The common misconceptions of free agency
Each spring, many NFL fans tend to succumb to amnesia and get overtly excited for free agency. This is especially true for less than spectacular franchises (record-wise) like the Browns, who are coming off yet another 4 – 12 season. While this portion of the NFL season is very important, this is not the time for front offices to try to transform their roster from continual losers to perennial Super Bowl contenders. However, some get caught up in the media frenzy – let’s dispel a couple myths that surround free agency.
Underachieving teams should place no limits on getting better during free agency
Clearly, the goal of any organization is to improve on a daily basis. One way to accomplish this in professional football is to acquire talented athletes to fill out the roster. However, teams must be careful when selecting guys to join their squad. This is true no matter if that team is the New England Patriots or Jacksonville Jaguars. Acquiring a talented prospect like Jairus Byrd would have strengthened the Cleveland Browns’ secondary immensely, but would that move have changed the franchise’s fortunes? The odds are against it, and therefore salaries should be allocated elsewhere (which will be the case), especially in parts of the team that impact the game more regularly – i.e. quarterback, pass rusher, left tackle, etc.
Getting game changers is a way to win before the season starts
This refers to wide receivers, running backs (to a lesser extent as of late), quarterbacks, or secondary personnel on a football team. Again, there’s no doubt these athletes will bolster a roster, but the price tag might be extremely hefty with these guys who are unlikely the best at their position – otherwise they would not be free agents. Teams like the Browns can still upgrade their rosters with skilled players at these spots but they should sign reserves or part-time starters to modest salaries. Franchises must go for the “home runs” in the draft – where they can work with young guys and mold them into playmakers, who then earn huge contracts after re-signing with the franchise that drafted them.
Veteran athletes are wise investments
Unless a team is like the Denver Broncos, and they sign Wes Welker, it’s extremely hard to justify why an NFL franchise ought to wrap up a top-dollar free agent. Can a single guy join a dominant team and propel them to win the Super Bowl? It has happened before (i.e. Reggie White, Shannon Sharpe, and Drew Brees to name a few), but the Browns should not roll the dice. A veteran like Jay Cutler, who was re-signed by the Bears (at $18 million per year over seven seasons), does not seem like the best quarterback for a team who has missed the playoffs (under his watch) each of the past three seasons. Therefore, while some bargain options can be worthwhile most veterans are “buyer beware”.
Conclusion: I view free agency as the walls and siding of a house; they are extremely important in the building of a house but there are other important aspects that are necessary. This May, the Browns need to find their bricks/foundation (franchise quarterback), a masterpiece artwork (an offensive game changer), and a solid room or two (linemen and linebackers) in the upcoming draft. The athletes the Browns choose are not guaranteed to excel, but the odds are better that they will produce better than some free agents available now.