March Madness: NFL Style


Every offseason the story is the same:  Every NFL team wants to improve.  And the fans

want their favorite team to improve.

As soon as a player has been declared a free agent, no matter who he is and no matter how well he’s played in the past, rest assured somewhere there is a team looking at him.  Likewise, somewhere there is a fan screaming that their team needs to sign him right away.

Everyone gets wrapped up by free agency, consumed by it.  With the money available to spend, teams are prodded by outside forces to bring in every player they can.  Some cave to the pressure it would seem while others remain above the fray.

This happens every year.  And March, especially because it’s the final month prior to the draft, is when most fans are yelling the loudest.  Welcome to March Madness: NFL Style.

I’m guilty of it and so are most fans – we want what’s best for our teams.  But this was a weak free agency class.  This didn’t stop us all from wanting nearly every player out there.  Some teams made moves early and often and others remained quiet.

Two teams that proved it’s not always best to be busy in free agency:

New York Jets – This is a team seemingly grabbing at straws.  They signed and overpaid an aging guard (Faneca), an outside linebacker (Pace), yet another aging offensive lineman (Woody) and made a deal for disgruntled Kris JenkinsPrice Tag: $107 million, third and fifth round draft picks.

Oakland Raiders –  This might be the team that is the very example of overspending.  They re-signed a defensive lineman (Kelly), brought in a safety (Wilson), got a new tackle (Harris), signed a wideout that hadn’t looked that good with his previous team (Carter), traded for a cornerback (Hall)  and signed a high priced wide receiver (Walker).  Price Tag: $162 million and a second-round draft choice.

Other teams, like the Dolphins or Browns, have been active but have been smarter with their money.  The Browns have paid out some major dollars but did so for players to help them reach the next level – a place the Jets and Raiders won’t see for a while.  The Dolphins have been particularly active in bringing in younger players to build a new nucleus of young talent.

It’s not always necessary to spend big.  The Carolina Panthers have done anything but.  Which leads us to the point of all of this.

Let’s first look at the players the Panthers have lost.

Mike Wahle (G), Dan Morgan (LB), DeShaun Foster (RB), David Carr (QB), Justin Hartwig (C), Vinny Testaverde (QB), Drew Carter (WR), Keary Colbert (WR), Christian Fauria (TE), Mike Rucker (DE), Kris Jenkins (DT), Patrick Dendy (CB), Deke Cooper (FS)

Among these players there are several who might be considered major losses.  Wahle, Morgan, Rucker and Jenkins could be key losses.  Plus, Jenkins and Rucker had been counted on along the defensive line and had produced in the past.  The problem with each of these players was either age, attitude or both.

More importantly, the Panthers made an effort here to get younger.  The average age of this group is just over 30 years old.

Now, let’s look at who they retained.

Damione Lewis (DT), Chris Harris (S), Travelle Wharton (OT), Jordan Gross (OT), Dante Wesley (CB), Brad Hoover (FB), Donte’ Curry (LB), Rhys Lloyd (K)

The team retained a young nucleus especially in Lewis, Gross and Wharton.  These are all players who can contribute in a big way.  Lewis will likely be a starter as will Gross and Wharton.

The critical part of this is that the average age of this group is 27.5 years old.

Finally, here are the players they’ve added.

Muhsin Muhammad (WR), Ricardo Colclough (CB), Keydrick Vincent (G), Tyler Brayton (DE), Landon Johnson (LB), LaBrandon Toefield (RB), D.J. Hackett (WR)

An argument can be made that if the team was attempting to get younger they didn’t help themselves by bringing in a 34 year old receiver in Muhammad.  But he will provide stability at the position, be a good mentor for the youngsters (Jarrett) and will be a great lockerroom presence.

Colclough, Toefield  and Vincent could wind up being depth additions.  Colclough might play special teams and Vincent may wind up starting if the team can’t find another guard.

Johnson, Hackett and Brayton will likely start right away unless Hackett winds up the number three receiver.

A critical number for this group – 27.9.  That’s their average age.  The average age among this group minus Muhammad is 26.8.

It’s difficult to determine what has been invested here.  The team normally doesn’t release financial terms of player contracts.  However, spending wisely seems to be a constant.  Only Landon Johnson got a deal over $10 million and that was for 3 years.

Vincent’s deal is 2 years for $2 million and Hackett signed for 2 years and $3.5 million.

The overall average of the length of the contracts signed among this group is for less than two years with the longest contract length, again, going to Johnson.

The bottom line is that some teams went shopping and spending early in free agency.  Money flowed.  As a result, some teams will be in salary cap hell for a long time, particularly the Jets and Raiders.

The Panthers have played this game very close to the vest.  They have been frugal.  Allowing other teams to overspend was the right move.  The only drawback is that salaries can get wratched up to a point that you can get priced out of the market.  But that didn’t happen.

It’s easy to argue, and I would agree, that the team overspent on Colclough, a player who had looked terrible at times in Pittsburgh.  A $4 million deal was being extremely generous.  That definitely removes style point from the team’s offseason moves.

Overall for this free agency period, however, I have to grade them as a B+.