The start of the NFL calendar year on March 12th epitomizes new beginnings. On the surface this sentiment has an enchanting ring to it. But NFL general managers know better than to ignore the dangers of this potentially toxic time period.
To be fair, free agency provides an exciting look into the business side of football.
Roger Goddell has admirably and successfully made the NFL a relevant brand 365 days a year. This has simultaneously elevated the importance of free agency in the eyes of the fans and media. Well done, Mr. Commissioner.
Those who believe free agency is a pivotal time in the NFL calendar are operating under false pretenses, however.
For every game-changing Peyton Manning signing that occurs, there are dozens of stories of overpriced busts crippling a franchise during free agency. Nnamdi Asomugha and Albert Haynesworth are just the tip of this behemoth iceberg.
Free agency has become an overrated and dangerous endeavor for NFL general managers; one that has ultimately cost many their jobs.
The biggest question to ask when examining free agency is simply, "why do general managers still ignore the pitfalls?"
The prevailing reason GM's fail to restrict themselves during free agency is because of the pressure they feel to succeed. This is predominantly what "feeds the beast."
Front-office personnel around the league are expected to build contenders. When a general manager is given three years to turn around a struggling team, there are typically two distinct paths they can take.
The shortcut and effectively easiest way to try and improve your team is to sign top-tier free agents.
This basically is achieved by throwing big money at a player who's had marked success during his career. For example, the Buffalo Bills signed Mario Williams last offseason to a six-year deal worth nearly $100 million.
The Giants have seen this model used right in their backyard with the New York Jets. Most importantly, the three other teams in the NFC East have fancied this model.
The Eagles built what was hailed as a "Dream Team" two seasons ago. Needless to say, there was some truth to this nickname following the impact signings of Nnamdi Asomugha, Jason Babin and Cullen Jenkins. The team slept through large portions of each of the past two seasons due to irrelevance.
Jerry Jones has used his deep pockets trying to build a contender in Big D. Thus far, free agents such as Brandon Carr haven't brought him any closer to a championship.
Washington has begun the process of building around young players, most notably RG3. Of all these teams, however, the Redskins might be the most active pursuant of free agents on an annual basis.
The opposite school of thought for general managers is to remain coy during free agency.
More often than not, a foundation built through the NFL draft will show signs of promise. The New York Giants are proof of this fact.
Head coach Tom Coughlin will call upon homegrown talent to rebound from a disappointing 2012 season (if you don't believe me take a look at this). Jerry Reese is aware of this fact. That is why the Giants typically avoid making a big splash in March, instead focusing their attention on drafting supremely talented prospects from the collegiate ranks.
With the overrated nature of free agency already established, teams must figure out the best way to be successful in their personnel decisions.
The best way the Giants can have a productive run in free agency this March is by re-signing their own players.
There are innumerable benefits to bringing back a player, especially one who has been on winning teams in the past.
Familiarity with a coach's system and fellow teammates is the premier profit. A player bypasses the process of moving his family, finding a good school system for his kids and settling into a new environment when he decides to stick with his old team. Coaches also appreciate the fact that they avoid having to deal with a new personality and playing style.
General managers can often retain their players for much less money than other free agents.
While the trend is volatile, engaging players in talks of discounted rates is worthwhile. A team with salary cap concerns can benefit tremendously from these types of negotiations.
If a player refuses to go for a hometown discount, the logical alternative is to pursue affordable veterans on the market. These vets normally fall through the cracks and come with small price tags.
Filling needs eradicates weaknesses on the roster and allows the Giants to continue the trend of drafting the best available player in April.
Another important benefit to the patient and frugal approach to free agency is the surprising benefits a team can experience on the field.
Martellus Bennett is a perfect example of this prevailing theory. Bennett fortuitously filled a need for New York on a modest one-year $2.5 million contract in 2012.
The Giants have been one of the NFL's pioneering practitioners of navigating free agency with caution. This strategy has elevated Jerry Reese as one of the league's premier general managers. It has also developed a solid nucleus for the present and future.
When the clock strikes midnight on March 12th, do not expect New York to make a splash. Jerry Reese knows about the pitfalls of free agency. Thankfully for Giants' fans, he also knows how to avoid them.
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