Breathe, people. Breathe.
Yes, NFL free agency starts Saturday when teams are allowed to begin contacting players from other teams. Yes, players can begin signing Tuesday. Yes, every media outlet in the country will immediately knee-jerk every team into two black-and-white piles for winners and losers.
But if you find your blood pressure rising with unrealistic fantasies of your favorite team buying Super Bowl XLIX before St. Patrick’s Day, take a deep breath, close your eyes and ask yourself three things:
1. Whatever became of that “Dream Team” the Eagles bought in March 2011? Answer: #nightmare.
2. Who won the first week of free agency in 2013 and how many actual on-the-field victories did it translate into? Answer: Dolphins, one (6-10 to 7-9).
3. Which five words might best describe why Redskins owner Dan Snyder doesn’t have a Lombardi Trophy? Answer: Impatience, free agency and Albert Haynesworth.
Some have described the start of free agency as Christmas morning. And, yes, there are some treasures to be found. But realistically, if Santa were in charge, he wouldn’t take the really good toys — Greg Hardy, Jimmy Graham, Brian Orakpo, etc. — out of the sleigh before departing the North Pole.
With the salary cap at $133 million — $10 million above last year’s total — and expected to keep climbing in future years, most teams have ample room to (over)pay players they like now and release them without too many financial entanglements if they fall short of expectations (see Carlson, J.). The Vikings have about $34 million in cap space and two primary needs: offense and defense.
Heading into free agency, it’s probably better to have a not-to-do list than a to-do list. Here’s one person’s guideline:
1. No 30-year-olds. Thirty isn’t the new 25. Thirty is too old and too close to the proverbial NFL wall to be flirting with.
2. No running backs. Sorry, Toby. Sorry, Knowshon. But good running backs can be found younger and cheaper on Day 3 of the draft or among the pool of rookie free agents.
3. No receivers if you don’t have a franchise quarterback. With few exceptions, quarterbacks make receivers good, not vice versa. If you think a high-priced receiver will make your marginal quarterback look good, chances are you’re going to end up with two problems: a marginal quarterback and an unhappy high-priced receiver.
4. No sentimental moves based on past performance or locker room leadership. Sorry, Kevin Williams.
5. No players currently in or possibly on their way to Commissioner Roger Goodell’s woodshed. A lot of NFL players are future behavioral risks. Why take ones who already have a history of letting their teams down? Sorry, Brandon Browner. Sorry, Jerome Simpson.
6. No aging pass rusher unless he’s the missing piece. Jared Allen makes no sense for the Vikings. He makes a lot of sense for the Patriots.
7. No injury-prone guys, even nagging injuries. Sorry, Aqib Talib.
8. No overpaying overrated “system” guys. This is a tough one to determine because players generally play better with better players and coaches around them. But here’s where it pays to have talent evaluators who not only can spot talent but can translate how it fits or doesn’t fit their specific team. No offense to former Gopher Eric Decker, but is he really a No. 1 receiver in waiting for a huge payday following a career year? Or is he more the product and extension of Peyton Manning’s brilliance? Personally, it would be hard to open the vault too wide after that one catch for 6 yards in the Super Bowl.
9. No panic moves. By rule, teams have to spend at least an average of 89 percent of the cap over the four-year period from 2013 to 2016. But don’t spend just to spend. Free agency is only one piece of the puzzle. John Abraham was a leftover scrap that signed with the Cardinals in training camp last summer. He went on to have 11½ sacks.
10. No extending the “potential” on guys based purely on height, weight, speed and what the prototypical player at their position is supposed to look like. Sorry, Chris Cook.