Passion + Losing = Impatience – Part II
Early March usually is thought of a boring part of the NFL season; but it actually brings one thing Browns fans look forward to – free agency. This is a chance for teams to pick up good, proven players whose contract has expired and are seeking a change in their career. Some older veterans receive modest deals that tend to go unnoticed, while the “flashy” playmakers get huge contracts and grab headlines on sporting networks. This is where some Browns fans tend to gravitate to; they want to see their team get the big “splash” in free agency even though they are usually more than one player away from having a very good team.
After enduring multiple double-digit loss seasons, fans aspire to see someone who can come in and immediately improve the team. This leads to acquiring free-agents (as opposed to drafting a player, which typically includes a developmental period depending on position). This is another side effect of impatience which can cause the team being hamstrung if the player does not perform exceptionally.
There are a few reasons why signing high-priced free agents is typically not a good way to run a franchise. First, large contracts will prevent the team from signing other solid players which are important to depth. A team should not put all its eggs in one player’s basket and should be able to withstand injuries and underperformance by a few. Next, most of these players are likely free agents for a reason; locker room demeanor or play on the field could be worse than what the team (and fan base) was expecting. They could cause all kinds of headaches for the coaching staff and long suffering supporters who watch the product. Finally, for a young and upcoming team like the Browns, a sustainability of success lies in the draft not free agency. With one of the younger rosters (read my previous blog – Browns by the Numbers – Part II) the team will grow and mature together as a whole. Gaining an older veteran or two can help, but an NFL team should not be littered with them. After a few seasons these players are past their prime and the franchise will likely be on the hook for a large sum of money owed (which relates to the first point).
A reason to not acquire several free agents in one season is that they are not necessarily an indicator of future success. One only has to look at a few franchises’ recent track records to notice this trend. Teams like the Washington Redskins are known for annually signing high priced players like Albert Haynesworth, Deion Sanders, Dana Stubblefield, etc. while showing little success on the field (i.e. one playoff win in seven years). The Browns were guilty of this a few years ago when picking up players Kevin Shaffer, Trent Dilfer, Donte Stallworth, etc. Just because a team does well in March does not mean they will be better on the field in November. Ask Philadelphia Eagle fans how expectations were compared to reality during this past season (after signing Nnamndi Asomuaugh).
To further understand why free agency is less important than the draft, we must (again) look at the franchises in Baltimore and Pittsburgh. Each year the period of picking up players no longer under contract comes and goes while the front offices of the Ravens and Steelers rarely or never make headlines by picking up someone that will garner a huge contract and may still be a question mark in terms of production. Instead, these teams use the period to sign players on their own roster who have just become free agents and are seeking new deals. They have the luxury of those free agents already knowing the type of system run by the team, while they avoid having to overpay for players outside the organization. That is common occurrence for struggling teams like the Cleveland Browns looking for new personnel. Once a franchise has a few successful drafts, they should be set up for years to come; hence they ignore the impulsive move of expensively trying to replace past management missteps.
Free agency is a microcosm of impatience of professional football as a whole, and a quick fix now does not necessarily lead to immediate improvement and victories on a regular basis. Browns fans, look to the models of teams that know how to build and compete year in and year out; reckless moves should not be made just to appease their fans.