Free agency not quick cure-all for suffering NFL teams

  • Article by: MARK CRAIG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 11, 2012 - 1:30 AM

The record of free-spending teams is not as impressive as those built from the ground up.

Houston defensive end Mario Williams (90) has two things in common with Peyton Manning: He is coming off injury, and he figures to land a megadeal in free agency.

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Before all of us overreact -- and oh, how you know we will -- let's try to remember that NFL free agency is a minefield that's best served when picked through judiciously rather than romped across with the misguided notion that the billionaire with the fattest wallet can buy the next Lombardi Trophy.

Through the years, several teams, most notably the Washington Redskins under owner Dan Snyder, have failed on the field and against the salary cap after succumbing to their combination of wealth and impatience. They've been declared "winners" of free agency only to end up losers when the objective competition begins in the fall.

Just eight months ago, the Philadelphia Eagles were considered the NFL's "Dream Team." They came out of the 4 1/2-month lockout and dived checkbook-first into a hurried free-agency period. Hitting home runs like Hank and Harmon, the Eagles walked off with cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha (five years, $60 million), defensive end Jason Babin (five years, $28 million) and defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins (five years, $25 million), among others.

Meanwhile, the pundits were unkind to the New York Giants, another NFC East team, whose 2011 roster was built without General Manager Jerry Reese doing public cannonballs off the free-agency high dive.

One critic declared, "When your biggest news ... is signing [backup quarterback] David Carr, your team has issues. ... The Giants don't seem even interested in getting better through free agency."

As we all know, the Dream Team missed the playoffs and the Giants won their second Super Bowl in five seasons. Funny how often things work out that way in the NFL.

Funny how often the teams that build primarily through the draft -- the Green Bay Packers, Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots included -- win championships.

But here we go again. Free agency starts at 3 p.m. Tuesday. Several teams will have considerable cap room on players that are unwanted by their current teams. Although a team's salary cap figure can change quickly based on transactions made before free agency, at least 15 teams reportedly will have more than $20 million to spend, led by the Cincinnati Bengals at about $58 million.

In the NFC North, the Chicago Bears lead the way with about $27 million. The Vikings are about $24 million under the cap after clearing close to $14 million with Saturday's release of veterans Steve Hutchinson, Anthony Herrera and Cedric Griffin. The Packers have about $10 million to spend, while the Detroit Lions have about $2 million or less.

Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman will be selective in free agency but definitely will kick the tires on some of the younger models. Recently given final say on all personnel matters, he's made it clear he prefers using draft picks to fuel a youth movement in the wake of last year's 3-13 season. Rebuilding that sort of foundation typically doesn't mesh with the quick-fix nature of free agency, but that doesn't mean Spielman won't be looking for younger players at positions of need, particularly cornerback, receiver and -- given Saturday's transactions -- guard.

"You're hoping that you're always drafting and keeping the guys you draft as you bring them up through your system," Spielman said. "If you're able to keep those guys, I think that's the best way to do it.

"But if there is a free agent out there that you think is unique, or a trade like when we traded for Jared Allen, if something pops up like that, then you try to go ahead and do that if you can."

By last Monday, a record 21 teams had used their franchise tags to significantly reduce the strength of what might have been the best free-agency class ever. But two days later, the Indianapolis Colts released four-time NFL MVP Peyton Manning into the free-agency pool. Because he was released, Manning was immediately available as the most high-profile free agent since Reggie White kicked off the current era of free agency in 1993.

Among those about to join Manning in signing a megadeal somewhere are Houston Texans defensive end/outside linebacker Mario Williams, an elite 27-year-old pass rusher who has missed 14 games because of injuries the past two seasons; New Orleans Saints left guard Carl Nicks, a 26-year-old multiple All-Pro destined to become the highest-paid guard in the league; San Diego Chargers receiver Vincent Jackson, a 6-5, 230-pound No. 1 receiver with a 17.5-yard career average per catch; and Packers quarterback Matt Flynn, whose two NFL starts include franchise single-game passing records for touchdowns (six) and yards (480) in a season-ending victory over the Lions.

Also available are receiver and Super Bowl hero Mario Manningham of the Giants, Colts receivers Pierre Garcon and Reggie Wayne, Saints receiver Marques Colston, Titans cornerback Cortland Finnegan and Chiefs cornerback Brandon Carr, a 25-year-old who had four interceptions in 2011.

Teams also have the option of dipping into restricted free agency. The most coveted player in that pool will be Steelers receiver Mike Wallace, a 25-year-old deep threat with 2,439 yards and 18 touchdowns over the past two seasons. The Steelers can match any offer and would get a first-round draft pick if they choose not to.

"This is a very big free-agency class," Atlanta Falcons General Manager Thomas Dimitroff said. "I do believe there is going to be a lot of movement because of the sheer numbers of this year's class. People really like that we're going back to having free agency before the draft, unlike last year. It allows us to make moves in free agency and it really takes the stress over the precariousness of how the draft is going to land."

Feel free to get excited as the flurry of activity begins on Tuesday. Just don't get too excited. Try to remember some of these guys:

• Larry Brown. The MVP of Super Bowl XXX, he went from the Dallas Cowboys to the Oakland Raiders in 1996. He had two interceptions in the Super Bowl and just one in his two seasons with the Raiders. He finally was released and rejoined the Cowboys.

• Javon Walker. In 2008, the Raiders simply ignored Walker's history of knee injuries with the Packers. They paid dearly for it. Walker made $21 million while lasting only 11 games in Oakland.

• Antonio Bryant. In 2010, the Bengals did the same thing when it came to Bryant's knee injury with the Cowboys the year before. Bryant was released along with his $8 million guarantee before the start of the season.

• Albert Haynesworth. The giant defensive tackle became the king of free-agent flops when he left the Tennessee Titans for the Redskins in 2009. He got a seven-year, $100 million deal with $41 million guaranteed.

Most, if not all of us, were very excited at the time. We instantly declared the Redskins a "winner" in free agency.

Haynesworth lasted two miserable seasons in Washington before being released. He had 6 1/2 sacks on two teams that finished last in the NFC East.

  • related content

  • Charting NFL free agency

    Saturday March 10, 2012

    This is a particularly picky ranking of 15 premium players who will be available in free agency.

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Cleveland 11/23/14 12:00 PM
Atlanta
Tennessee 11/23/14 12:00 PM
Philadelphia
Detroit 11/23/14 12:00 PM
New England
Green Bay 11/23/14 12:00 PM
Minnesota
Jacksonville 11/23/14 12:00 PM
Indianapolis
Cincinnati 11/23/14 12:00 PM
Houston
Tampa Bay 11/23/14 12:00 PM
Chicago
Arizona 11/23/14 3:05 PM
Seattle
St. Louis 11/23/14 3:05 PM
San Diego
Miami 11/23/14 3:25 PM
Denver
Washington 11/23/14 3:25 PM
San Francisco
Dallas 11/23/14 7:30 PM
NY Giants
NY Jets 11/24/14 6:00 PM
Buffalo
Baltimore 11/24/14 7:30 PM
New Orleans
Chicago 11/27/14 11:30 AM
Detroit
Philadelphia 11/27/14 3:30 PM
Dallas
Seattle 11/27/14 7:30 PM
San Francisco
Phoenix 6:00 PM
Indiana
Miami 6:00 PM
Orlando
Philadelphia 6:30 PM
New York
Toronto 6:30 PM
Cleveland
Dallas 7:00 PM
Houston
Sacramento 7:00 PM
Minnesota
Brooklyn 7:30 PM
San Antonio
Washington 7:30 PM
Milwaukee
New Orleans 8:00 PM
Utah
St. Louis 3 FINAL
Ottawa 2
Montreal 6:00 PM
Boston
Detroit 6:00 PM
Toronto
Minnesota 6:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Pittsburgh 6:00 PM
NY Islanders
Columbus 6:00 PM
Philadelphia
Buffalo 6:00 PM
Washington
Florida 7:00 PM
Nashville
Los Angeles 7:00 PM
Dallas
Carolina 8:00 PM
Colorado
New Jersey 9:00 PM
Calgary
Chicago 9:00 PM
Edmonton
Arizona 9:30 PM
San Jose
Incarnate Word 79 FINAL
Princeton 68
Robert Morris 66 FINAL
Georgetown 80
Notre Dame 81 FINAL
Massachusetts 68
Saint Peters 50 FINAL
La Salle 59
Ball State 69 FINAL
IUPUI 71
Utah State 63 FINAL
Miss State 71
High Point 56 FINAL
Richmond 80
Appalachian St 65 FINAL
Virginia Tech 63
Drake 75 FINAL
Western Mich 91
Samford 72 FINAL
CS-Northridge 79
Colgate 53 FINAL
Campbell 48
North Carolina 90 FINAL
Davidson 72
North Florida 49 FINAL
Northern Iowa 66
UMass Lowell 63 FINAL
NJIT 61
Nebraska Omaha 97 FINAL
Marquette 89
Clemson 59 FINAL
Nevada 50
Florida State 54 FINAL
Providence 80
South Alabama 53 FINAL
Detroit 66
Texas State 67 FINAL
TX-San Antonio 80
Trinity Christian 52 FINAL
Chicago State 75
Liberty 52 FINAL
Miami-Ohio 63
Western State 60 FINAL
Air Force 90
Elon 67 FINAL
Northwestern 68
Canisius 53 FINAL
St Bonaventure 59
MD-Eastern Shore 53 FINAL
St Francis-PA 57
Cleveland State 83 FINAL
Savannah State 87
SE Missouri St 74 FINAL
Central Arkansas 68
UMKC 68 FINAL
Ark-Little Rock 73
Southern U 48 FINAL
Middle Tennessee 66
Longwood 72 FINAL
Youngstown St 82
Towson 56 2nd Half 3:48
Bethune-Cookman 37
Loyola-Maryland 39 2nd Half 1:53
Butler 78
San Jose St 57 2nd Half 1:54
Cal State Fullerton 62
Texas Southern 53 2nd Half 5:54
Norfolk State 62
Yale 48 2nd Half 3:05
Southern Ill 40
LSU 72 FINAL
Weber State 58
South Dakota 61 2nd Half 0:29
Wofford 69
Duquesne 77 2nd Half 8:27
Abilene Christian 58
Wright State 44 2nd Half 18:48
Char Southern 37
Miles 54 2nd Half 12:12
Jacksonville St 52
Binghamton 27 2nd Half
Manhattan 43
Alcorn State 34 2nd Half 18:30
Kennesaw St 48
Bob Jones Univ 32 1st Half 2:22
Citadel 34
Piedmont Coll 13 1st Half 1:28
Coastal Carolina 32
Johnson University 11 1st Half 11:58
Ga Southern 29
Brown 23 1st Half 0:41
Indiana State 36
Colorado 24 1st Half 0:06
Wyoming 26
Quinnipiac 6:00 PM
Albany
Mount St Marys 6:00 PM
Bucknell
Master's College 6:00 PM
UC Santa Barbara
UNC-Asheville 6:00 PM
East Tenn St
Clermont College 6:00 PM
Eastern Ky
UNC Greensboro 6:00 PM
Eastern Mich
Sam Houston St 6:00 PM
Fairfield
American Univ 6:00 PM
Louisiana Tech
Army 6:00 PM
Marist
Hartford 6:00 PM
Niagara
Lafayette 6:00 PM
Penn
Nebraska 6:00 PM
Rhode Island
Vermont 6:00 PM
Saint Josephs
Eastern Wash 6:00 PM
SMU
UNLV 6:00 PM
Temple
Chattanooga 6:00 PM
Tenn Tech
UNC-Wilmington 6:00 PM
Va Military
Ohio Midwestern 6:00 PM
Northern Ky
UC Davis 6:30 PM
Furman
Ill-Chicago 6:30 PM
Kent State
Transylvania 6:30 PM
Lipscomb
Central Conn St 6:30 PM
Monmouth
Oakwood 7:00 PM
Alabama A&M
Morgan State 7:00 PM
Houston
Lamar 7:00 PM
Indiana
Northeastern 7:00 PM
Navy
William & Mary 7:00 PM
Rice
Missouri State 7:00 PM
Texas Tech
TX A&M-Kingsville 7:00 PM
TX-Pan American
Southern-New Orleans 7:00 PM
Tulane
SE Louisiana 7:00 PM
Western Ill
Belmont 7:00 PM
Western Ky
Hampton 7:00 PM
North Dakota St
UMBC 7:30 PM
Minnesota
Houston Baptist 7:30 PM
Texas-Arlington
St Thomas Aquinas 8:00 PM
Gonzaga
Utah Valley U 8:00 PM
Southern Utah
New Mexico St 8:00 PM
Texas-El Paso
Stanford 8:30 PM
Duke
Morehead State 8:30 PM
Presbyterian
SIU Edwardsville 9:00 PM
Portland
Boise State 9:00 PM
Wisconsin
Valparaiso 11/23/14 8:30 AM
Maine
Kent State 0 Cancelled
Buffalo 0
Texas-El Paso 13 FINAL
Rice 31
Air Force 14 FINAL
San Diego St 30
San Jose St 7 FINAL
Utah State 41
Char Southern 9 FINAL
(9) Georgia 55
South Alabama 12 FINAL
So Carolina 37
Rutgers 3 FINAL
(10) Michigan State 45
Minnesota 28 FINAL
(21) Nebraska 24
Northwestern 38 FINAL
Purdue 14
(18) Marshall 23 FINAL
UAB 18
Kansas 7 FINAL
(23) Oklahoma 44
Indiana 27 FINAL
(7) Ohio State 42
Penn State 14 FINAL
Illinois 16
(14) Eastern Ky 3 FINAL
Florida 52
TX-San Antonio 7 FINAL
Western Ky 45
SMU 7 FINAL
UCF 53
Tulsa 28 FINAL
Houston 38
Virginia Tech 3 FINAL
Wake Forest 6
Washington St 31 FINAL
(13) Arizona State 52
Louisiana Tech 27 FINAL
Old Dominion 30
Western Mich 32 FINAL
Central Mich 20
New Mexico 20 FINAL
(22) Colorado State 58
Eastern Mich 30 FINAL
Ball State 45
Appalachian St 35 FINAL
Louisiana 16
(15) Arizona 42 FINAL
(20) Utah 10
FIU 14 FINAL
North Texas 17
(8) Ole Miss 0 4th Qtr 11:20
Arkansas 30
Louisville 31 4th Qtr 4:27
Notre Dame 28
Maryland 23 FINAL
Michigan 16
Texas Tech 34 4th Qtr 4:07
Iowa State 31
(14) Wisconsin 26 4th Qtr 2:15
Iowa 24
Syracuse 7 FINAL
Pittsburgh 30
Boston College 17 FINAL
(1) Florida State 20
Georgia State 0 FINAL
Clemson 28
Tulane 6 4th Qtr 3:33
East Carolina 27
Stanford 31 3rd Qtr 1:57
California 7
Western Carolina 14 3rd Qtr 1:49
(2) Alabama 48
ULM 27 4th Qtr 13:29
New Mexico St 17
So Florida 13 4th Qtr 14:22
Memphis 31
Colorado 3 3rd Qtr 3:53
(3) Oregon 36
Fla Atlantic 6:00 PM
Middle Tennessee
Samford 6:00 PM
(16) Auburn
Miami-Florida 6:00 PM
Virginia
Vanderbilt 6:30 PM
(4) Miss State
(19) Missouri 6:30 PM
Tennessee
Oklahoma State 6:30 PM
(6) Baylor
(24) USC 7:00 PM
(11) UCLA
Cincinnati 7:00 PM
Connecticut
Boise State 9:15 PM
Wyoming
Oregon State 9:30 PM
Washington
Fresno State 9:30 PM
Nevada
UNLV 10:00 PM
Hawaii
Ohio U 11/25/14 6:00 PM
Miami-Ohio
LSU 11/27/14 6:30 PM
Texas A&M
(5) TCU 11/27/14 6:30 PM
Texas
Northern Ill 11/28/14 10:00 AM
Western Mich
(21) Nebraska 11/28/14 11:00 AM
Iowa
Western Ky 11/28/14 11:00 AM
(18) Marshall
UCF 11/28/14 11:00 AM
So Florida
Houston 11/28/14 11:00 AM
SMU
Akron 11/28/14 12:00 PM
Kent State
Ball State 11/28/14 12:00 PM
Bowling Green
Buffalo 11/28/14 12:00 PM
Massachusetts
Toledo 11/28/14 12:00 PM
Eastern Mich
Arkansas 11/28/14 1:30 PM
(19) Missouri
Navy 11/28/14 2:00 PM
South Alabama
(13) Arizona State 11/28/14 2:30 PM
(15) Arizona
Stanford 11/28/14 2:30 PM
(11) UCLA
(22) Colorado State 11/28/14 2:30 PM
Air Force
Virginia 11/28/14 7:00 PM
Virginia Tech
East Carolina 11/28/14 7:30 PM
Tulsa
BYU 11/29/14 2:00 AM
California
(20) Utah 11/29/14 2:00 AM
Colorado
(3) Oregon 11/29/14 2:00 AM
Oregon State
Kentucky 11/29/14 2:00 AM
Louisville
Notre Dame 11/29/14 2:00 AM
(24) USC
So Carolina 11/29/14 2:00 AM
Clemson
Florida 11/29/14 2:00 AM
(1) Florida State
Wake Forest 11/29/14 2:00 AM
(25) Duke
Pittsburgh 11/29/14 2:00 AM
Miami-Florida
North Texas 11/29/14 11:00 AM
TX-San Antonio
Old Dominion 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Fla Atlantic
(17) Georgia Tech 11/29/14 11:00 AM
(9) Georgia
West Virginia 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Iowa State
Rice 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Louisiana Tech
Michigan 11/29/14 11:00 AM
(7) Ohio State
Purdue 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Indiana
Illinois 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Northwestern
Cincinnati 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Temple
NC State 11/29/14 11:30 AM
North Carolina
Syracuse 11/29/14 11:30 AM
Boston College
Louisiana 11/29/14 11:30 AM
Troy
Texas State 11/29/14 1:00 PM
Georgia State
Idaho 11/29/14 1:00 PM
Appalachian St
Wyoming 11/29/14 2:00 PM
New Mexico
New Mexico St 11/29/14 2:00 PM
Arkansas State
UAB 11/29/14 2:30 PM
Southern Miss
(4) Miss State 11/29/14 2:30 PM
(8) Ole Miss
(10) Michigan State 11/29/14 2:30 PM
Penn State
Minnesota 11/29/14 2:30 PM
(14) Wisconsin
(6) Baylor 11/29/14 2:30 PM
Texas Tech
Rutgers 11/29/14 2:30 PM
Maryland
San Jose St 11/29/14 2:30 PM
San Diego St
Tennessee 11/29/14 3:00 PM
Vanderbilt
Kansas 11/29/14 3:00 PM
(12) Kansas State
Connecticut 11/29/14 3:00 PM
Memphis
ULM 11/29/14 5:00 PM
Ga Southern
Middle Tennessee 11/29/14 6:00 PM
Texas-El Paso
Hawaii 11/29/14 6:00 PM
Fresno State
(16) Auburn 11/29/14 6:45 PM
(2) Alabama
Utah State 11/29/14 9:15 PM
Boise State
Washington 11/29/14 9:30 PM
Washington St
Nevada 11/29/14 9:30 PM
UNLV
Montreal 11/23/14 12:00 PM
Hamilton
Edmonton 11/23/14 3:30 PM
Calgary
TBA 11/30/14 5:00 PM
TBA
Grand Canyon 77 FINAL
Austin Peay 84
Bowling Green 60 FINAL
Milwaukee 50
St Bonaventure 68 FINAL
Detroit 56
Illinois-Chicago 72 FINAL
Miami-Ohio 69
Louisiana Tech 55 FINAL
Louisiana 58
MD-Eastern Shore 57 FINAL
Marshall 74
Butler 77 FINAL
Fairfield 81
Central Conn St 81 FINAL
UMass Lowell 58
Bucknell 61 FINAL
Fairleigh Dickinson 60
St Marys-CA 57 FINAL
UC Davis 55
UNC-Asheville 53 FINAL
South Florida 97
Colgate 51 FINAL
Drexel 59
Niagara 64 FINAL
Buffalo 73
Vermont 61 FINAL
Boston U 66
Marist 51 FINAL
Northeastern 58
UNC-Wilmington 72 FINAL
Appalachian St 82
Duquesne 52 FINAL
Green Bay 84
Saint Josephs 75 FINAL
Liberty 76
Army 81 FINAL
Manhattan 49
Eastern Michigan 75 FINAL
TX-Pan American 81
Southern Ill 50 FINAL
Wright State 70
Youngstown St 70 FINAL
Radford 44
Stetson 62 FINAL
Indiana State 52
Rockhurst 65 FINAL
UMKC 60
Ark-Little Rock 55 FINAL
Rice 40
(23) Syracuse 77 FINAL
Jacksonville 61
NC Central 53 FINAL
Gardner-Webb 73
New Orleans 51 FINAL
Jacksonville St 65
(22) Rutgers 64 FINAL
LSU 57
Missouri State 36 FINAL
(21) Oklahoma St 77
Eastern Washington 53 FINAL
SMU 69
Houston Baptist 61 FINAL
Texas State 56
TX-Arlington 61 FINAL
Wichita State 71
(9) Maryland 75 FINAL
George Washington 65
Presbyterian 51 FINAL
Western Carolina 44
St Francis-NY 71 FINAL
Rider 60
Central Arkansas 56 FINAL
Jackson State 45
Kennesaw St 72 FINAL
Georgia Southern 51
Loyola-Chicago 45 FINAL
Northern Ky 38
Howard 64 FINAL
La Salle 65
San Jose St 76 2nd Half 7:53
Cal-Irvine 57
Tennessee St 54 2nd Half 4:13
Lipscomb 37
San Francisco 49 2nd Half 1:09
UC-Riverside 61
Temple 51 2nd Half 4:27
Kansas 71
San Diego 52 2nd Half 1:39
Idaho 49
Concordia (OR) 35 FINAL
(20) Oregon State 92
Corban 74 FINAL
Portland State 64
Charleston Southern 12 2nd Half
Wofford 15
UT Martin 28 2nd Half
Pepperdine 25
Eastern Kentucky 6 1st Half 9:40
Mercer 16
Weber State 12 1st Half 3:02
Utah Valley U 20
North Dakota 8 1st Half 15:18
Towson 11
Seton Hall 6:00 PM
Penn State
LSU-Shreveport 6:00 PM
Grambling
Brown 6:00 PM
New Hampshire
Penn 6:00 PM
Navy
Xavier 6:00 PM
Binghamton
Georgetown 6:30 PM
Alabama
(13) Kentucky 7:00 PM
Central Michigan
Texas Southern 7:00 PM
TCU
South Dakota St 7:00 PM
(18) DePaul
Talladega 7:00 PM
Ark-Pine Bluff
Arkansas State 7:00 PM
Colorado
Alcorn State 7:00 PM
UAB
Tenn Tech 7:05 PM
Valparaiso
Dayton 7:30 PM
(19) Iowa
Nevada 8:30 PM
BYU
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