NFL free agency’s day one is sure to result in buyer’s remorse for a majority of teams who happened to break the bank on this fine Tuesday, in what was a very typical first day of the shopping season. In a frantic, sometimes desperate effort to turn around the fortunes of a franchise, many NFL teams threw money around wildly at players who are unlikely to fulfill the expectations that come along with a massive contract.
NFL contenders are built through the draft and through development by the coaches with bits and pieces filled in via sound free agency decisions. The span of an NFL player’s career is short compared to other sports, so they must take every opportunity to get their big paydays before they are done. That being said, the likelihood of a team to get their money’s worth when they dole out tens of millions for a player are slim.
Among the most common signings of free agency are lower-tier teams overpaying for players on successful teams. The Cleveland Browns were the biggest culprits on day one, inking former Arizona Cardinals’ linebacker Karlos Dansby to a $24 million deal over four years. Dansby, 32, is coming off a career year in Arizona while playing on a one-year “prove it” type of deal. The odds of him giving Cleveland four more years of similar production are doubtful. Cleveland also landed 49ers safety Donte Whitner, also coming off a career year playing amongst a ruthless defense with a stellar linebacking corps to make him look better.
The Jacksonville Jaguars were also culprits on NFL free agency’s day one and are also sure to see their deals result in buyer’s remorse. They gave a three-year, $10.5 million deal to former Minnesota Vikings running back Toby Gerhart. Giving that kind of money to an unproven backup at the running back position is questionable considering how easy it is to strike gold in the running back pool with late draft picks these days. Gerhart was far from the best running back on the market as well. Jacksonville also shelled out $30 million for former Denver Broncos guard Zane Beadles.
Beadles’ deal is a classic case of a player from a great team taking advantage of a desperate cellar-dwelling club. Beadles had a down year, but saw his value inflated by being a part of the seemingly invincible Denver Broncos’ offense. Football is the ultimate team sport with great coaches and systems getting the most out of their players. Denver created Beadles much like they inflated wide receiver Eric Decker’s value.
Many times a player who has already experienced winning will take his chance to jump ship for a big payday just like Beadles. Last season, the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens saw their roster picked apart in free agency. Teams swarmed like vultures to overpay their players, like Dannell Ellerbe getting five years and $35 million from the Miami Dolphins or the aforementioned Browns giving Paul Kruger five years and $41 million. Giving pro bowl money to Baltimore’s third and fourth best linebackers was stupid then, and it is stupid now. Jacksonville already fell victim to this way of thinking this offseason by giving four years and $17 million to Seattle Seahawks defensive end Red Bryant.
It is hard to fault losing teams for spending money. Landing free agents is a solid way to improve, but overextending on day one of free agency is not the way to do it. Players going from good teams to bad teams by result of a gigantic payday rarely works out. However, fans always think they know best and could do fantastic jobs as general managers. We will never know that truth, but from an observer’s standpoint it is hard to justify many of the moves made in NFL free agency, such as the Chicago Bears cutting potential hall-of-fame defensive end Julius Peppers in order to sign defensive end LaMarr Houston away from the Oakland Raiders for five years and $35 million, he of the career-high six sacks last season. Peppers has had less than six sacks one time in his 12 seasons.
NFL free agency day one is sure to result in buyer’s remorse for many teams involved, but it is part of the game. It is an exciting time for franchises and fans to make immediate improvements to their respective rosters, but that doesn’t validate the rampant spending on day one. The smarter teams will reap the benefits after weathering the initial storm and watching desperate teams clog up cap space with overrated talents, leaving plenty of reasonable stars to be had for a smaller paycheck.
Commentary by Justin Hussong