Alex Boone looked like Tarzan. Only bigger, stronger and mean enough to instill the desired dose of nastiness the Vikings were looking to inject into their offensive line.
The 6-7 behemoth swung into town three years ago as the prized acquisition on Day 1 of free agency. We all marveled at this gregarious left tackle-sized man who would no doubt dominate at left guard for years to come.
Eighteen months later, he was put on the next vine out of town. Released after 14 games and $10.1 million of compensation.
Boone became another good example of the kind of swing and miss one makes while sifting through other teams’ castoffs this time of year. The kind of whiff that every team makes all too often when too many dollars chase too few worthy recipients in this annual seller’s market.
That market opens again at 3 p.m. Wednesday. The “legal tampering” portion of the process begins Monday, so you can be assured that teams and fan bases will begin thumping their chests at the opening bell.
Good luck to all. You’re going to need some of it.
“At the end of the day, free agency is very difficult,” Cardinals General Manager Steve Keim said at this year’s scouting combine. “We don’t have access to the players essentially before we make these decisions. So a lot of times it can be fool’s gold where you go and put a big number on a player and he has a lot of guaranteed money attached to him and you really don’t know him.”
Keim recommends a “very patient approach” that restrains the urge to dive into free agency’s frantic first wave of transactions. He’s not alone among his peers in that more conservative school of thought.
“There’s so many different levels of free agency,” Buccaneers General Manager Jason Licht said. “There’s the first-day, high-priced, splashy guys. And then there’s guys extending all the way into Week 3 and 4, where you can get some good value. Guys we’ve actually had more luck with in the past.
“Those are the types of guys and the types of deals that make my scouting staff excited. Those are usually the hungry guys.”
Licht will have little choice but to tap the brakes this week. The Bucs are a league-low $2.1 million under the $188,200,000 salary cap. The Vikings are next at $4.94 million but are expected to make some moves that could increase that number significantly.
That’s what the Jaguars did last week. Friday morning, they were last in the league in salary cap space. They cut five players, saved about $30 million and vaulted to 16th by Friday afternoon.
Among those flushed were defensive tackle Malik Jackson. Three years ago, the Super Bowl champion Bronco was paraded around Jacksonville as a six-year, $85 million savior signing. Friday, he was kicked to the curb so the Jags could stockpile enough loot to lure this year’s savior, Nick Foles, to Jacksonville.
This year, nine teams have more than $42 million in cap space, according to Overthecap.com. The Colts ($101.3 million), Jets ($91.5 million) and Browns ($79 million) lead the way.
Yes, there are good players to be had. But, overall, this appears to be a weak class. One unnamed NFL executive went a step further, telling ESPN, “I can’t imagine there being a worse year for free agency.”
But that won’t stop some teams from overreaching and overspending. Or heeding the examples set forth by the teams that parlay their patience in free agency into compensatory draft picks the following year. Picks that became even more valuable in 2017 when the league ruled that they could be traded.
A year ago, the Patriots and Rams lost much more than they gained in free agency. Then they went to the Super Bowl. And then they each got awarded not one but two third-round compensatory picks for losing free agents they didn’t even need to reach the Super Bowl.
Mark Craig is an NFL and Vikings Insider. Twitter: @markcraigNFL. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org