You remember the Philadelphia Eagles ‘Dream Team’ of 2011 don’t you? No, that’s because they never existed in the first place, yet you still know what I am referring to. The Eagles filled their roster with big name free agents in an attempt to make a good team great and failed miserably. The Eagles however are not the only ones to have tried and failed with this strategy. They need look no further than their divisional rival the Washington Redskins and ask owner Dan Snyder how all those high price free agent moves he made when free agency was in its infancy worked out for him. There are plenty of others too.
Teams generally make a big splash in free agency because they failed the year before. Tampa Bay tried the same thing last year, signing Vincent Jackson, Carl Nicks and Dallas Clark amongst others and still missed the playoffs. It comes at a high price and has high risk.
NFL fans love free agency, and are desperate for their team to sign the best available players in order to make their team a SuperBowl contender. At best it is a short term solution and solution is probably not even the right word for it. Regular playoff teams of the last five years have built their teams through the draft only adding the odd free agent to improve the team but also replace the experience that they may have just lost when a free agent of their own departs.
Take a look at the Ravens team that just won the SuperBowl, Joe Flacco, Ray Rice, Torrey Smith, Michael Oher, Ed Reed, Ray Lewis, Dennis Pitta amongst others all drafted by the Ravens topped up by free agent signing Jacoby Jones and Anquan Boldin was previously acquired via a trade.
Take AFC powerhouse the New England Patriots, almost everything they do in terms of player personal is done via the draft. Head Coach Bill Belichick, whilst with the Cleveland Browns all those years ago created a draft strategy that has been copied by disciples of Belichick and others who have come across it to this day. Belichick is the master of accumulating draft picks and is often willing to trade down the draft in order to acquire more draft picks.
Another down side to free agency can be the contracts dished out by teams desperate to improve their rosters. Take the Miami Dolphins for example they just gave former Steelers wide-out Mike Wallace a 5 year contract worth $60 million with $27 million guaranteed. That makes him the 4th highest paid receiver in the NFL. If you put together a list of the best 10 Wide Receivers in the game, Wallace would not be on it.
Don’t get me wrong, there is value to be had in free agency as much as there are busts in the draft but it’s still risky and comes at a high price. In terms of putting together a winning roster, to this point history will tell you that you do it via the draft. That is the way the NFL is built because that is the way the NFL wants it. If they wanted it any other way they wouldn’t have a salary cap.