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…