CHICAGO – The free agent market can be a great place to look for building blocks to add to bad and mediocre teams as they attempt to become more competitive, or short-term rentals of proven products who might have a good year or two left in them, but it is not where the good teams go to become champions.
On the first day of the legal negotiating period for free agency this year the Kansas City Chiefs, desperate to improve one of the NFL’s leakiest secondary’s made a big move for Tyrann Mathieu while 2018’s other three conference title game participants, New England, New Orleans and the L.A. Rams basically stood pat.
Yes, the Rams added Eric Weddle, but he is an inexpensive street free agent at this point of his career. Weddle was needed because the Rams will let Lemarcus Joyner – who they franchised last year – walk.
Among the four divisional playoffs losers the L.A. Chargers and Dallas Cowboys were quiet while Indianapolis added just Devin Funchess on a one-year prove it type deal and the Eagles picked up recently cut Malik Jackson.
Wild Card losers Houston, Baltimore and Seattle were also all quiet while the Chicago Bears tinkered with backups at cornerback and running back.
Twelve playoff teams came up with one dramatic move – Mathieu – and an interesting gamble on Funchess.
In the mean time bad football teams like the 49ers, Raiders, Jets and Lions are out there moving the marketplace.
As of this writing there are relatively few of the projectable difference makers – Le'Veon Bell, Earl Thomas, K.J. Wright, Ndamukong Suh, Justin Houston, Tevin Coleman, Ziggy Ansah - remaining free, and all of them with the exception of Coleman come with question marks around their age, durability and/or character in the case of Bell.
How many NFL teams can you think of that have actually used home runs in free agency to make a worst-to-first move or dramatic improvement in the standings?
I suppose you could say the Bears did last year with Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, Trey Burton and Chase Daniel but it was really the blossoming of young stars and the Khalil Mack trade that fueled their quantum leap.
NFL free agency is very much like those occasional 55-to-60 degree days that pop up in winter in Chicago, Boston or Minneapolis.
They’re a ton of fun and great while they last but there is little doubt they will have little or no long-term impact on the season.
The NFL’s best teams are almost always built from the ground up through the draft and development of young talent.
How’d that Kirk Cousins signing work out for the Vikings or the Nate Solder boondoggle work out in New York.
Josh Norman has made a big difference in Washington so why not go out and write an even dumber contract for Landon Collins?
Let me be one of the first to predict the Jets will still finish far enough behind the Patriots to be unable to collect any of their dust, and will also find themselves once again looking up at the Steelers in the overall standings who will be better for having shed Bell and Antonio Brown.
Good teams that selectively target one or two young veterans at reasonable prices to fit specific needs can make significant improvements via the free agent route.
When was the last time you heard about the Patriots or Seahawks a) being non-competitive or b) having salary cap limitations.
Seattle got tight against the cap a few years back trying to pay the “Legion of Boom” so what have they done?
They shed all their high priced talent while remaining a playoff team because they excel at the draft.
Sure, like the rest of you I’m still anxious to see how much money Bell ends up with and where he lands, or just how much some club ends up over-paying for Daryl Williams or Jordan Hicks.
But history tells us it will have little impact on separating the good teams from the bad when they start playing the game for real again this fall.