Buyer Beware in free agency Print
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Thursday, 19 February 2009 12:27
NFL Headline News

 A year ago, the Jacksonville Jaguars committed $23 million to wide receiver Jerry Porter and cornerback Drayton Florence in an effort to go from a second-round playoff loser to the Super Bowl.
Instead, a team that had been 11-5 in 2007 fell to 5-11, thanks in part to dismal performances by their two prize free agents, who were released last week.
Just another example why it pays to be prudent in free agency.
It seems like a lesson unlearned by many NFL teams, who will start throwing millions of dollars around when shopping season starts next Friday. At this time of year everyone seems to believe they are ``just a player or two away'' from the playoffs, or even the Super Bowl.
It rarely works.
sually draft well, retain their best players and seem to come up with low-price ``fillers'' who fit their system.
For example, two years ago, the Giants waited until late in free agency before signing linebacker Kawika Mitchell from Kansas City for one year at $1 million. Mitchell made some big plays in the playoffs and Super Bowl, the Giants won the title and Mitchell got a five-year $17 million deal from Buffalo.
In other words, everybody won.
Last year, Pittsburgh let perennial Pro Bowl guard Alan Faneca leave for the Jets for a contract that guaranteed him $21 million. Then the Steelers signed low-profile center Justin Hartwig and ended up with a Super Bowl win while the Jets missed the playoffs despite their investments in Faneca and a bunch of other oldies, including Brett Favre.
``The only credit you want is to say you're a world champion,'' says Kevin Colbert, the Steelers' personnel director. ``Nothing else matters, honestly. That's never been a big part of how this organization works. This is about winning, and working toward a common goal.''
Too many teams don't think that way.
For most of the 10 years that Daniel Snyder has owned the Redskins, he has had the team's jet plane fueled and ready to take off at midnight on the day free agency starts to bring back ``prime'' free agents.
Skins have overpaid average players or worse (Adam Archuleta in 2006 is a prime example) and the on-field results have been mediocre or worse. The Skins won the NFC East in 1999, the year Snyder bought the team, but are 66-78 with no division titles and just two playoff berths since then.
The Redskins have started to learn - perhaps because the spending spree has left them with less salary cap space than most teams. But when they lost two defensive ends to injury in training camp last year, they traded with Miami for the kind of player they used to sign - aging DE Jason Taylor. Taylor, injured for much of the season, had a so-so year and the Redskins finished 8-8, last in the highly competitive NFC East.
This year's ``buyer beware'' player could be T.J. Houshmandzadeh, who the Bengals are about to let loose on the open market. He had 92 receptions last season and 112 in 2007, but averaged just 9.8 and 10.2 yards per catch. That means he is valuable, but only to a team that needs a possession receiver for less than the $10 million per year he's likely to be seeking.
Then there are players whose strong 2008 seasons may have been fueled by impending free agency.
Put Albert Haynesworth and Julius Peppers in that category.
ree agent again this year. Peppers had 14 1/2 sacks for Carolina after 2 1/2 in 2007 and then let it be known that he wants to leave for a team that plays a 3-4, his agent telling the Panthers that if they franchise him, he would accept a trade to one of only four teams, one of them the Dallas Cowboys.
After re-signing left tackle Jordan Gross, the Panthers went ahead and franchised Peppers on Thursday for nearly $16.7 million. They can try to trade him and grant his wish to play for a 3-4 team, but are there teams out there willing to give up at least one first-round draft pick and that kind of money for a player with such an uneven track record?
Ray Lewis fits another mold - an aging player who's a franchise fixture and leader but forces his team to balance sentiment and short-term value against money and the long-term.
Lewis will not be Baltimore's franchise player - that's Terrell Suggs. And he's making noise about either going to Dallas or joining his former defensive coordinator, Rex Ryan, with the Jets. Yes, the Ravens want him back - for his leadership value if for nothing else. But for how much? He will be 34 next season.
The two teams Lewis has been linked to?
nd now need to find a quarterback - assuming that Brett Favre's retirement isn't a ``retirement'' once again.
Count those two among the teams that don't get it - although Jerry Jones likes the spotlight so much that he may figure collecting free agents is worth it.
But that's the wrong way to go.
Take the Broncos.
Mike Shananan wasn't fired because he was a bad coach. But he didn't do well at his second job - general manager, especially when it came to building a defense.
Brian Xanders, the new 37-year-old GM, has a better idea. Last week, he cut six players, including DeWayne Robertson, the former Jets defensive tackle who did nothing after being acquired last year by Shanahan.
``It's a team sport. One person can't take a huge burden against the existing framework of the salary cap. So, we'll try to spread it around and figure it out that way,'' Xanders said after dumping Robertson.
That's an indication that he gets what Shanahan didn't.
If he does it for a few years, the Broncos may actually get back to the Super Bowl level they were accustomed to during the John Elway era - they got to five and won two from 1983-99.
The Steelers, Giants, Colts, and Patriots already get it.
Nobody else has won a Super Bowl since the 2002 season.
 

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