Are Free Agents Overpriced, Under-Performing Additions?

Signing free agents makes sense for a team that needs talent

There is a narrative that free agents should be avoided because the bang they bring is too often outweighed by the cost.  As many like to note, often there is a reason why these players reach free agency.  Is there a tendency to read about the high-profile players who were busts for their new teams rather than those who played well?  Does the national media ignore the lower profile types regardless of whether they were good or bad?  

I looked at a PFF article that provided an instant grade for all the free agency deals that were made within about the first 24 hours of the beginning of free agency in 2017.  That would be during what some describe as the free agent frenzy period.  I decided to grade the actual results of those signings two seasons later.  It is possible that my grades would be different for signings made four or five days after the frenzy subsides, or after the draft. 

I have listed the results below.  The first table shows the eleven signing rated an "A" by PFF with my grade for each player-signing based on performance and modified by the cost. 

C- WR Alshon Jeffrey Phi $14M 800 yds
C CB AJ Bouye Jax $13M 2017 good, 2018 meh
A LT A. Whitworth LaR $11M Solid - Super Bowl
C+ DI Chris Baker TB $5.3M Decent starter
D- WR Pierre Garcon SF $9.5M 396 yds/yr missed 16 games
F- WR Marshall NYG $5.5M Zip
B+ OG JC Tretter Cle $5.6M Worth every cent and more
C- DE John Simon Indy $6M Okay but got hurt, and cut
C+ Edge S. Sheard Indy $8.5M Solid 
A+ FS Mike Adams Car $1.1M Old but still good
D FB Pat Demarco BUF $2.1M No recs/carries. Too much $

 

These eleven signings grade out to a C or a bit better in my opinion.  There were 31 signings given an instant grade of B.  Here is a truncated table showing these deals:

A DE C Campbell Jax $15M   C- OG Zeitler Cle $8.6M
C- S T Jefferson Balt $9M   D- OL R. Leary Den $8.8M
C+ WR D. Jackson Jax $11.6M   F- WR K. Britt Cle $8.5M
C S B. Church Jax $6.5M   B Swearinger WA $4.5M
F QB Glennon Chi $16M   F- WR T. Prior WA $8M
A+ OG L. Warford NO $8.5M   F+ TE Bennett GB $7.3M
D S J. Cyprien TN $6.5M   C CB Munnerl Car $6.25M
D+ Stephen Paea Dal $2M   B WR Ginn NO $3.6M
C+ OT Beachum NYJ $8M   C- OT Wagner Det $12M
B WR K Wright Chi $4M   A+ DE Peppers Car $4.0M
B TE T. Fasano Mia $3M   D+ RG TJ Lang Det $9.1M
D+ OG DJ Fluker NYG $3M   D+ S JJ Wilcox TB $2.8M
D PR A Roberts Atl $1.8M   A LB Dansby Ari $2M
D WR Robinson SF $2.2M   D- WR Shepard Car $3.7M
D DI Q. Demps Chi $6M   D QB B. Hoyer SF $7.0M
F- RB E. Lacy Sea $3.9M          
                 

 

I gave an aggregate grade of C-  to these 31 deals above.  There were 17 deals instantly graded as a C by PFF in the table below:  

B- CB S. Gilmore NE $13M   D CB L Ryan TN $10M
A FS M. Hyde Buf $6M   B- SS J. Addae LAC $5.5M
B- FB K. Juszczyk SF $5.5M   D+ OL Warmack Phi $1.7M
C FB M Tolbert Buf $1.0M   D DI S. McGee WA $5.1M
C- DL Washington Det $3.1M   A- Amukumara Chi $7M
D+ RB Woodhead Bal $2.9M   C- TE Kendricks GB $2.1M
F- DB N. Carroll Dal $4M   A- DL L. Guy NE $5M
B TE D. Fells Det $1.5M   D S Nate Allen Mia $3.4M
F- WR M. Wheaton Chi $6M          

Overall, I gave these 17 deals above a C.  There were 16 players with an instant grade of noted in the table below:

C WR T. Smith Phi $5M   A+ WR R. Woods LAR $8.9M
C- TE R. Ellison NYG $4.5M   F+ DI T. McClain WA $7.4M
D DL A. Spence Det $3.7M   C- CB D. Hayden Det $5M
C OT R. Reiff MN $11.7M   F- OT M. Watson Den $6.1M
A QB N. Foles Phi $5.5M   D+ LB Timmons Mia $8.7M
F+ CB M Cooper Chi $6M   D OG E. Watford Chi $1.0M
B- OL Newhouse Oak $1.7M   F+ TE D. Sims Chi $6M
D+ LB M Smith SF $5.1M   C+ LB AJ Klein NO $5.1M

I gave this group of players above a collective C- grade. Finally, there were four free agent signings instantly graded as an F which I have noted below:

D+ OT M Kalil Car $11.1M   B- OT Okung LAC $14.2M
D+ OG Remmers MN $6M   B- NT D. Peko Den $3.7M

I gave these deals a solid C grade.  The average grade for all 79 players was mid-way between a C- and a C.  The median score was a C- grade.  Regardless of whether the instant grade was an F or an A, my grade for each group based on my view of their actual play ranged from a C- to almost a C+.  

The eleven contracts with AAV over $9.5M (chosen because that's the number that earned a third-round compensatory pick) received exactly a C average. My grade remains a solid C even if I drop down to all contracts over $8.5 million.

29 teams participated in free agency, with 13 signing more than two free agents.  Seven teams selected more than 3 players, five more than four players, and two teams selected more than five players.

The Bears selected seven players whose average grade was a D.  That included four players with some kind of an F grade, one D+, one B+, and one A- grade.  San Francisco received a D+ grade for its five signings. Jacksonville received a C+ for its 5 signing and Carolina got a B- for its five signings. The Patriots signed just two free agents and received a grade midway between a B and a B+. 

As a note, I tried to make actual performance the most important consideration, with cost just a modifier usually worth a plus or a minus rather than a full grade letter.  Calais Campbell and Mike Adams are good examples. 

Calais Campbell has been a dominant player since his signing: his play has been worth an "A" so even though he got paid very well, I did not modify his grade.  At most, I did not add a plus to his grade due to his large contract.  The old safety, Mike Adams, started for his team and played at a well above average level.  His play was probably a solid "B" but his $1 million cost makes him an "A+" in my view.  Lance Kendricks' play might have been worthy of a D+ (he was rated as average, the #44 TE with a 60.5 grade by PFF), but his modest salary and structure bumped him up a bit to a C-.  I am sure I am biased by the cost.  I tried only to modify a grade by a full letter or two if the contract was grossly out of line with the player's performance, either up or down.  Jimmy Graham's performance in 2018 is probably worth a C- but due to being the highest paid tight end, I feel his grade should be modified down by a full letter to a D- or even an F+. 

I may have subconsciously modified grades if they appeared to be one of the missing pieces that a team needed to succeed; I know that thought flashed through my mind a few times.  LT Okung might be an example.  The Chargers may have overpaid somewhat but teams need a good left tackle to get deep in the playoffs.

Conclusions:

I did reach some tentative conclusions.  Teams can increase the talent level on their teams by using free agency.  Teams can also simply waste cap space.  Jacksonville and Carolina had good seasons after each acquired five free agents without bungling too many of them. 

There is a premium paid but it appears to be within reason, more like the agio one pays when exchanging dollars for euros or buying and selling gold. 

The instant grades by analysts do not appear to correlate with actual results. 

Giving out big contracts to free agents got roughly the same grade as medium and small ones, though the colossal blunder risk increases.  The Nolan Carroll signing got an F- from me but that resulted in only $4 million being wasted: a player with a giant contract who utterly fails will also get an F- but might have a larger effect on a team.

I also looked at trades and the draft while researching this article.  I am going to save those for later to see if there is enough there for an article.  I could not help noticing that some teams (and Belichick caught my eye initially) seem to do a better job of evaluating players already in the NFL than in drafting college prospects and projecting how their skills will translate to the NFL and specifically to their respective teams. 

I believe the Packers will have $23-$30 million in cap space available to spend after signing the draft.  Should they spend it on a few players with big contracts, several players with small to modest salary requirements, or should the team save most of it, merely re-signing a selection of the team's own free agents?

6 points

Comments (20)

Fan-Friendly This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.
Guam's picture

March 01, 2019 at 10:48 am

Great stuff as usual TGR. Many thanks for all of your hard work.

FA looks just like the draft - sometimes you win and sometimes you don't. I do find it interesting that NFL experience does not seem to be a good predictor of future NFL success.

New England, Jacksonville, and Carolina have proven free agency can be a benefit to a team. Do we have a GM and talent evaluation team that can produce similar results? I think we might find out this year.

Personally I think we are closer to $23 million in cap space as I would hate to see us have no room to maneuver during the season. That said I believe the Packers need to come out of free agency adding two solid starters to be playoff competitive next year. The next couple of months will be very interesting.

+ REPLY
3 points
3
0
Leatherhead's picture

March 01, 2019 at 02:03 pm

Guam.....I did some research on New England's FA history under Belichick.

They are active, that is certain. And they've had some big hits, like Mike Vrabel. But a lot of them are JAGs. And they lose a lot of players to FA, too.

They don't make big, expensive mistakes in free agency, and we never did either until Bennett.

IMO, the Patriots success has a lot more to do with Belichick/Brady than it does with their FA strategy.

+ REPLY
1 points
1
0
Thegreatreynoldo's picture

March 01, 2019 at 11:11 am

As a general note, my knowledge of the NFL is not encyclopedic. For example, I rummaged around for some info on quite a few players. The FB DeMarco is a good example - he is a blocking TE and I finally found a decent source suggesting that his blocking was less than hoped for. I would be interested if someone thinks my grades are routinely high or low.

I know the combine just started posting some numbers and soon the draftniks will be having a heyday. That's fine. Free agency does come first, so I thought I'd post this today.

+ REPLY
1 points
1
0
Guam's picture

March 01, 2019 at 01:23 pm

Encyclopedic no, but well researched, yes! I appreciate the focus on free agency first. We always seem to talk about draft choices, but with TT gone we really should be talking about free agency first and then talk about the draft after we have a clearer picture of remaining team needs.

+ REPLY
2 points
2
0
pakmann's picture

March 01, 2019 at 11:26 am

Problem is today's free agent players, especially in football because of the risk of injury is so high, coast during games so as not to get the serious injury so they can receive most if not all their contracts value.
Unless the player is totally dedicated to being the best in the sport, a Hall of Fame talent, they aren't worth the money they get.
One way to prevent complacency is to put incentive clauses into a contract. hard to that with linemen.

+ REPLY
0 points
0
0
Leatherhead's picture

March 01, 2019 at 11:41 am

Interesting...….

How Jimmy Graham can be 9th in the league, and have one of the best seasons by a Packer TE in history and deserve a D is just going to have to remain a mystery to me, I guess.

On Free Agency, it's like playing the stock market....you will get burned. No matter how much research you do, you're going to make trades that don't work out. What's your tolerance for risk?

I think we should use this FA money to get a starting quality safety under 30 because we need veteran help there the most. I also think we could find some good value at an offensive guard or two. IMO, this could be accomplished for less that $25 million, and maybe closer to $20 million.

Beyond that, I'd keep the rest liquid so we could do other things with it during the season or roll it over to the next year.

+ REPLY
5 points
5
0
Thegreatreynoldo's picture

March 01, 2019 at 12:18 pm

I knew I'd hear from you, old friend. I thought specifically of you as I was writing the part about Graham. We can agree that Graham is the highest paid TE but had the 9th most receiving yards among TEs. 1377, 1366, 1163, 896, 750, 682, 660, 639 and then Graham at 636. That's is good, but 2nd tier anyway? He's got a pretty good yards/rec at 11.6, which is 12th among TEs with at least 500 receiving yards. Can you agree that might be worth a "B" as a receiver? Then discount that grade for being a poor blocker a bit, and a bit more for the cost? So, "B" to C+ for the blocking and to a C for the cost? We're still fairly far apart, but a little closer.

Be that as it may, I have a grin on my face as I have written this comment, for which I thank you, and I wish you well!

+ REPLY
1 points
1
0
Leatherhead's picture

March 01, 2019 at 01:53 pm

This kind of reminds me of the movie "Out Of My League" where the delicious Alice Eve is telling the average schmo that he was an eight until you start deducting for insecurity, etc.

Full disclosure: I was opposed to the Graham signing. Way too much money, IMO. And as TEs go, I'm more of an Ed West guy; I just want a guy that you can depend on to suit up and get his guy blocked. If he can catch a couple of short passes that's gravy.

Graham suited up and played. Even after he broke his hand, instead of languishing on IR, he was out there playing in meaningless games in cold December. So I'd give him an A for that.

And he wasn't a top-tiered TE this year....in most categories, I'd agree with you that he that he falls in that second tier....better than average, not as good as the best.

So, availability and better than average metrics in most regards.....as a player, that's solid B or better. I do think we overpaid for him, but that's not his fault.

As a free agent signing, he's not like Reggie, or Woodson, or even Pickett. A damn site better than Bennett. Better, by virtue of availability, than Cook.

You're essentially saying...."Graham was just slightly above average as a player for us" and then downgrading him because of his contract. I think he was a little better as a player, but this was a bad deal that Gutekunst signed him to......one of several decisions Gutekunst has made in the first year that I'm not on board with.

To your overall point about free agency...….I think it's easy to make big mistakes and you have to be really careful. I think that it's a mistake, generally, to feel you have to fill positions with an expensive FA.

+ REPLY
0 points
1
1
Thegreatreynoldo's picture

March 01, 2019 at 02:39 pm

If you've never seen Alice Eve on the Craig Ferguson show, go to youtube and just prompt Craig Ferguson, Alice Eve. The interviews are wonderful.

I am sure you'll agree with me!!

+ REPLY
0 points
0
0
nostradanus's picture

March 01, 2019 at 11:42 am

Nice job James

The Free Agent Market is definitely “buyer beware “ over priced and usually overrated.

Gutey should focus on the second level guys to build depth, maybe swing a trade and most importantly build through the draft.

Most importantly, Pay your good players first!

That is all...

+ REPLY
1 points
2
1
The TKstinator's picture

March 01, 2019 at 01:08 pm

Stay classy, Green Bay!

+ REPLY
0 points
0
0
AgrippaLII's picture

March 01, 2019 at 11:48 am

I'm not looking for Gutekunst to make a huge splash in free agency...I want him to find guys that are upgrades over what we have on the roster now. That alone will improve this team...a guard and or free safety would be nice!

+ REPLY
4 points
4
0
D.D.Driver's picture

March 01, 2019 at 01:25 pm

The key to putting together a run is having a number of star players on the team making less than they are worth--i.e., still playing on rookie salaries.

Once a player hits free agency is it almost impossible to get a "good deal." You can get a good player, but rarely can you get a good deal.

+ REPLY
1 points
1
0
Doug Niemczynski's picture

March 01, 2019 at 01:55 pm

Tevin Coleman is the only one I would sign and trust to do a good job in GB

+ REPLY
0 points
0
0
NitschkeFan's picture

March 01, 2019 at 02:18 pm

Great article James, most people don't follow other team's signings after they are announced.

It is always reassuring to see other team's GM's are usually not any better than our own at consistently signing free agents that outplay their paychecks.

But overall I feel a little discouraged that the Pack may not be able to significantly improve through free agency. I think my hopes were higher before reading your article. The "fan" in me always thinks/hopes we hit the homerun signing.

Realistically, maybe 1 out of 3 players they sign will actually outplay his pay.

+ REPLY
2 points
2
0
Lare's picture

March 01, 2019 at 04:03 pm

I can see where there’s a lot of misses in the draft because you don’t know how a players attitude, motivation and skills will do in a professional environment as opposed to an amateur environment.

I’m surprised though that there isn’t a lot more success with free agents because teams should have a fair amount of game tape to review against other NFL caliber players, coaching, conditioning & scheme before signing them.

The main difference is the cost of your hits & misses. You miss on a drafted player and it doesn’t cost you as much as missing on a veteran player (I.e. Perry, Matthews, Cobb, Bennett, etc.).

The bottom line is finding good productive players that can stay healthy, it doesn’t really matter how or where you find them.

+ REPLY
3 points
3
0
CAG123's picture

March 01, 2019 at 04:40 pm

Some of the guys you listed were depth guys or better than what we have depth guys. The list should really only include players added for significant purposes that are signed to be instant upgrades for the overall team. You graded guys that are on 1-4 million dollar contracts that can probably be cut for nothing.

+ REPLY
0 points
1
1
Doug Niemczynski's picture

March 01, 2019 at 04:43 pm

Again, all I'm probably interested in is FA - Tevin Coleman RB ..Atlanta.

Whatever Gute wants to do after that is on him.

+ REPLY
1 points
1
0
Qoojo's picture

March 01, 2019 at 06:15 pm

I think FA should be used for depth, unless the rare guy comes available. As much as possible, use it so that there are quality backups instead of UDFA filler. Use it to help mitigate past misses in the draft. I know this all sounds obvious, and it's easier said than done. I don't really care for breaking the bank for the vast majority of high FAs out there.

+ REPLY
3 points
3
0
crayzpackfan's picture

March 01, 2019 at 09:19 pm

Free agency is many things, getting an can’t miss, sure thing player is rarely one of them. It’s volatile, dynamic, and expensive as well. However, it is a necessary evil for a team needing depth, to fill an absolute hole, or even something petty like bringing in a huge name to spur on stagnant ticket sales. I tend to believe that finding depth and upgrades are best uses for FA. I don’t like overpaying for aged veterans though. Every so often though, a sure thing does pop up (Reggie White), and you have to be ready, willing, and able to pull the trigger.

+ REPLY
1 points
1
0

Log in to comment and more!

Not a member yet? Join free.

If you have already commented on Cheesehead TV in the past, we've created an account for you. Just verify your email, set a password and you're golden.