NFL Free Agency is Better Than the Draft

Free agencyPeople get carried away with the draft and I understand it. But NFL free agency is better and here is why.

It’s different for every team: Sure there is occasionally a team with a super wealth of draft picks or one who’s traded a bunch away. But generally it’s a level playing field with every team getting its name called about once every round.

Few teams say they want to build through free agency, but many do or have to because they don’t have enough draft capital to fix themselves.

But you get situations where Jerry Jones claims to be “all in” and then sign one outside free agent, linebacker Eric Kendricks. The Cowboys have re-signed four players while five have signed elsewhere and they’ve cut Michael Gallup and Leighton Vander Eshe.

Cowboys’ fans are in a panic and the rest of the league is loving it. The "under-active" team panic and the "super-active" team hope is fun and everyone's annual amnesia about how the free-agent winner from years past doesn't translate to Super-Bowl winner is remarkable.

Known commodities: Plenty of free agents do not pan out the way their new teams expect. But at least as they move they have actual NFL resumes and projecting them into a different NFL scheme is something many of us can have a sense of.

Draft projections are far bigger. Oftentimes they are more about taking traits and prognosticating how they will translate to a much higher level of football. In a game where the miss-rate is big in both player acquisition departments, I feel the projecting in Free agency is much more reasonable than the other. 

Financial intrigue: The Panthers didn’t sign a quarterback or re-sign a bunch of their major commodities. But as of March 13th PFF had them as the fourth-biggest spenders in free agency with this haul that’s worth $175.5 million, $99.59 in guarantees.

•    Re-signed: LS J.J. Jansen (one year, TBD)
•    Signed: G Robert Hunt (five years, $100M)
•    Signed: G Damien Lewis (four years, $53M)
•    Signed: DI A'Shawn Robinson (three years, $22.5M)
•    Signed: LB Josey Jewell (three years, $22.75M)
•    Acquired via trade: WR Diontae Johnson
•    Re-signed: WR Ihmir Smith-Marsette (one year, TBD)

You sign for upside, and Hunt is a top-notch guard and Lewis helps solidify their interior line. Jewell can be good behind an interior DL with Robinson and Derrick Brown. But Johnson was a problem child in Pittsburgh. If I told you your team spent that much money, you’d be pretty excited, I expect.

And if I revealed that list. I suspect you’d be pretty disappointed considering amid all this they traded top pass rusher Brian Burns for a 2024 second and a 2025 fifth while swapping fifth-rounders this year. Last year they could have gotten significantly more at the trade deadline.

The Panthers need weapons for Bryce Young, and there were players worth spending on for at least mid-range help there. 

Will they or won’t they: L’Jarius Snead is a top-flight cornerback who the Chiefs franchise tagged. They permitted him to seek a trade, which means negotiating a long-term deal with a potential trade partner and since free agency opened we’ve heard at one point or another that the Vikings, Patriots, Colts and Titans were involved.

Yet here we are with no deal done and all indications that the combination of the trade price and the contract ask add up to too much. But fans of multiple teams have, at various times, been staying up waiting for news.

The timing: We know when the draft is on TV and we know when teams are on the clock. Sure, an occasional trade will surprise us. 

There is a bit of an expectation for a lot of news right at the start of free agency, which is really the start of the early negotiating period now. But while you might sit around that afternoon monitoring what’s going on, once the initial burst is over, there is still a long period during which big news can come at any time.

Kuharsky megaphoneAnd it’s not just signings at this point in the year.

Aaron Donald retired on a late Friday morning. Not too long after, Mike Vrabel was hired by the Browns as a coaching and personnel consultant. Justin Fields got traded on a Saturday evening. 

Step away from your phone at this time of year and you never know what you will return to. For this NFL fan, it's glorious.

I'll take it over the draft where so many people pretend to know fourth-rounders they've never heard of while watching two networks get further and further away from talking about the actual picks any day.

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