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.

Photo: David J. Phillip, Associated Press

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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.

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  • 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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NY Jets 0 1st Qtr 5:17
Buffalo 7
Baltimore 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
Cleveland 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Buffalo
Washington 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Indianapolis
Tennessee 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Houston
San Diego 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Baltimore
NY Giants 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Jacksonville
Cincinnati 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Oakland 11/30/14 12:00 PM
St. Louis
New Orleans 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Pittsburgh
Carolina 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Minnesota
Arizona 11/30/14 3:05 PM
Atlanta
New England 11/30/14 3:25 PM
Green Bay
Denver 11/30/14 7:30 PM
Kansas City
LA Clippers 23 1st Qtr 2:09
Charlotte 17
Portland 21 1st Qtr 1:28
Philadelphia 16
Orlando 14 1st Qtr 2:2
Cleveland 20
Phoenix 6:30 PM
Toronto
New York 7:00 PM
Houston
Indiana 7:30 PM
Dallas
Chicago 8:00 PM
Utah
Pittsburgh 1 1st Prd 10:00
Boston 1
Philadelphia 0 1st Prd 8:03
NY Islanders 0
Ottawa 6:30 PM
Detroit
Minnesota 6:30 PM
Florida
East Carolina 49 FINAL
Green Bay 66
Nevada 56 FINAL
Weber State 59
Evansville 58 FINAL
Fresno State 52
Purdue 79 FINAL
Kansas State 88
Dillard 73 FINAL
Alcorn State 95
Clemson 64 FINAL
LSU 61
Georgia State 69 FINAL
Chicago State 46
MD-Eastern Shore 55 FINAL
Detroit 69
Missouri 53 FINAL
Arizona 72
Austin Peay 57 2nd Half 0:06
Indiana State 61
Milwaukee 36 2nd Half 12:18
Louisiana 31
Marist 23 2nd Half 11:38
Fla Gulf Coast 37
Gardner-Webb 26 2nd Half
Old Dominion 28
Hampton 12 1st Half 9:32
Appalachian St 19
Grambling St 10 1st Half 10:46
Ball State 13
FIU 14 1st Half 10:19
Ga Southern 13
Jacksonville 12 1st Half 8:52
IUPU-Ft Wayne 22
Colgate 17 1st Half 7:54
James Madison 24
Savannah State 0 1st Half 9:05
Louisville 17
Arizona State 28 1st Half 8:02
Maryland 23
Santa Clara 6 1st Half 11:40
Michigan State 17
Western Carolina 21 1st Half 7:59
Oakland 20
SE Louisiana 15 1st Half 7:44
Tenn Tech 21
Bucknell 0 1st Half 14:12
Toledo 16
Villanova 12 1st Half 12:49
VA Commonwealth 11
Nicholls 12 1st Half 8:49
Wake Forest 23
East Tenn St 12 1st Half 10:28
Winthrop 18
Murray State 19 1st Half 8:67
Xavier 29
Eastern Wash 6:30 PM
Indiana
Stephen F Austin 7:00 PM
Baylor
Lipscomb 7:00 PM
Belmont
Brown 7:00 PM
Illinois
Pepperdine 7:00 PM
Iowa
Rider 7:00 PM
Kansas
Prairie View 7:00 PM
Memphis
Clayton State 7:00 PM
Miss State
Miss Valley St 7:00 PM
TCU
TX A&M-Int 7:00 PM
Incarnate Word
Oregon State 7:30 PM
Oklahoma State
Hawaii 7:30 PM
San Francisco
Seton Hall 8:00 PM
Illinois State
NJIT 8:00 PM
Marquette
Stetson 8:00 PM
New Mexico St
Florida A&M 8:00 PM
Wyoming
Pittsburgh 8:00 PM
Chaminade
Alabama 8:30 PM
Iowa State
Michigan 8:30 PM
Oregon
Colorado Christian 8:30 PM
Northern Colorado
Chadron State 8:30 PM
South Dakota St
Western Mich 9:00 PM
San Diego
SIU Edwardsville 9:05 PM
Portland State
Tulsa 10:00 PM
Auburn
BYU 10:30 PM
San Diego St
Ohio U 11/25/14 6:00 PM
Miami-Ohio
LSU 11/27/14 6:30 PM
Texas A&M
(6) TCU 11/27/14 6:30 PM
Texas
Northern Ill 11/28/14 10:00 AM
Western Mich
Nebraska 11/28/14 11:00 AM
Iowa
Western Ky 11/28/14 11:00 AM
(19) 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
(17) Missouri
Navy 11/28/14 2:00 PM
South Alabama
(13) Arizona State 11/28/14 2:30 PM
(12) Arizona
Stanford 11/28/14 2:30 PM
(9) UCLA
(21) 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
North Texas 11/29/14 11:00 AM
TX-San Antonio
Old Dominion 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Fla Atlantic
(16) Georgia Tech 11/29/14 11:00 AM
(8) Georgia
Kentucky 11/29/14 11:00 AM
(24) Louisville
So Carolina 11/29/14 11:00 AM
(23) Clemson
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
Utah 11/29/14 12:00 PM
Colorado
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
(18) Ole Miss
Notre Dame 11/29/14 2:30 PM
USC
(10) Michigan State 11/29/14 2:30 PM
Penn State
(22) Minnesota 11/29/14 2:30 PM
(14) Wisconsin
(5) Baylor 11/29/14 2:30 PM
Texas Tech
Florida 11/29/14 2:30 PM
(1) Florida State
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
(11) Kansas State
Connecticut 11/29/14 3:00 PM
Memphis
BYU 11/29/14 3:30 PM
California
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
Wake Forest 11/29/14 6:00 PM
Duke
Pittsburgh 11/29/14 6:00 PM
Miami-Florida
(15) Auburn 11/29/14 6:45 PM
(2) Alabama
(3) Oregon 11/29/14 7:00 PM
Oregon State
Utah State 11/29/14 9:15 PM
(25) Boise State
Washington 11/29/14 9:30 PM
Washington St
Nevada 11/29/14 9:30 PM
UNLV
Montreal 24 FINAL
Hamilton 40
Edmonton 18 FINAL
Calgary 43
Grambling 51 FINAL
George Washington 89
Saint Louis 57 FINAL
Vanderbilt 75
NW Nazarene 69 FINAL
Idaho State 88
Millersville 49 2nd Half 9:42
Delaware State 60
NC State 30 2nd Half 11:33
Tulane 33
Harvard 35 2nd Half 6:48
(2) Notre Dame 82
Austin Peay 47 2nd Half 8:08
Chattanooga 60
Brescia 45 2nd Half 9:05
Morehead St 77
UNC Greensboro 6:00 PM
Longwood
Barton 6:00 PM
UNC-Asheville
Tennessee St 20 1st Half 11:13
(4) Tennessee 18
Troy 19 1st Half 8:20
Florida A&M 17
Sam Houston St 11 1st Half 7:15
South Dakota St 28
Rhode Island 16 1st Half 9:02
Columbia 19
Western State 8 1st Half 10:21
Northern Colorado 23
TX A&M-CC 10 1st Half 9:05
Rice 16
Cornell 17 1st Half 9:27
Fairfield 7
St Johns 18 1st Half 9:28
Marist 9
Bradley 7 1st Half 11:00
Stony Brook 26
Mount Ida 13 1st Half 9:34
UMass Lowell 29
Thomas (GA) 16 1st Half 11:49
Georgia State 27
Loyola-Maryland 14 1st Half 11:33
(10) Maryland 19
Campbell 21 1st Half 7:09
Western Carolina 23
North Florida 5 1st Half 7:51
Samford 18
Prairie View 7:00 PM
(7) Texas A&M
Eastern Washington 7:00 PM
Abilene Christian
Missouri State 7:00 PM
Oral Roberts
Cal-Irvine 7:00 PM
South Dakota
Quinnipiac 7:00 PM
Holy Cross
East Tenn St 7:05 PM
Indiana State
(5) Stanford 8:00 PM
New Mexico
Sacramento St 8:00 PM
St Marys-CA
Cal State Fullerton 8:00 PM
Weber State
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