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The Risk of NFL Free Agency – SportsUntapped.com
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Added April 27th, 2010 by Scott

The Risk of NFL Free Agency
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When the Patriots, in the words of head coach Bill Belichick, “backed up the Brink’s truck” for free agent linebacker Adalius Thomas back in 2007, everything was ice cream and puppy dogs. Thomas had been a stalwart in the Ravens defense for seven seasons, and at age 29 was still considered to be in his prime.

He lived up to his bloated contract by posting 78 tackles and 6.5 sacks in his first season with New England. However, the following two years would be less than ideal for Thomas. An arm injury limited him to just nine games in 2008. In 2009, he fell out of favor with Belichick and was deactivated for two games

Yesterday, the Patriots cut ties with Thomas by releasing him. Was he worth the $35 million investment?

Thomas did play a vital role in the Pats undefeated regular season in 2007, but his level of play was already in decline. He had trouble acclimating himself into a new defense and would eventually engage in a public war of words with Belichick, which ultimately led to his downfall.

Bottom line: Thomas was another example of a high-priced free agent who never achieved the same degree of success he had with the team that originally drafted him. The Philadelphia Eagles made a similar mistake in 2004 when they handed Jevon Kearse a then record-breaking deal worth $65 million over eight years. In four seasons, Kearse would miss 19 games due to injury and record only 22 sacks.

On March 5 of this year, the Bears opened up the vault for 30-year-old Julius Peppers by awarding him a six-year contract worth $91.5 million with $42 million guaranteed. After eight productive seasons with the Panthers, Peppers will have to adjust to a new city, new coaches, new teammates and new defensive scheme. The chances he proves to be a sound investment are slim at best.

The pressure to win games has put head coaches and General Managers in a difficult position. The road to free agent glory is littered with failures and wasted money. And yet, every offseason a handful of teams break the bank for players who will in all likelihood be disappointments.

The goal is to improve the team on the field, but more often than not, the new guy falls short of expectations. Smart franchises focus on the draft rather than free agency. Missing on a first-round pick can be costly, but it’s not nearly as bad as whiffing year after year on big ticket veterans.

Football is still a business. Low risk, high reward is usually the safest play.

 
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