Who Wins in Free Agency?

chuck mitchellContributor IFebruary 20, 2010

ASHBURN, VA - JANUARY 06:  Mike Shanahan arrives at a press conference to be introduced as the new head coach of the Washington Redskins on January 6, 2010 in Ashburn, Virginia. Shanahan replaces former head coach Jim Zorn who was released January 4 following a 4-12 season.  (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Win McNamee/Getty Images


All NFL teams can learn a lesson from the Washington Redskins. They go out every year and spend mad dollars on top free agents, who simply put are just the most popular free agent.

Albert Haynesworth had some outstanding years here in Tennessee. He jammed up the middle and took away the opposing teams inside run game. He was a force to deal with. Teams had to game plan with different strategies on how to contain this force. He was doubled teamed most of the time.
Haynesworth came to the Titans through the draft. He played ball at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. He had tremendous upside when we drafted him. Through most of his college career, he stayed injured. He quickly found that in the NFL, you play the game when you are hurting. Once he attacked that issue, he became a good quality player for the titans D-line.

Then in October, against the Dallas Cowboys, he kicked one of their O-lineman in the face. That was the low point of his career. He received a four game suspension.
However after that incident, he really started to play great football. He remained healthy to a degree, and his presence helped the titans to become a great defensive unit. However he was just a piece of the puzzle. He made everyone else around him better. Everyone knows that when a defensive line puts pressure on a Quarterback, it makes the secondary look better.
The Titans put the franchise tag on him the last year he spent here in Tennessee. He wanted a long term deal, but the titans were hesitant. Do you give a 7 year veteran a fist full of cash, when he weighs 360 pounds? The titans could see the writing on the wall, and it spelled, “knee problems”. The titans offered him a deal but he declined it, and tried hitting the free agent market. I knew that there would be a team that would WOW him with a huge contract. That bozo team was the Washington Redskins.
In Washington, he did not have the same cast of players around him. The players in Tennessee made him a better player. For instance, in Tennessee they ran the ball and controlled the clock, keeping their defensive players well rested. This improved their play when they took the field. He didn’t have that in Washington.
What can we learn about free agency? Many teams overpay for free agents simply based on what they have done in the past. Sometimes it works, but most times it does not. Take for instance the signing of the great late Reggie White. If Green Bay doesn’t sign him, in my opinion they do not win a super bowl. He added that dominant presence to the packer’s defense.
Most times in free agency, teams overpay a veteran who is on the backside of his career, and then injuries set in. These teams that overpay these guys are then stuck paying a player LARGE sums of money to warm their bench. Teams should think of this before they think of diving head first into the free agent market.

I am a huge Titans fan, and many years they have been way under the salary cap, and fans (including myself) have thought they should make a big splash in free agency, but they have not. The Titans are a franchise that smartly signs “middle of the row” free agents, simply for the purpose to add quality depth. They don’t put all their eggs in one basket in free agency. When they are well under the salary cap, they use that money to resign their own players (usually 3rd to 4th year players). They help secure they teams future this way. They have pretty good luck this way.
Making a big splash in free agency is not always the way to go. Teams cannot build themselves through free agency; they must build through the draft and fill positions with quality, through free agency.