Much has been made of the New York Jets free agent strategy to date. Some praise second year GM John Idzik’s meticulous approach. Others condemn him for lacking vision and ignoring blatant holes in the roster. Regardless of your opinion on the matter, some league wide perspective on this free agency period is in order.
NFL.com’s Gregg Rosenthal provides this list of teams and the number of players from other rosters that they signed. What can this list tell us?
- We know that the New York Jets signed five players: Eric Decker, Michael Vick, Breno Giacomini, Dimitri Patterson, and Jacoby Ford.
- We also know that twelve teams signed equal to or fewer players than the Jets.
- Some of those teams are the class of the NFL: 49ers, Saints, Patriots, Broncos.
- Others had years (or a few consecutive ones) to forget: Bills, Rams, Cowboys.
- The teams that signed the most players were all middling to below average in 2013: Buccaneers (17), Giants (15), Redskins (13), Raiders (12).
- The Superbowl Champion Seahawks signed eight players.
- The 5-10-1 Vikings, who hold the eighth overall pick, also signed eight players.
There is a lot that can be gleaned from this information. However, what stands out the most is that there is no one way to approach free agency and no universally successful way to construct a roster. Consider the actions of some of free agency’s top customers.
The Buccaneers signed seventeen new players. However, likely only five of them will start: Michael Johnson, Alterraun Verner, Brandon Meyers, , Evan Dietrich-Smith, and Clinton McDonald. The Buccaneers were already very talented but had to add players that fit new Head Coach Lovie Smith’s mold.
On the other hand, Oakland signed thirteen players and will likely start nine: Justin Tuck, Lamarr Woodley, Donald Penn, Austin Howard, James Jones, Kevin Boothe, Terrell Brown, Antonio Smith, and Carlos Rogers; ten if you include Matt Schaub. The Raiders were devoid of talent across the board. GM Reggie McKenzie was dealt a poor hand and had to find a way to balance immediate results with long term opportunity.
The crosstown Giants probably played free agency how many expected and hoped the Jets would. The signed Dominic Rogers-Cromartie, Walter Thurmond III, and Quintin Demps to add starters and depth to their struggling back end. They replaced the departed Tuck with Robert Ayers. They fortified their offensive line with Geoff Schwartz and hope to catch lightning in a bottle with Rashad Jennings. They now have $4,129,849 in cap space, just enough to ink their rookies. The Giants shelled out mostly cap friendly deals (the Rogers-Cromartie deal being the obvious outlier) and should have approximately $30,000,000 in cap next off season. Should these moves work out, GM Jerry Reese may find himself off the hot seat without having compromised his future cap.
The Jets are in a very different position than any of the aforementioned organizations. GM John Idzik does not face the same front office pressure as Reese or McKenzie and is still free to operate at his own pace (glacially apparently). Nor is he a first year GM like Tampa Bay’s Jason Licht who must completely restock the roster in he and Coach Smith’s image.
The Jets are in year two of a rebuild with a young core in place. Filling the roster out with free agents may have led to some quick results but would not be conducive to long term success. That being said, putting all his eggs in the draft basket leaves Idzik with little leeway should this upcoming rookie class not yield positive results, and quickly.
Had Idzik gone on a spending spree, some fans would have been happy but many would be reminded of the short window of success that strategy produced in the Tennenbaum era. However, some GMs (looking at you Trent Baalke) went to the other extreme and let numerous starters walk (e.g. Rogers and Brown) and only signed two free agents.
If you are a numbers person, the average number of outside players signed by an NFL team so far this offseason is seven. The mode of this same sample is five players, with a total of six teams singing that many (the Jets being one).
Whatever this statistical perspective means to you, the fact is that the Jets offseason is in line with what much of the rest of the league. That being said, each team operates in its own context and what works for one team will not necessarily work for another. No one organization has a secret formula for sustained and immediate success and free agency alone does not a resume make.