrelle Revis to that list of best free agent acquisitions. Revis became the second player in NFL history to be an All-Pro in his first and only season with a team, then leave that team the following offseason after winning a Super Bowl. The other was fellow CB Deion Sanders. […]

  2. 2014 NBA Offseason Maintenance Report »

    […] on each team’s major weakness in my eyes and go from there. The NBA is a free agent league, not a draft league like the NFL. You win or lose based off of the big money and trades. As I wrote last […]

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