Profligate free agency spending an annual NFL pastime leading to nowhere

Le'Veon Bell photo courtesy Pittsburgh Steelers
Ron Borges

If ever there is a bogus time of year in the NFL, the first few days of free agency are it.

It is fitting then that the opening of this nearly universally wasteful spending period is preceded by a legal tampering period. Legal tampering? That’s as absurd a concept as the profligate spending that follows the first 72 hours after the tampering has been done.

So first they tamper with other people’s contracts, which in most businesses would put you in court; then they over pay someone else’s average player and claim he’s a steal.

Example?

The Lions just paid a guy named Trey Flowers, a Patriots’ defensive end who has never been to a Pro Bowl and isn’t likely to get there any time soon from what I’ve seen, over $50 million guaranteed to come work for them. Bill Belichick's response? Let me help you pack.

For the second year in a row a team has also signed away the Patriots’ left tackle by making him the highest-paid offensive lineman in pro football. Wonder if the Giants’ think Nate Solder was worth that $16 million they paid him last season and the $34.8 million they guaranteed him to anchor a line that allowed more sacks than all but nine NFL teams?

Now Trent Brown, whom the 49ers all but gave away a year ago, plays one year of decent football in New England but nothing that made you think “Anthony Munoz.’’ And he lands a four-year, $66-million contract, with $36.75 million fully guaranteed?

Just think what he’d be worth if he ever made the Pro Bowl.

No wonder NFL owners insist on a salary cap. They certainly don’t have a thinking cap.

By now, you may have noticed one thing: The majority of the most expensive activity is usually done by desperate teams with lousy records and years of mediocrity. Often the money is spent more to convince their fans they are doing something than it is to actually transform these losers into winners.

In many cases, they are repeat offenders like the Jets and Redskins, who have wasted enough money to build three Super Bowl teams in recent years without having built any. They pay this guy, they pay that guy, they pay the next guy but they seldom pay the right guy.

March after March nothing changes. Free agency begins, teams waste a ton of money signing your average player in the usually vain hope that overpaying him will somehow make him a star. Then they repeat the same folly the next year.

Let’s take a look back to a year ago. Arizona hands Sam Bradford, whose knee was already a mess, a 1-year, $20-million contract, with $15 million guaranteed. He played three games before being replaced by rookie Josh Rosen. Not long after Bradford was released.

Maybe Arizona should have considered spending its money on someone who could help protect their quarterback?

Then there’s the Redskins’ deal for a wide receiver named Paul Richardson. They paid him $40 million over five years with $12.5 million guaranteed. He caught 20 passes. His contract averages $8 million a season, meaning those 20 catches cost Washington $400,000 apiece. They didn’t get those at Best Buy.

My favorite signing though was the Bills’ decision to give 10-year veteran cornerback Vontae Davis, whose play had been in decline for several years, $5 million to come play for a year. He quit in the locker room … AT HALFTIME of the second game of the season! Good investment.

No, free agency is not bonus time, it’s BOGUS TIME.

Yet once again some NFL teams are throwing money around like it grows on trees. The Jets, for one, have committed about a half-billion dollars to add names like running back Le’Veon Bell, inside linebacker C.J. Mosley, receivers Jamison Crowder and Josh Bellamy and guard Kelechi Osemele (whom they acquired in a trade with Oakland).

They got some talent there, but at what price? Do you really want to pay an inside linebacker not named Ray Lewis $85 million? Or $52.5 million for a running back who had already had a jolting 1,635 touches over the past five seasons (including playoffs) before sitting out 2018 rather than play for $14.5 million on a franchise tag for the Steelers?

Maybe Bell still has tread on those tires, but that’s a lot of wear and tear and a lot of money for someone who hasn’t taken a hit – or gained a yard – in a year.

But what should be more alarming to Jets’ fans (if any still exist) is to pay for those guys they lost a Pro Bowl kicker, a Pro Bowl kick returner and two core players from a special teams unit that was one of the best in the league last season but won’t be this year.

Worse, despite all that spending the Jets still need to find an anchor for their offensive line after declining to pay for free-agent center Matt Paradis. Paradis signed an affordable three-year, $27 million contract with Carolina that had only $12 million in guarantees and was good value.

But the Jets went for the big splash instead. Well, if they can’t find a quality player to snap the ball, young quarterback Sam Darnold will quickly discover all that spending didn’t change a thing.

Since 1993, billions have literally been spent in the first few days of free agency. Arguably the only team that ever bought themselves a Super Bowl by doing it was the Green Bay Packers, who landed Hall-of-Fame pass rusher Reggie White that first season. My money says none of the cash spent this season is going to win anyone Super Bowl LIV.

Comments (3)
No. 1-3
brian wolf
brian wolf

Great article Ron...

Free Agency player movement and the salary cap along with it, will be the slow death of the NFL. Money, not love of the game or helping a team win a championship, is all that motivates most of todays players. Thats why teams need franchise tags, to keep the players motivated. I understand players deserving to get paid but shouldnt they want to be the best at their job first ?

I agree like you that the Packers signing of Reggie White was probably the best ever free agent signing but the San Francisco 49ers free agent signings in 1994, were the first example of a team "buying" a championship.

Being a Cowboy fan of that time, I thought what the 49ers did was ILLEGAL but they claim it was all done within the salary cap...SURE IT WAS

1994 SF All Star Team (Champions)

Richard Dent Rickey Jackson Tim Harris Charles Mann Ken Norton Gary Plummer Toi Cook Deion Sanders

No wonder the Cowboys didnt win three championships in a row...haha

Ron Borges
Ron Borges

Editor

I tend to agree but owners are just as motivated by money over winning. Hw often do you see them dumping good players and signing cheaper ones? All the time.

Ron Borges
Ron Borges

Editor

As for the '90s Cowboys, if Jerry didn't get into an ego-fueled rivalry with Jimmy they might have won 4 in a row! The White signing taught most teams you keep your superstars, which is why so much $ is now wasted. They're paying star $ for guys who aren't stars. Crazy!


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