Many NFL fans have undoubtedly heard of the saying, “Every big-money free agent signed in the offseason means just another bust on a high draft pick.” Of course, there are very few absolutes in professional sports, but this particular instance rings true more often than not.
Just sit back and think about it for a second. Why would a NFL team NEED to go out and overpay for an unrestricted free agent in the first place?
Say a team “misses” on a pass rusher, or a starting caliber running back, or a left tackle in consecutive drafts with their early picks. The pressure then mounts on that team to find that much needed pass rusher, or starting caliber running back, or left tackle via veteran free agency. So when free agency opens before the draft, it’s these desperate teams that must fill their needs by ridiculously overpaying for that position. And it happens every single offseason by a high number of teams, particularly this offseason.
Is this potential Justin Durant (former Jaguars and Lions linebacker who visited Valley Ranch Monday and reportedly agreed to terms of a two-year contract) signing a desperate move? Would we be overpaying for his services? With currently just over $100,000 in cap space to sign the 27-year-old, overpaying is probably out of the question.
Rather, the underrated Durant will come in under a modest deal to compete with Alex Albright, Kyle Wilber and recently re-signed linebacker Ernie Sims for the other outside linebacker spot opposite of Bruce Carter (assuming Carter plays the WILL and Sean Lee plays the MIKE in Monte Kiffin’s 4-3 scheme as expected). The addition is a good depth signing while also allowing him to compete for a starting linebacker spot.
Last year alone we signed seven unrestricted free agents in the first two weeks of free agency, two of which (safety Brodney Pool and linebacker Dan Connor) are no longer with the team. Another two (Guards Mackenzy Bernadeau and Nate Livings) were shaky starters at best. We received little to no production out of fullback Lawrence Vickers and back-up quarterback Kyle Orton played in just one game vs. the Bears. The last guy, cornerback Brandon Carr, got paid $50 million dollars and proved to be a solid starter, but $50 million dollars should equate to more than just solid.
Of course our miserable 2009 draft, where we “missed” on seemingly the entire draft class (twelve players drafted and not a single player remains with the club) aided that free agent frenzy last offseason.
Have we had our share of GOOD free agent signings?
Of course we have, but for every Kyle Kosier, we have had a Marco Rivera or three. For every La’Roi Glover, we have had a Jason Ferguson or four. The bad signings just greatly outnumber the good signings. And both poor drafts and missing on high draft picks have contributed to many of them.
Bad free agent signings? Everybody remembers the likes of Chris Warren, Eddie George, Joey Galloway, Ryan Leaf and of course the famous Mike Vanderjagt (or as I like to call him Mike “Vander-shank”). I doubt Jerry ever spends big money on a free agent kicker again.
The point is you simply cannot solely rely on free agency to fill your needs every offseason, and the perennial playoff contenders consistently avoid this trap. You must hit on a high number of your draft picks to avoid the high price tags for unrestricted free agents. The more “misses” you have in the draft, the more money you are paying to guys that turn out to be “free agent busts.”
And despite all of Jerry Jones’ doubters, he has put together some decent draft classes since that dreadful 2009 debacle (perhaps the worst draft in franchise history by the way).
There are usually only two reasons that teams don’t often make a “big splash” in veteran free agency; either they draft exceptionally well every year or they simply don’t have the cap space to do so.
I think we all know what boat we fall in this particular offseason, which puts even more emphasis on landing quality draft picks next month. After all, “big splashes” in free agency rarely lead to playoff success. Just ask the Eagles and Redskins.