It’s already being touted as the best free agent class in history before any players become eligible to negotiate with other teams.
The hype has created clamoring. The cries to load up or go after this target or that target have already begun in force.
Many teams will heed those cries and make a splash. Money will be thrown around. Someone will be declared the winner of free agency.
The excitement is understandable. It’s fun to dream about Dez Bryant catching passes on the outside or Ndamukong Suh providing pushing the pocket and wreaking havoc for your favorite team instead of inflicting it, but those visions typically do not materialize as hoped.
There are, of course, free agent success stories. The Saints made the right decision in signing Drew Brees, and cornerback Keenan Lewis has been a bargain. But by and large, the teams that try to win championships in March end up regretting their decisions by January.
History does not lie.
The cautionary tale should be the 2011 Eagles. That year, the Eagles constructed a so-called “Dream Team” by acquiring defensive end Jason Babin, defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins and cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, among others.
Where are they now? All three players have since been cut after Philadelphia limped to and were humbled by an 8-8 finish.
But Philadelphia wasn’t the only team to make regrettable decisions that offseason. Of the 23 players that signed a free agent deal with a new team spanning four or more years, 15 did not make it to the end of their contract.
Despite seeing free agents flame out around the league, it did not deter front offices from making similar decisions the next offseason. In fact, more dove in. Twenty-seven players signed a contract spanning four or more years during the 2012 free agent period. Seventeen of those players are now with different teams or out of the league.
Only two of the 27 players that signed such deals before the 2013 seasons have been let go by the signing teams, but that number will almost certainly inflate in the coming weeks and months. There have been rumors about the Miami Dolphins possibly parting ways with wide receiver Mike Wallace and the Patriots could cut ties with wide receiver Danny Amendola.
If history is any indication, more than half of those players will be on a new team or out of the league by the time before their deals expire.
There’s a saying around football that good teams build through the draft and bad teams try to fix their mistakes in free agency. It’s said so often that it’s almost become cliche. There’s a reason for that. It’s mostly true.
Teams such as the Green Bay Packers, who currently have 18 total players acquired through free agency, including five signed to futures contracts, treat free agency as if it’s a plague that could infect their team.
But other successful franchises dive in without concern. The New England Patriots currently have 27 players under contract acquired through free agency, while the Seattle Seahawks have 36. The Saints have 38, ninth-most in the NFL.
The difference between good teams and bad teams is that they typically do not enter free agency seeking building blocks. A strong core is already in place and those teams are typically seeking players who can patch a hole or provide a finishing touch.
The Eagles learned this the hard way in 2011. They had the talent, but it takes more than talent to win football games.
You need leadership, chemistry, and players who understand the system. Just because a player worked out and thrived in another system, it does not mean he is going to come to town and do the same for your team.
None of this is likely to deter the Saints from picking through the open market in search of missing pieces. And it shouldn’t. This team has glaring needs that in some areas would be best addressed by finding veteran players.
That’s the right approach. The Saints don’t need transformative talent. They need players who can come in, plug holes, and blend into the already existing fabric.
But even then, there’s risk involved even when you aren’t trying to make a big splash.