Every year, there's the temptation of signing the "big name" free agent. Every year, somebody pays an exorbitant amount of cash for one player. Does the player help a team win a championship? The short answer? No.
Every year, Daniel Snyder's private plane is fueled up as he prepares to outbid Jerry Jones. Last year it was Albert Haynesworth, who played on a 4-win Redskins team this year. T.J. Houshmandzadeh was prematurely polishing his Lombardi Trophy when he signed with the Seahawks. Needless to say, the Seahawks won a whopping 5 games this year.
Remember how much money the 49ers paid Nate Clements a few years back?
So, does signing a big free agent pay off? Is the answer not signing the free agent? Should a team solely rely on the draft? By analyzing the people who get paid to make these big decisions, we, in hindsight, can measure their effectiveness (or lack thereof).
Let's look at the Packers and Vikings under the reign of their current coaches and general managers: Mike McCarthy/Ted Thompson and Brad Childress/Rick Spielman, respectively.
The Packers' approach has been to build a foundation using its draft choices and to sprinkle in a couple of free agents year by year. The following is a list of draft choices and free agents who have played significant roles in the past four years:
A.J. Hawk, Daryn Colledge, Greg Jennings, Jason Spitz, Will Blackmon, Johnny Jolly, Brandon Jackson, James Jones, Korey Hall, Mason Crosby, Jordy Nelson, Jermichael Finley, Josh Sitton, B.J. Raji, Clay Matthews, T.J. Lang, Quinn Johnson, and Brad Jones.
Free Agents: Charles Woodson, Ryan Pickett, and Brandon Chillar
In contrast, the Vikings' approach has been to build its team through the combination of the draft, free agency, and trades. The Purple and Gold have drafted a number of starters and regular contributors as well, such as:
Chad Greenway, Cedric Griffin, Tarvaris Jackson, Ray Edwards, Brian Robison, Sidney Rice, Adrian Peterson, John Sullivan, Tyrell Johnson, Percy Harvin, Phil Loadholt, Asher Allen, Jasper Brinkley, and Jamarca Sanford.
Free Agents/Trades: Chester Taylor, Ryan Longwell, Ben Leber, Bernard Berrian, Visanthe Shiancoe, Madieu Williams, Steve Hutchinson and Jared Allen. Oh yeah, and a guy named Brett Favre.
Even though the methods of acquiring players have been different, the results have been remarkably similar. Over four seasons, McCarthy's overall record is 38-26 with a 1-2 playoff record. Childress is 36-28 with a 1-2 playoff record. Both coaches have lost the NFC championship game and both have lost in the wild card round.
Two different approaches, and two very similar overall records. Most importantly, neither coach has been to the Super Bowl. Whose approach has been better? Only time will tell.
But, have no fear, football fans, the offseason is almost over. Free Agency begins on March 5 and then it's a mere 7 weeks until the draft. And there is that "big" free agent, Julius Peppers. Will he help anchor a championship defense? If history is any indicator, the answer is no. I say he signs with a team that ends up winning, let's say, 6 games next season.
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