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It’s Been March Madness in the NFL Too

What a month it’s been. Over 500 NFL players entered the free agency market and something like two-thirds of them have now joined new teams. I don’t recall there ever being an offseason anything like this one.

Not only has there been a huge number of players switching teams, a bunch of the league’s best players have cast their lot with new teams. It used to be that it was the players who wanted to become free agents in order to get big money deals. Now, for many of the league’s best players, it’s the teams that choose not to re-sign their best players in order to stay under the salary cap.

Some readers think all of this talk and speculation about the upcoming season is premature. Maybe Total Packers and other sports pundits are just looking to make copy until training camp gets underway.

I don’t think so. What about all those who’ve been endlessly told it’s players, not plays, that make the difference. If that’s true (I think it’s both), then isn’t March an absolutely key time of the year for fans to follow?

Just look at the numbers. The Raiders since March 14 have signed (and in a few cases re-signed) 19 players, not to mention having an entirely new coaching staff. Whatever the Raiders did in 2017 is utterly irrelevant – they are virtually a new team.

The Jets now also have 19 mostly-new players signed. The Bears have 15 and Buffalo and Cleveland are up to 14, and are still actively pursuing others. Green Bay, in contrast has been stuck on four new players since the signing of Tramon Williams.

Then there’s the other side of the coin. For every free agent that joins a new team, there’s a team that has lost one of its former players. Nine Packers entered the 2018 unrestricted free agent market, which is one of the lower such numbers in the league. Morgan Burnett and Jeff Janis are gone, while the rest remain unsigned by Green Bay or anyone else. The Packers did re-sign two of their exclusive rights free agents: Geronimo Allison and Justin McCray.

Teams that decided to clean house this year include: Seattle, with 18 free agents; Arizona, 17; Chicago, 16; Washington, 15; and Buffalo, Houston, Indianapolis, New York Giants, and Tampa Bay, with 14 each.

I’ve never seen as much free market activity as this year. In terms of which teams will be NFL contenders in 2018, free agent signings and departures will be the key, not the upcoming NFL draft. For the most part, a team that drafts well is building for the future, though not in store for an immediate turnaround.

2017 Free Agent Results

To test out some of these thoughts, I located an ESPN.com article written just one week into the 2017 free agency signing period. ESPN graded three teams as having the best free agency signings versus free agent losses: Jacksonville, Detroit and New England.

Jacksonville’s record soared from 3-13 in 2016 to 10-6 in 2017. Detroit held its own, going 9-7 each season. The Patriots went from 14-2 to 13-3, but returned to the Super Bowl.

At the other end of the list, the three teams with the lowest grades were Cincinnati, Cleveland and Green Bay. Cincinnati stayed about the same 6-9-1 to 7-9, Cleveland went from one win to zero, and the Packers dropped from 10-6 to 7-9.

While hardly conclusive, it appears that signing a good group of free agents, while not losing too many of their own players to free agency, is going to make a difference in that year’s win-loss record. Because the 2018 free agent market has been so volatile, I think we’ll see a much more definite trend at the end of the upcoming season.

Unfortunately for Packers fans, Green Bay over the past 11 years has seldom if ever improved their lot during the free agency period. You probably need to go back to 2006, when Charles Woodson and Ryan Pickett were brought in.

Do the losses of Jordy Nelson, Morgan Burnett, Damarious Randall (via trade), and Jeff Janis balance out the gains made in signing Jimmy Graham, Muhammad Wilkerson, Tramon Williams, and adding DeShone Kizer via trade? A close call.

Before free agency ends, the Packers might also lose Jahri Evans, Davon House, Richard Rodgers and Ahmad Brooks.

At the moment all signs point to a very challenging season. For those wanting good news when they go to Total Packers, I’ll be more than happy to supply it as soon as I can find any. There’s always the draft…

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Rob Born

Smart drafters don’t select the best available players, they fill a team’s positions of greatest need.

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5 Comments

  1. Tupac March 31, 2018

    I don’t expect us to make too many more moves. You had a point on the numbers already signed and expected to contribute. I think we may be trading Janis for which ever DB depth player can contribute on STs the most. Hopefully thats not Goodson.

    Brice and Evans will round out the S, each have 2 years of experience, gotta imagine one takes the 3rd year step to become a legitimate backup. Ya’ll saw how stacked Hawkins is! Herb Waters is Witts new Shields. For CB, Lenzy Pipkins, Donatello Brown and Herb Waters all had a year to learn the NFL system…very possible one of them becomes a good 5th CB depth option. We already know Rollins is the 4th, once he comes off the PUP. And we pick up 2 more through Draft/FA.

    You mentioned trading picks like whoa too. Real talk, Ward is 5’10”. Pretty sure the last CB of his size that we drafted anywhere near this high was…..Ahmad Carrol. If the plan is CB first no matter what, and not BPA, they may be trading up for one of the 2 DBs, or trade back for who you would imagine they were targeting. Gain a 3rd-ish, or move up the 2nd for, hopefully a Jordy replacement, aka a #1 WR. Adams is probably a top-3 #2s out there. You give the defense a WR with legit #1 abilities, in addition to the matchup problems Cobb already presents, Adams will ball the fuck out.

    Maybe they trade back with CLE, like last year to the 33rd pick, so CLE can grab the QB/RB and then also address Thomas leaving….while we gain the 33rd and another 2nd. Then we grab a CB/WR/Pass Rusher all in the 2nd. And still have 10 other picks to wheel and deal for targeted players they didn’t expect to fall. I bet a 3rd – 5th olineman project too.

    1. MJ April 1, 2018

      Why get extra picks that don’t turn into playmakers (which are more likely to go first), and furthermore, picks that you have to cut by the time the rosters get back to 53?

      1. tupac April 2, 2018

        Why trade down? To get better value.

        “And still have 10 other picks to wheel and deal for targeted players they didn’t expect to fall.”

        You want guys to ultimately end up with, then slightly overpay for them, give up a 6th, and move up a few spots for who you know will help, and be BPA.

  2. DT March 31, 2018

    I guess we’ll just have to see what Pettine ends up with on defense come September and give him a chance to do better than Capers. It is definitely unfortunate they did nothing to bolster the CB position in free agency. Even with what could be a solid defensive line, you don’t want to go into the post season with a rookie and a second year player at the position.

    The offense might not be amazing but it is hard to imagine it being completely inept, again, because of that dude wearing number 12. Hard to even say what they had in Janis given how many snaps he was given.

    All speculation at this point. Guess we’ll see. They’ve got a tough schedule this year, they’ll either flounder, or it will battle-harden them for January.

  3. MJ April 1, 2018

    “… it appears that signing a good group of free agents, while not losing too many of their own players to free agency, is going to make a difference in that year’s win-loss record”. That is only possible if you had two or three good previous drafts, so you can hold on to your best FA guys and at the same time bring in someone else, as the bulk of the team is under rookie contracts.