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Posted: Monday March 8, 2010 7:54AM; Updated: Tuesday March 9, 2010 2:22PM
Peter King

In wake of signing/trade frenzy, a reminder: Free agency is overrated

Story Highlights

Free-agent WRs who struck it rich last March did not perform well in season

The three worst decisions made, plus three players who should get snapped up

Quotes/Tweet of the Week, a note on Dr. Z and 10 Things I Think I Think

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The Bears landed the prize of free agency, Julius Peppers, on the first day.

I was thinking about all the cautionary tales we'd heard about free agency, about how even though the NFL was killing the salary cap, most every team was going to sit back and let the market settle because the pool of available players was so weak. No fourth- or fifth-year unrestricted free agents, which took 212 players off the market. And other than Julius Peppers, no real stars to throw sick money.

Well, nothing changed. Absolutely nothing.

Look at the number of players earning at least $2 million a year who changed teams on day one of free agency in 2009 versus 2010:

Day 1 Signings (2009) Old Team New Club Day 1 Signings (2010) Old Team New Club
DT Albert Haynesworth Titans Redskins DE Julius Peppers Panthers Bears
TE Chris Baker Jets Patriots TE Brandon Manumaleuna Chargers Bears
S Renaldo Hill Dolphins Broncos RB Chester Taylor Vikings Bears
WR Jabar Gaffney Patriots Broncos DE Kyle Vanden Bosch Titans Lions
C Jason Brown Ravens Rams WR Nate Burleson Seahawks Lions
RB Fred Taylor Jaguars Patriots QB A.J. Feeley Panthers Rams
OL Stacy Andrews Bengals Eagles CB Dunta Robinson Texans Falcons
S Brian Dawkins Eagles Broncos DT Justin Bannan Ravens Broncos
LB Michael Boley Falcons Giants S Antrel Rolle Cardinals Giants
LB Bart Scott Ravens Jets LB Karlos Dansby Cardinals Dolphins
n/a n/a n/a CB Nathan Jones Dolphins Broncos
Day 1 Trades (2009) Old Team New Club Day 1 Trades (2010) Old Team New Club
#LB Mike Vrabel Patriots Chiefs *CB Antonio Cromartie Chargers Jets
TE Kellen Winslow Browns Buccaneers WR Anquan Boldin Cardinals Ravens
n/a n/a n/a DT Corey Williams Browns Lions
* - Trade actually completed at 10:45 p.m. Thursday, 75 minutes before free agency opened
# - Trade included QB Matt Cassel, but that part of it wasn't announced until Day 2

What changed? Nothing that I see. Two big defensive linemen, Haynesworth and Peppers. Two big linebackers, Scott and Dansby. Two fading backs, Taylor and Taylor. Two name safeties, Dawkins and Rolle. A few trades, none earthshaking. Good teams knew which important players to keep. Indianapolis kept an offensive cornerstone, center Jeff Saturday, last year, and a defensive leader, Gary Brackett, this year.

One more point about the value of splurging: In 2008, as a precursor to their Super Bowl seasons, Arizona and Pittsburgh signed no one from other teams in the first two days of free agency. In 2009, as a precursor to their Super Bowl seasons, New Orleans and Indianapolis signed no one from other teams in the first two days of free agency.

That's the thing about free agency: We celebrate it like it's a huge event, like if you get nothing done the opening 72 hours, your season's down the drain. Bills fans harmed themselves over the weekend. Bucs fan are mutinous. On Sunday afternoon, Washington GM Bruce Allen put free agency in perspective quite well, saying, "Free agency isn't a day, and it's not a weekend. We think free agency runs 'til the first day of training camp. Let's see who you have a couple of months from now, not just who you have after a couple of days. What difference does it make when you sign them, if they help you?''

I don't want to over-chart you, but check out this list of the top-paid wide receivers in free agency last year, and what happened to them:

Free Agent Wide Receivers On The Open Market
Player Team 2009 Earnings Receptions Yards TDs 2010 Team
Antonio Bryant Buccaneers $9.8 million 39 600 4 Unemployed
Laveranues Coles Bengals $9.75 million 43 514 5 Unemployed
Nate Washington Titans $7.8 million 47 569 6 Titans
Michael Clayton Buccaneers $7.5 million 16 230 1 Bucs
T.J. Houshmandzadeh Seahawks $7.5 million 79 911 3 Seahawks
Terrell Owens Bills $6.5 million 55 825 5 Unemployed
Brandon Jones 49ers $5.4 million 1 18 0 49ers
Torry Holt Jaguars $3.5 million 51 722 0 Unemployed

Eight players who struck it rich, who combined to earn $58 million last year -- and none of the eight made the Pro Bowl, none of them had 80-catch seasons.

There's a clarion call out there, and it's screaming: Free agency is vastly overrated.


In order, here's the lineup for the rest of the column:

1. Sounds like Dan Snyder's doing what his football people tell him to do.

2. The Cardinals, more and more, are taking on a Steeler persona.

3. Jim Schwartz must be one heck of a texter.

4. I praise, I criticize, I wonder. The Bears and Ravens get noticed.

5. Mike McGuire says, "Please tell everyone, thank you.''

6. There's a reason Albert Pujols is good, and Bill Parcells finds it out.

7. Paul Zimmerman's not giving up.

8. Scott Fujita had $8 million reasons to jump Good Ship Saints.

9. For 8 million reasons, Brandon Marshall's not worth the sixth pick in this draft.

10. You know what I learned from the Saints' Super Bowl DVD? The reversal of the two-point conversion catch by Lance Moore was spot on by ref Scott Green -- and Sean Payton loves him some Juicy Fruit.

Without further ado:

Bruce Allen and Mike Shanahan seem to have a (fiscally conservative) plan in Washington.

I'm not sure it's going to work, but it's can't be much worse than the old days, when the Redskins won the NFL offseason championship every year but precious little else. Shanahan, the Redskins' coach with the power, and Allen, the new general manager, worked on a long-term plan for the team in their first month on the job and gave it to Snyder just before the Super Bowl. "He said, 'Good. Do what you guys think is best,' '' Allen said Sunday.

And the plan really included keeping the checkbook in the pocket on the first weekend of free agency? Really? Was Snyder apoplectic?

"No,'' Allen said. "He didn't throw anything at me. And he didn't throw a tantrum. He's fine with it.''

Versatile offensive lineman Artis Hicks is headed to the Redskins.
Getty Images

Allen believes in setting a plan for free agency, for instance, and not moving off it with the emotion of the moment. As with Julius Peppers. Were the Redskins interested in Peppers, the eighth-year Carolina defensive end who signed with Chicago? I believe they were. Absolutely. But I think they were interested in Peppers at a reasonable level of compensation -- say, $10 million a year. When they started hearing how desperate the Bears were for Peppers, I believe the Redskins knew they'd never have a chance at him. Same with several other guys they liked.

"What we did,'' said Allen, "is when we got the list of free agents with their phone numbers and agent phone numbers from the league [Thursday at midnight], and I highlighted the 40 or 50 we were interested in, and we started calling them. We left messages for some of them, talked to some of them, and told them we were interested. And we'll see where it takes us.''

Washington had left tackle Chad Clifton from Green Bay in on Friday, but the Packers kept Clifton with a three-year, $21-million deal -- probably more money and more years than Washington wanted to offer. On Saturday, they settled for a less accomplished but more versatile offensive lineman, Artis Hicks, who has played four of the five line positions in his checkered career. He's 31, with much less wear (and experience) than Clifton.

They re-signed center Casey Rabach. The offensive line and offensive backfield are still positions of major need. But Allen's experience tells him some historically good players with a year or two left -- maybe Thomas Jones, for instance, in the backfield -- will be there when the money is more to their liking. "The music hasn't stopped, and there's still a lot of chairs to be filled,'' Allen said. At least the tune in D.C. is different this year.

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