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The great free agency debate rages

It's a nasty process, as evidenced by the Steven Jackson sweepstakes


Scott from Chicago, IL

Why are you such a Kool-Aid-drinking moron? Is this your money they are not spending? There are way too many holes to fill in the draft, especially the way Ted Thompson has been drafting on defense. The fade will continue. Can't field a team with only Rodgers, Matthews and Raji. Doesn't Rodgers want a running game?

The fade? Are you serious? The Packers have won more games over the last three years than any other team in the league. That's a fade? OK, here we go.

Lawrence from Murrieta, CA

How are you a spokesperson for the Packers? You weren't even a Packers fan when they hired you and I just found out that you are from Florida. You covered the Jaguars before, right? So you just came here to do a job. You have that smart talk in all of your columns or dumb remarks to true Packers fans, which I don't think is right. If the Packers have someone speaking for them on a regular basis, then that person should have class, just like the organization. Just don't know why or how you still have a job with the Packers. We really can't trade you because really you aren't worth anything. You just need to be fired and the Packers need to bring in a fan who is more knowledgeable about the team and organization and can speak with class. Go, Pack, go.

Be all of that as it may, what I give you, respectfully, are my true opinions. Long before I came to Green Bay, I formed a very strong opinion of free agency. I think it's a trap for fools. I watched it ruin the Jaguars; gave them the worst salary cap mess in salary cap history. It took the winningest franchise in expansion franchise history and turned out the lights on that franchise for a decade. I watched as the mania for win now stole the future from that team, and the fans cheered every bold move, until they saw what it had cost them. There was no need to sign Leon Searcy to the richest contract of any offensive lineman in pro football history. All they had to do was wait two months and draft Jonathan Ogden. All they had to do was be patient. The Packers have that patience, the resolve and confidence to be true to their draft-and-develop philosophy, and it's what keeps them in the playoff hunt every year, as opposed to build and rebuild. You wanna go back to 2008? I don't think so. I speak for myself in this column, and those are my true beliefs offered to you as honestly and as respectfully as I know how to do.

Steve from La Crosse, WI

I read of teams being over the salary cap. At what point in the year must they be at or under the cap?

They must be in cap compliance 365 days a year. On the first day of the league year, which was Tuesday, the new contracts kick in and that's why you see so many teams making dramatic moves in advance of the first day of the league year. They're getting under the new year's cap.

Jeff from Seattle, WA

Just read that Bobby Bonilla will be the highest paid outfielder on the Mets this year. For those who are not baseball fans, he only played about 60 games for the Mets and last played for the Mets in 1999. He is scheduled to be paid over a million dollars until 2035. This is comparing apples to oranges, but with free agency season here, this seemed like an interesting bit of trivia.

Maybe we're on the verge of that happening in the NFL. Free agency has become its own season. With every dollar spent, the fans cry, "Spend more." Fans grow wild with excitement for players that, by and large, are castoffs from other teams. The volume of questions I've received to my inbox this week is right behind the week of last year's Seattle game. People are experiencing great angst, and it's so unnecessary because, historically, free agency does not deliver near the impact a lot of people think it does. What's coming up at the end of April does. If you wanna get antsy about something, get antsy about the draft because what happens in the draft will shape the future of franchises for the next 10 years.

Rodney from Sacramento, CA

OK, Vic, maybe the term rebuilding was a bit extreme … but if you have an MVP quarterback, don't you have to roll the dice a little bit to try to get over the top?

By rolling that dice, you're going to spend money you need to re-sign that MVP quarterback, and the dice are very, very expensive in free agency. Look what's happened in Baltimore. They finally have the MVP quarterback they've lacked forever, and they had to gut the roster to sign him. That's a difficult scenario to avoid for a team that's had a run as long as the Ravens had, but that's what you have to do to be a playoff contender year after year, and I sense that's the Packers' objective. They want to be able to promise their fans that they will be watching a playoff contender.

Kevin from Springfield, MO

I'm sure your inbox is just full of anger and sorrow over Steven Jackson signing with the Falcons, but what if the interest was never there on Jackson's side? I think the rumors connecting him (to the Packers) came from Jackson's agent to jump the price a bit.

Of course they did. As soon as I heard the Falcons were involved in the Jackson sweepstakes, I knew exactly what was going on. Figure it out. With the Falcons, Jackson would play in a dome for a run-the-ball coach who wants to feature him. Remember this, Atlanta is a mecca for pro athletes. There might be more pro athletes that live in Atlanta than in any other city in America. Literally, a culture of professional athletes has settled into that community. The only thing left for Jackson's agent to do was to move the price a little higher; that requires a competing team. Free agency is a nasty process. It leverages one team against another. Here's how I choose to view what happened: The Packers' involvement in the Jackson sweepstakes drove the price higher and cost an NFC competitor cap room the Packers will have to spend on several players. Sometimes, it's what you don't do that counts.

Simon from Mountain View, CA

Watching the first few days of free agency, boy, people sure do love wide receivers. What's up with that?

It's wide receiver fever and it can be "fatal" in free agency because that's where it's most costly. I'll never understand why teams will overspend in free agency on a wide receiver that was a late-round pick or an undrafted guy, as Wes Welker was. Hey, you had a chance to pick that guy in the seventh round and you didn't think he was good enough. Now, all of a sudden he's worth millions? There's something about that inconsistency that bothers me.

Jerome from Midland, MI

Vic, why do players put roster bonuses in their contract when that very bonus is the reason they are cut?

It's a way of creating a decision deadline. Roster bonuses are usually designated for payment on the first day of the league year or at some point in March. If the team doesn't pay the roster bonus, the player is free to go into free agency and sting some other team for a big payday, as opposed to the team having until final cuts to make a decision on the player. At that point, he won't have much bargaining power.

Lucas from Westboro, WI

I know just one man can't win you championships, but can you think of a past free agent signing that was essential in that team winning a Super Bowl soon after? Also, I've been reading your column (almost every day) since day one. I don't always like your answers or opinions, but at least you keep it honest and interesting.

Drew Brees and Reggie White are the patron saints of free agents. Brees slipped through the cracks because of major shoulder surgery that was the result of an injury he sustained in the final game of the 2005 season. The Chargers had designated him a franchise player in '05 and probably would've done it again for the purpose of retaining his rights and trading him, but it was believed the surgery also involved a torn rotator cuff and his trade value would've been minimal, so the Chargers let him go in free agency and the Saints signed Brees without even having seen him throw a post-surgery pass. It was pure luck. White slipped through the cracks because nobody understood the process in the beginning. White would never make it to free agency in today's game. Yet, everybody points the finger to Brees and White as examples of what free agency can do for a team. Clearly, they are the exception to the rule, not the rule.

Andrea from Parma, Italy

Vic, what's going on with the Ravens? They signed Flacco to an enormous contract and then traded Boldin, lose Kruger and Ellerbe and cut Pollard. What am I missing from their strategy?

You're missing the discipline to which a winning franchise commits.

Keith from Taylors, SC

Vic, Mike Wallace's cap number in 2013 is $3.25 million. In '14 it's $17.25 million.

The contract will have to be restructured a year from now, and that's when the train will leave the station and begin rolling down the tracks; actually, the train has already left the station and I think I heard the faint sound of its whistle. Why do that? Because it creates a maximum amount of room in the current year to add more players that might reverse the fortunes of the franchise. They'll deal with next year when next year arrives. Or maybe it'll be someone else's problem, huh?

Randy from Lakewood Ranch, FL

Vic, I've accused you of being a sportswriter and not a fan of the Packers (and you printed it!). However, because you are a sportswriter you are able to distance yourself from the team a bit. Sometimes that frustrates me, but during this free agency signing period you are the sane voice in the wilderness telling us it will be ok.

What I'm saying is that five years from now, maybe 10 years from now, you'll look back on this and understand its effect. I'm not saying it's going to make the Packers win the Super Bowl next season. I'm saying careful and conscientious management of the Packers' salary cap is going to provide for a long and hopeful future. Remember the dirty little secret: The Super Bowl isn't the goal. The goal is to make it into the playoffs ever year, so you might get hot in January and win it all.

Jonathan from Pensacola, FL

Never worry about that. The Packers will always make sure they commit cap room to retain their core players. Don't you consider Greg Jennings and Charles Woodson core players?

Core players are those who are either entering their prime or in the early years of it. The prime years of a player's career are considered to be years 4-7. It lasts longer for quarterbacks.

Kelvin from Warwick, UK

Vic, as a believer in younger is better, do you see the Wes Welker/Danny Amendola transactions as the Patriots being smart?

The Patriots pulled an old plug out of the wall and pushed in a younger plug. I guess it's smart, though I think it cost more than I would pay for that kind of plug. I think what's important to remember in all things involving the Patriots is that Tom Brady is the quarterback and he makes everything work. He won the Super Bowl with David Givens as his top receiver, which caused the Titans to get wide receiver fever and give Givens $24 million in free agency. He caught eight passes for 104 yards for the Titans and never played again. Brady has made a lot of people look good for a lot of years. It's easy to be smart when you have Brady, because he makes whatever you do work.

Ron from Rockford, IL

I find your crazed cornfield fan comment to be quite insulting. We are Packer fans and we are football fans. There's not much to be excited about in the offseason. What we are experiencing is frustration over the media's buildup of potential free-agent signings by our team, only to be disappointed again. Have you considered the sports media's role in your observations?

I'm media. Did I build it up? With that, I would ask everyone interested in attending a summer get-together to answer this question in one of your submissions to "Ask Vic:" Which would you prefer, a golf tournament and dinner, or lunch at Lambeau Field with an accompanying Lambeau tour? We're trying to get an idea of what fans would prefer.

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