Free Agency & The NFL Draft: Two Sides Of The Same Coin


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We’re just a few hours from the start of the new league year and it’s time to rehash a perennial debate. Every year around this time fans, journalists, analysts, and experts debate the best way for a front office to build a championship team in the NFL. Some believe the league’s annual draft has to be the cornerstone of a viable Super Bowl contender. For others, free agency plays an equally significant role in assembling a championship-caliber group. Is there a right answer? I believe there is, and I think it’s entirely obvious. The short answer is “yes”…free agency matters!

Let’s take a look at the rosters of the two teams that met in Super Bowl XLVIII. Each of them received major contributions from players acquired via free agency. Note the following list of players:

Denver

    1. C Manuel Ramirez
    2. CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie
    3. DE Shaun Phillips
    4. DT Terrance Knighton
    5. G Louis Vasquez
    6. QB Peyton Manning
    7. S Mike Adams
    8. WR Wes Welker

    Denver lost the Super Bowl so this list might not appropriately make the case that free agency is a key component in crafting a champion. Fair enough, let’s take a look at the Super Bowl-winning Seattle Seahawks:

    Feb 2, 2014; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin (89) is tackled by Denver Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey (24) in the second half in Super Bowl XLVIII at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

    Seattle

    1. DE Cliff Avril
    2. DT Michael Bennett
    3. DT Tony McDaniel
    4. TE Zach Miller

    The list is only half as long in the Seattle case, but each of those four players had a big hand in bringing the Lombardi Trophy back to “The Evergreen State” for the first time in franchise history. In all, a dozen players helped usher their respective teams onto the national stage in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

    The key to long-term success is player evaluation and a good balance of both free agency and the NFL Draft. If you rely solely upon either tool, and have trouble effectively scouting collegiate and professional talent, you run the risk of an extensive stay in the cellars of the NFL. Six of one makes you the Detroit Lions of the recent past. Half-a-dozen of the other makes you the Washington Redskins of the past ten years. Neither team has anything meaningful to show for their draft and free agency efforts.

    Achieving balance in the NFL requires a general manager to be mindful of the talent available in each pool. Teams that need wide receiver help, for example, might find that the NFL Draft is the better way to obtain it in 2014. May’s draft will have one of the deepest collegiate classes of wide receivers available in recent memory. Conversely, there are only few marquee names on the open market in this year’s crop of free agent wideouts. Front offices are faced with either getting into a bidding war for the services of Eric Decker or waiting two months and making a Radio City Music Hall run at Sammy Watkins, Marqise Lee, or Mike Evans.

    Here’s what Green Bay Packers GM Ted Thompson had to say about building an NFL team:

    Building a team is an imperfect process. We believe that drafting and developing is the best way to go, particularly in a salary cap-oriented system. However, in the right situations, free agency can really help you. Trades help. Bottom line is, no matter how you do it, sometimes you’ve got to get lucky.

    skyboxthompson04p.jpg

    Finding talent that will help take your football team to the next level is quite the gamble. Even after you’ve found a player that piques your interest, there are still a number of variables to consider. Are you nabbing a player whose numbers are the sole by-product of a successful offensive/defensive system or will he have scheme versatility? Is an older player quietly approaching the proverbial wall and headed for a dropoff in his productivity? It’s hard to tell in March.

    Daniel Snyder knows a thing or two about bad free agency luck. His Washington Redskins are responsible for four of the worst free agent signings in the history of the league. Between Albert Haynesworth, Adam Archuleta, Deion Sanders, and Dana Stubblefield (though Snyder didn’t arrive until the year after Stubblefield was signed), the ‘Skins offered a sum of $224 million dollars in contracts to that player quartet. In return, those players only logged seven combined years of service time to the organization. Washington wrote the book on how to fail in free agency.

    John Dorsey comes from an organization that believes in using both free agency and the draft as a way to build an NFL team. The Chiefs are likely to find a few solid pieces this month to shore up holes on the roster, but they’re also going to need help when May rolls around. In all likelihood, they’ll need immediate contributions from players in both pools if they’re to return to the postseason in 2014.

    What say you, Addicts? How important is free agency to building a winning culture in the National Football League? Will a modest free agent class in Kansas City be the precursor to a setback for the Chiefs? Is the NFL Draft a more suitable option for filling the holes on the roster in 2014? Use the comment section below to let us know what you think. As always, we appreciate your readership and support!

    Until next time, Addicts!

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    • Brian Dempsey

      Everybody knew this offseason was going to be a tinder box & the Chiefs were not going to be big spenders in FA and they were going to lose some players. And let’s not kid ourselves. 11-5 was nice last year, but the 2nd half of the season revealed that the team really is still in the rebuild mode.

      • Stacy D. Smith

        Teams that win 11 games aren’t rebuilding. There’s certainly room to grow though. A part of getting over the hump will require help at safety. If we can shore that up, we can stick to the press coverage schemes that Sutton likes to run.

        • Troy Utt

          You are oh so correct Reach…Reid & Dorsey told us KC was not in the rebuilding mode, but would put a competitive team on the field!
          Between cap carry-over & the money in the coffers we had plenty to work with during FA, this year is a diff story!
          It’s almost sad as the final hours ticks down… I keep checking back to see if by any stroke of luck I can click to find that the Chiefs have somehow managed to resign any portion of their OL? Perhaps freed up some extra money to work with, or anything that shows signs of life??? But it’s actually gotten quite depressing this year…
          I can appreciate working within our means, but it would have been easier to accept had we done this last year rather than making a push & then a purge & plea…
          I’m hoping the off-season gets better from here?!

          • Stacy D. Smith

            I wouldn’t get down about anything yet. There’s still a long way to go before this thing is over. It is a bit deflating though to see homegrown talent get away from the org. I’ve been trying to get people ready for that all offseason, but it’s going to take time to adjust. We’ve not been in this position often. I’m not worried though. This team can still put themselves in good position to succeed in 2014. Give it time.

            • Priest4Prez

              I wasn’t ready Stacy…I’m still not

            • Stacy D. Smith

              Be cool, P4P.

            • berttheclock

              Stacy, the CBA has changed the entire scheme of building an organization. The agreement to cut rookie salaries ended up really hurting older players. It has become cheaper to build and stay within the cap by signing as many rookies as possible. The only area which has helped the veterans is that first extension to their rookie salaries. That is when players can make money by the amount of guaranteed money obtained in the new contract. Few of them will ever see the full amount of the contract ever paid out, as many of them will cut in a future March, when, they are aging a bit and teams have to pay them large amounts. Then, they will be cut and the teams will look for two things . More rookies and less payments to those older players who have been cut. As a result of this, there will be few dynasties in the league and the winners will be the teams with GMs who are the best talent evaluators while wearing their green visors of CPA hats.

            • Stacy D. Smith

              In some cases, I think that’ll be true. In others, you’ll see coaches opt for older, cheap, and reliable over younger, cheap, and unproven. Guys like Jason Avant will still get jobs in this league because they provide a degree of security few rookies can right out of the gate.

            • Troy Utt

              I was prepared for a reduced FA period as opposed to last season.
              But man… I did not expect us to completely stand pat and watch basically all of our FA’s walk??? Most / some we expected, but the totality of the off-season class just caught me off guard! I figured at the very least the brass would restructure & keep the OL in tact. As it stands now we are either creating more holes or conceding? On one hand all you have left to fill out the OL (at guard) are a cast of roster bottom dwellers from other teams, practice squad players, or street signings… At the same time knowing we must keep approx $5.5mil in reserve to sign our draft prospects, does not leave much room/hope for any additional players.
              On the other hand without mortgaging the future at this point it feels an awful lot like conceding…

            • Stacy D. Smith

              The market is favorable this offseason and I don’t think anyone could’ve predicted the level of interest there would be in Asamoah. I’ve said all offseason that Schwartz’s interviews gave me the impression that he was out for a payday and some real security (outside of Kansas City). I think they like the guy, but I don’t think they were interested in throwing a bunch of money at him. With that went all of Kansas City’s leverage in getting Asamoah re-signed. He held all of the cards because he was the only starting-caliber player left with other teams hot on his trail. I get the feeling now that Reid wasn’t high on Asamoah. He lost his job to Schwartz, as the better pass protector, in a pass-happy offense. The writing may have already been on the wall for him.

              It’s STILL not time to panic. While I hate losing both of them, they play the same position so one transaction will fill the vacancy at right guard. There are affordable options available. There’s also the NFL Draft.

              Free agency just started a few seconds ago. Let Dorsey cook.

        • Brian Dempsey

          Oh yes they are. Look no further than the 2010 Chiefs for proof. This current Chiefs team still has many areas that can be upgraded. This team hasn’t arrived just yet as a year in & year out contender and they lost all 6 meetings against Manning, Rivers, and Luck. You can forget that 9-0 start, as they were just as lucky as they were good throughout that stretch. And safety isn’t the biggest Defensive need, it’s a 3-4 DE that can attack the QB and it isn’t going to matter who’s playing Safety if the Chiefs don’t build an elite Defensive front 7 in front of them.

          • Stacy D. Smith

            12 players from that 2010 team are still on the Chiefs roster for the next 2 hours. That seems to be at odds with the idea that they were rebuilding. That team had a solid core it added significant pieces to. It just didn’t work out because the quarterback stunk.

            This situation with this regime is fairly similar. The loss of several free agents doesn’t signal a rebuild. They’ll bring in players to supplement their losses.
            The fact that we lost six games, to three teams that all won at least one game in the AFC postseason tournament, doesn’t mean the 9-0 start was a complete anomaly. It simply means the team isn’t good enough yet.

            Safety’s a bigger need, in my estimation, because we have NOTHING in the cupboard. At DE we have Bailey AND Catapano. Both have shown a passrushing skillset. We may not be good enough at that spot, but we have options. We have NOTHING at safety.

            • Brian Dempsey

              Catapano & Bailey are no more proven commodities at DE than Commings and Abdullah at FS, as neither have a done a whole lot in NFL as of yet. They can get a serviceable FS via FA, and it’s doubtful that Dorsey/Reid are going to reach at that position. They value the big guys up front much more. And Dorsey/Reid really like Commings and are wanting to give him a chance at FS and if he stays healthy, he’s got as much talent and physical ability as any Safety in the 2014 draft.

              You yourself said “the team isn’t good enough yet”. That tells me they are still in the process of rebuilding and I know I’m not alone in that thought.

            • Stacy D. Smith

              Bailey and Catapano are unproven in the sense that they’ve never held down a starting role, but they’ve both seen live NFL action and shown a passrushing skillset in limited opportunities. Abdullah, while he doesn’t count because he’s on that list of pending free agents, is a known commodity in this league. He’s a former starter. Commings? Complete unknown. No argument there.

              The team isn’t where it needs to be, but I still wouldn’t call that a “rebuild.” It appears we define that term in very different ways.

            • Brian Dempsey

              Okay, let me put it this way. The previous regimes burnt the house down with decisions that they made resulting in the Chiefs having the worst record of any AFC team from 2007 — 2012. Dorsey/Reid are currently at work trying to rebuild the house & one can easily see the house isn’t rebuilt, yet.

            • Stacy D. Smith

              Again, we clearly define the process of rebuilding in different ways. You don’t start a rebuild with a 29-year old quarterback. I would use the word “retooling.”

            • Brian Dempsey

              You do when you give up two 2nd-rounders to acquire that 29-year QB’s services as opposed to already having had him on your roster for several years. He’s part of the foundation, now. The rebuild of the house is still in progress.

            • Stacy D. Smith

              Trading picks for elder players is even more at odds with the standard rebuild philosophy. It’s typically the other way around (trading players for picks).

              We’ll agree to disagree on this one, sir.

            • Brian Dempsey

              I’m not giving an opinion here, I’m stating a fact. Look at the roster turnover that occurred last year & will probably continue on for proof of that.

            • Stacy D. Smith

              Agreeing to disagree. #tipshat

    • Tony Parker

      With our cap position the way it is and how many FA’s we have, at key positions I might add, this is a huge blunder by mgmt. I can’t drink enough of your Kool-Aid to change my mind on that.
      It’s not previous mgmt. that made this happen but the current one.
      This is a bad situation we are in…..God help our Chiefs…

      • Stacy D. Smith

        Tell me what you would’ve done differently.

        • Tony Parker

          I would have tried to sign an O-line man or two during the season, not Albert, I would not have given a huge contract to Bowe, and hindsight being 20/20, I would have been right.
          ok, I’m ranting now, but seriously Stacy, I am not an NFL Gm by any means but I have been a stout fan of the Chiefs since ’90.
          It seems that mgmt. has not attempted to sign anybody and is now leaving us with tonnes of holes to fill through the draft unless we pay a bunch of scrubs like we did last year in FA’y.
          I really commend you for being the level headed, reasonable, all will be ok type, but this is frustrating.
          We trade two 2nd rounders for AS and now we won’t have an O-line to protect him. You cannot get the “double discount” guys to come in and be a formidable unit to protect our QB.

          • Stacy D. Smith

            Let’s play that out.

            I’m not sure what linemen, in-season, would’ve been suitable replacements for either Albert, Schwartz, or Asamoah. If Bowe hadn’t been signed, he would’ve become a free agent and that would’ve set off an entirely different chain reaction. We’d also be looking for legitimate starters at both wide receiver spots.

            I haven’t made any predictions. I’m simply reserving judgment.

            I see real reasons why Albert and McCluster weren’t re-signed. There’s only so much money to go around. My earlier point about Schwartz and Asamoah made re-signing one or both of them really tricky.