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Point, counterpoint: Spend big in free agency?

Posted Mar 12, 2013

Read the arguments and cast your vote

Mike SpoffordPackers.com Staff Writer Mike Spofford says yes.

I’m not suggesting the Packers do anything to their salary cap to jeopardize the new mega contracts they’ll need for Aaron Rodgers and Clay Matthews. Those two are the top spending priorities, with B.J. Raji right behind as a third.

But I’m starting to wonder if the Packers can continue to remain so patient in free agency with all the activity we’ve seen already from the other NFC contenders.

The Seahawks added Percy Harvin and coughed up a first-round draft pick (and more) to get him. The 49ers added the best receiver in the postseason last year, Anquan Boldin, and found a way to house the $6 million salary Baltimore wasn’t willing to pay him. The Falcons spent big to keep one of their own, safety William Moore, by signing him just a few days before he reached the open market, which you can bet means he got a market-value contract.

These aren’t the sub-.500 teams in the NFC making major moves to boost ticket sales. These are all playoff teams, the teams the Packers will have to beat to make it back to the Super Bowl. Their stadiums will be filled regardless, just like Green Bay’s.

The Packers have followed up their Super Bowl season with a pair of strong years. Two division titles and 26 regular-season wins are nothing to sneeze at. But Green Bay’s deficiencies have been magnified in the 2011 and 2012 playoff losses.

The defense has yet to replace Pro Bowl safety Nick Collins. The defensive line is another spot. Over the past three drafts the Packers have selected Mike Neal, C.J. Wilson, Jerel Worthy and Mike Daniels, but they’ve all been situational or sub-package players thus far, not every-down linemen, and Worthy’s late-season knee injury has put his 2013 season in jeopardy. The phrase “you can never have enough big guys” perhaps applies to the Packers now more than ever.

And then there’s running back. While I’m intrigued by DuJuan Harris and want to see Alex Green another year removed from knee surgery, the first five games with Cedric Benson last season showed me what a proven, veteran running back might do for this offense. Benson was really coming around and the ground game was starting to click before he injured his foot, and then it was back to fits and starts with the running game the rest of the season.

Coming off a major injury, Benson may not return to form, but a proven veteran who can pound the ball on third-and-1 and keep the defense honest on first-and-10 should only help a passing game that is about to lose Greg Jennings.

Maybe none of these upgrades is affordable given the other spending priorities. If that’s the case, I can live with that. I wouldn’t want to see any signing that wouldn’t allow the Packers to retain Rodgers or Matthews, and even with Raji third on that list, losing him would only weaken a position with multiple questions already. That wouldn’t make sense.

But if there’s a way to have their cake and eat it too, the Packers have to find it. The other NFC contenders are making patience a tough sell.

Vic KetchmanPackers.com Editor Vic Ketchman says no.

The reason teams shouldn’t spend a lot of money in free agency is because winning teams don’t do that.

Nine of the last 10 Super Bowls have been won by built-through-the draft teams that depended little on the patches they acquired in free agency. The Patriots (2), Steelers (2), Giants (2), Colts, Packers and Ravens were all built through the draft. Their core players were homegrown, with a strategically placed free-agent acquisition here and there. Only the Saints used free agency to win a title, and that was with a flukey, risky, once-in-a-lifetime quarterback acquisition that defies all the odds. On the heels of Hurricane Katrina, the Saints were so desperate to reverse the fortunes of the franchise that they signed Drew Brees following significant arm surgery and without even working him out.

So, what teams have been big spenders in free agency? You can start with the Cowboys and Redskins. The Panthers spent an obscene amount of money to re-sign their own free agents in 2011. The Cardinals and Raiders were also big spenders in free agency that year. Over the last several years, the Jets have used free agency to spend themselves into salary cap problems. The Bucs and Bills were the top spenders in free agency last year. Denver broke the bank to sign Peyton Manning, and then won one fewer playoff game than Tim Tebow won the previous season.

Hey, I got the easy assignment. Anybody can build a case against dropping a lot of money in free agency.

Teams do a good job of evaluating their own players, so usually there’s a question mark on a player when he reaches free agency. There aren’t a lot of smart things done early in free agency.

One legendary tale has it that Steelers owner Dan Rooney required that his personnel department go on vacation the week free agency started.

This much is for sure: There are no bargains in the first week of free agency. You’re going to overpay for whatever you buy. The hope is not that you’ll get your money’s worth, it’s that you’ll get any worth. The  Brees signings of the free agency world are few and far between.

Reggie White? Come on, that was 20 years ago. That was at the start of the salary cap/free agency era. Some teams honestly believed their counterparts wouldn’t participate in a process that would skyrocket salaries. Why wouldn’t they believe it? It had never happened previously.

It doesn’t mean teams shouldn’t do their homework on the free-agent class. Every so often one sneaks through at a bargain price. Charles Woodson was such an acquisition; there might even be one in this year’s free-agent class, though it’s becoming more difficult every year to find those bargain players. This year’s free-agent class has an old-folks-home look to it.

The Packers, of course, have been very conservative in how they’ve applied the free-agent process to the shaping of their roster. Last year, they signed Jeff Saturday and Anthony Hargrove in unrestricted free agency. Neither player is with the team now, and you might say that’s what happens when you go conservative in free agency, and I would say you’re right because when you spend a lot of money on players in free agency, you don’t have the maneuverability to release them.

Cast your vote in the poll on the right, please.

Top 10 free agents photo gallery

 
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