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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