Do Spending Sprees In Free Agency Lead To Success?

by Logan Levy

The start of the new league year in the NFL is unlike any other with a ton of money being thrown around by various teams to veteran players. While all of those contracts may not be what they appear to be, teams are still showing a level of commitment to spending money on proven players. Although some teams use free agency as a time to completely overhaul their rosters, other clubs utilize it to add a couple of playmakers to take their team to the next level while not entirely breaking the bank.

NFL teams try to achieve a perfect balance in the offseason between signing players in free agency to “team-friendly” deals while also replenishing their roster with young, talented players in the draft. If a team goes too heavy in one of those areas, a rebuild will be inevitable. Several teams take chances in free agency by going all-in and hoping to win a Super Bowl before the overhaul while others stay committed to the style of stocking draft picks to plan for the future and electing to have a “learning” season. In 2018, both of those strategies were seen.

In a wild but expected outcome, the Super Bowl consisted of two teams that the consensus predicted before the start of the year. Looking past that, only five teams returned to the playoffs– the New England Patriots, Kansas City Chiefs, New Orleans Saints, Los Angeles Rams, and Philadelphia Eagles. Interestingly enough, four of the five made their respective conference championship games.

While the Rams sold out for the 2018 season by trading for Brandin Cooks, Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib and signing Ndakumong Suh, New England had a much quieter approach. Furthermore, the New Orleans Saints were one called pass interference away from earning another trip to the Super Bowl, and they ranked fifth in free agency spending. For successful teams, this shows there is not really one way to do it in free agency. 

Switching to the other end of the spectrum, the common belief is that ‘bad teams’ that spend big money in free agency to improve their rosters usually fail. However, 2018 may have put a damper on that logic.

 The Bears were one of the worst teams during the 2017-18 season only reaching five wins. With rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky at the helm after Mike Glennon struggled, Chicago was still a lost cause. One year later, the Bears were one of the biggest surprises of the 2018 season with rookie head coach Matt Nagy turning around the Bears in nearly one season. Chicago spent the most money in free agency with high-profiling signings of Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, and Trey Burton among others.

In contrast, the Jacksonville Jaguars were a couple plays away from advancing to the Super Bowl in 2017. They had another big offseason as they ranked third is free agency spending with lucrative deals to Andrew Norwell, Marqise Lee, and Donte Moncrief. Jacksonville may have been plagued by a poor quarterback in 2018, but it does not disregard the fact that they felt they upgraded the weaknesses of their team in order to return to the post-season.

Another team that fits under the old adage would be the New York Jets, who were second in free agent spending yet still had a worse season in 2018 than 2017. New York did have a rookie a quarterback in Sam Darnold who experienced a steep learning curve, but they signed Trumaine Johnson to a $72.5 million deal as well as agreeing to terms with Spencer Long on a $27.4 million contract. 

Free agency is indeed a fun time for fans, players, coaches, and front offices around the league as every team is filled with hope and optimism, the key thing to remember is that there is not one way to do things.