The NFL’s first game isn’t for another six months, but free agency steals the headlines from all of the other major sports when big names move to another city. The Miami Dolphins are gambling, while the New England Patriots are holding their chips.
All teams are scrambling to find the best pieces for their chessboard. Football is the ultimate team sport, but this time of year the individual is the one who is in the spotlight.
Both sides are in a battle. Players are looking for pay and teams are looking for play. The balance is finding what players' performance-to-pay ratio will fit in their salary cap.
The general manager initially examines where the team stands heading into a season. If a team is rebuilding and their outlook isn’t a deep playoff run, spending that money for an older, proven veteran wouldn’t be wise. If a team has been in the hunt, they will look to either fill a position with what they need or which player is the best free agent on the market overall.
Some teams will try to make a free-agent splash in the spring, only for it to blow up in their faces come fall.
Charley Casserly is a veteran general manager who now works for the NFL Network. He was quoted about the Dolphins overpaying for Mike Wallace on the NFL Network Wednesday morning, saying:
“Is he overpaid? He’s absolutely overpaid. He’s not a premier top-top receiver in the (NFL). However, when you’re in free agency, you want a player you overpay for him. You have to adjust your other moves around those players.
"When we had a player we signed, if he was good and he was exactly what we thought he was gonna be, I never looked at what his number was. If he wasn’t what we thought he would be, I looked at his number every single day.”
If a player is older and health is a concern, teams will look for players to earn their pay with incentive-laden contracts instead of big money up front. Durability and prior injuries are why many of these players are cut from their former team.
Incentive contracts are insurance that if the player doesn’t reach performance goals the pay will decline. Many free agents are players who have been year-to-year All-Pro talent. Premier players use past accolades to advertise their worth.
Tough decisions have to be made by the players, too. For instance, look at Wes Welker. He has performed as a top receiver most likely due to Tom Brady. Instead of taking the deal from the Patriots which is substantially lower, he is looking for a payoff, it seems. If Welker moves like Wallace did, will they ever reach a Super Bowl? If they don't, would the move be in vain?
Welker is a great weapon for the Patriots system. That might not correlate on other teams because he isn’t a No. 1 receiver, but he's one of the best slot guys in the NFL. Many players get big-money deals only to play for a team that will never see glory. Players and general managers are both gambling on their future this week.
Ray Lewis was quoted on ESPN Radio’s The Herd with Colin Cowherd Wednesday about Mike Wallace, saying:
“Now you really get to see if your passion is what it supposed to be for the game y’know. Because once you got everything that you want, once you done signed your money, once you have your deals, OK now you’ve done made a transition and moved to another team. Now what’s next?”