In N.F.L. Free Agency, Your Team Either Goes Broke or Stinks

In N.F.L. Free Agency, Your Team Either Goes Broke or Stinks

- in Football

Godwin and Chicago Bears receiver Allen Robinson were among the best players available before each received the dreaded franchise tag, a speed bump on the free market that allows teams to retain the rights to some would-be free agents for one year at a high-but-tightly-regulated salary. For Godwin, the franchise tag at least guarantees him a chance to catch passes from Brady and could perhaps mean a return to the Super Bowl. Robinson will be stuck celebrating the Bears’ 71st consecutive season of trying to replace Sid Luckman at quarterback.

Even without Robinson and Godwin, there’s a free-agent talent glut at receiver, including up-and-comers Kenny Golladay, Curtis Samuel and JuJu Smith-Schuster; veterans like Larry Fitzgerald, T.Y. Hilton and A.J. Green, and many others. Barrett headlines a deep pool of pass rushers along with Melvin Ingram, Bud Dupree, and Justin Houston. There are more quality players at these positions than solvent potential employers, and the free-agent ranks are growing because teams are still shedding salaries. For example, the Seattle Seahawks released pass rusher Carlos Dunlap on Monday, adding another job applicant to an already crowded field.

Supply and demand dictates that shrewd organizations will be able to sign quality players at deep discounts once the initial spending spree for big names like Barrett subsides. That is how the New England Patriots successfully operated from the dawn of the 21st century through last year’s signing of quarterback Cam Newton. The Jets are bound to figure out the secret one of these decades.

The dollar values of the contracts that will be announced next week are widely known to be the most imaginary numbers in all of free agency. N.F.L. contracts are typically bloated with non-guaranteed back-end money that provides bragging rights for players and agents and proration lodestones for cap alchemists. Linebacker Kyle Van Noy signed a reported four-year, $51 million contract with the Miami Dolphins last March. The team released him last week after one year, paying him about $15.5 million. Van Noy is now yet another veteran pass rusher seeking work.

As Brady and the Buccaneers illustrated last season, a judicious big-name signing or two can truly help a team that’s already stacked. Still, the best approach to free agency is typically to avoid it. In addition to bargain hunting for leftovers, successful franchises sign core players to extensions before they reach the market, then let veterans who have peaked sign elsewhere in exchange for the compensatory draft picks the N.F.L. doles out in its quest for perfect competitive balance.

Organizations that overspend during this time of year end up trapped in a binge-and-purge cycle of cutting past losses to make room for their next round of mistakes. For fans of teams like the Jets and Jaguars, who have endured years of misplaced spring hope, a quiet free agency period would be a truly exciting free agency period.

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