Participation in expensive free agency carries with it this disclaimer: Be very, very sure the guy you're signing is the player you think he is, or else.
Or else what?
Or else your team's salary cap is going to be damaged, your team's future is going to suffer, and your job is going to fall into jeopardy.
Yeah, that's how devastating a miss in expensive free agency can be. I don't think I need to throw the names at you. OK, I'll throw out one: Albert Haynesworth. Get it?
Mike Spofford threw one at me: Joe Johnson (pictured). I wasn't covering the Packers when they signed Johnson, but from afar I knew it hadn't turned out well. Of course, you know better than I do the degree to which that signing didn't work.
I'm not against free agency. I'm actually a proponent of using free agency because I believe a team needs to use every resource available in acquiring talent. I'm just against first-week free agency, which is to say expensive free agency, because, in my opinion, there are no bargains in the first week of free agency.
It's my opinion that all early signings are overpaid. The risk/reward, in my opinion, is grossly tilted toward risk. I think if you wait a little bit and let some of the free agents that went into the process thinking they were going to break the bank find out the market isn't as attracted to them as they are to the market, you might find a gem that actually is worth the money you agree to pay him. Charles Woodson was such an acquisition.
First-week free agency also has a reputation for not producing for its participants the results they were seeking. The Jets and Eagles were big players in free agency last summer. How did that work for them?
The Packers haven't been a big participant in the last two free agency periods. In fact, they haven't participated at all. The last guy they signed is Duke Preston in 2009. I wasn't here then. Duke isn't here now.
Since the Packers stopped signing free agents, they won a Super Bowl and 19 games consecutively. Is there a message in that?
The Patriots haven't been swingers in expensive free agency, either. They got stung on Roosevelt Colvin a long time ago, took a break to regain their courage, and then took a big swing at Adalius Thomas in 2007, and struck out on a wicked curve ball that buckled the Patriots' knees. They haven't taken a big swing since.
Pittsburgh treats first-week free agency as though it's a leper colony. The Giants are above such admissions of weakness.
I'm not saying the Packers won't go for a guy next week. I'm just saying that should they do it, they better be very, very sure the guy they sign is the player they think he is, or else.
Every team in the NFL is in this, or should be in this, to win a championship. For a contender to win a championship, it must get better players, and the best players available to improve a team are the ones at the top of the free-agent market.
The top guys in free agency are established pros. They've been around the block. They aren't rookies that need to be brought along, that need to learn. They're ready to step in and play. Somebody is going to sign these guys to improve their team, and if it's not you, then your competition is getting better players instead.
Are some of these top free agents going to demand too much money? Of course. Proven players don't come cheap. The top free agents, if they aren't tagged as franchise or transition players by their original teams, have probably been underpaid to this point in their careers. Now they might get overpaid a bit, but should a few extra bucks prevent you from getting a player who can really help your team?
The position they play matters. Quarterbacks, offensive tackles, pass rushers and cornerbacks are the premier positions in the league. This is where to spend the money. If a top free agent at a premier position is better than what you have on your team, you'd better look into it because somebody is going to get better at an important spot.
Big free-agent signings come with risk, primarily financial. They eat up salary cap space, and if they don't perform as expected, that can damage a team's future. Sometimes it doesn't work out. It's not foolproof. Nothing in this business is, but nobody in the NFL wins it all by totally playing it safe, even the Packers.
Green Bay's only two Super Bowl championship teams since the Lombardi era both featured prime free agents – Reggie White and Charles Woodson, a pass rusher and a corner. In 1996 and 2010, respectively, they were big-time playmakers and superb locker-room leaders. It took a few years in each case – White signed in '93, Woodson in '06 – for the Packers to win that title, but those prized free agents were huge building blocks in the development of a championship team.
Free agency is a high-risk, high-reward game. It's an investment made in a proven, high-priced player when a multi-year window to win a title presents itself. White was the biggest prize on the market the year he became available and he helped the Packers get to three straight NFC title games and two consecutive Super Bowls. His jersey has been retired by the Packers and he's in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He's the most significant free-agent signing in team history, if not league history.
Free agents like White can make the difference. Can they bust? Of course, but they can also give a contender a bigger championship window. The Packers of the mid-1990s were becoming a good team that might have gotten a shot at winning it all without White, but he helped give the Packers multiple bites at the big apple. The franchise's hopes weren't all on that single year that it finally might come together. The hope was annual.
Woodson's case is a little different because he lasted on the free-agent market longer than expected. The interest in him wasn't as high as anticipated, but the Packers made a large investment in him nonetheless. He aided Green Bay's push to the conference title game in his second season with the Packers before becoming an integral figure on the championship team three years later.
It's all about opportunity, and proven players at premier positions enhance and increase a team's opportunities. Winning it all is all that's worth winning.
What do you think?