Free Agency: Winning formula or waste of money?


Feb 3, 2013; New Orleans, LA, USA; General view of the NFL logo after Super Bowl XLVII between the San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Today is the day. The day where owners hand general managers there checkbook and say, “Have at it!” The free agent frenzy is always a time for a harangue on who’s going where and who needs what. My question is this: Does a big signing really build a championship team? Did Vincent Jackson make the Bucs a Super Bowl contender last year? No. Will Mike Wallace (which all indications say he;s going there) make the Dolphins the team to beat in the AFC East? Not a chance. So why do the dollars flow and every fan go nuts on social networks claiming the missing piece has been signed? Let’s take a look at some free agency booms and busts.

In 1993 the Green Bay Packers were a team with a top tier wide receiver in Sterling Sharpe and a young brash quarterback in Brett Favre. What they needed was an identity, and they found that in the first big time free agent in NFL history. Reggie White was the anchor of Buddy Ryan’s tenacious defense in Philadelphia and arrived in Green Bay with much fanfare. White didn’t disappoint. Immediately after signing a $17 million deal, he changed the culture of the upcoming Packers. White anchored a dominating defense to go with the maturing Favre at quarterback and lead the Packers to a Super Bowl Championship in 1996 and another NFC Championship the following year. White’s years in Green Bay solidified his status as arguably the greatest defensive linemen to ever play the game and possibly the greatest free agent signing ever.

Where would the New Orleans Saints be without Drew Brees? It’s rare that a team can find a franchise quarterback via free agency, but that’s just what the Saints did in 2006. Following a torn labrum at the end of 2005 and the ascension of 2004 draft pick Phillip Rivers, the Chargers let Brees go and the Saints reaped the rewards. Brees helped rebuild the morale of the city following the catastrophic HUrricane Katrina and lead the Saints to a Super Bowl championship in 2009. While in New Orleans, Brees has amassed over 34,000 and 244 touchdowns. He also broke Dan Marino’s single season record for yards passing in a season. Not bad for a short quarterback with a bum shoulder.

You can probably fill the Library of Congress on bad Daniel Snyder signings, but the $100 million Albert Haynesworth has to be the epitome of bad signings. Haynesworth was an absolute monster in Tennessee, so Snyder opened up the vault to bring him to Washington in 2009. Not only was Haynesworth a 4-3 defensiive tackle coming into a 3-4 scheme, but he showed up to camp vastly overweight and it spiraled down from there. He begrudgingly met coach Shanahan’s demand to get in shape and play, and was far below the player he was in Tennessee. In fact, by the end of 2010 the Redskins had grown tired of his act and suspended him the final four games. They traded him to New England in the offseason for a sixth round draft pick. For the price tag, Haynesworth is the biggest free agent bust in NFL history.

Neil O’donnell was the quarterback of a very good Pittsburgh Steelers team that came up short in Super Bowl XXX to the Dallas Cowboys. Being from Long Island, it was no secret the New York Jets would be aggressive in their pursuit of O’donnell. They locked their “franchise” quarterback up with a five year $25 million contract that was disastrous from the start. Not only did he not have the talent surrounding him in New York as he had in Pittsburgh, but O’donnell seperated his shoulder and went 0-6 in his starts that season. The following year he went 8-6, but coach Bill Parcells decided to go with veteran Vinny Testaverde and O’donnell was sent packing to Cincinnati the next year.

There are plenty other booms and busts in the history of free agency in the NFL, but I decided to pick just those four. I mean who can forget Al Davis signing Larry Brown to a huge contract after his two gift interceptions from Neil O’donnell in Super Bowl XXX? Or the under the radar signing of Priest Holmes by the Kansas City Chiefs that paid huge dividends for them for many years. The fact of the matter is that free agency is a crap shoot. The question is, how much are you willing to lay on the table prior to rolling the dice?