"You have to build your team through the draft."
"The teams that win March are very rarely the teams that we see in January."
We are not even a week into free agency and I'm confident that I've already seen or heard different experts (or "talking heads" if you prefer) utter some combination of those two phrases roughly a billion times. It's gotten to the point where it'd be a cliché to call those phrases "clichés."
The points, of course, are well taken, and they lay out a core principal that every NFL team should follow: draft well and develop young, relatively inexpensive players into major contributors. No kidding. Does anybody in the galaxy actually dispute this point?
Of course not.
The problem is that these phrases have become such stock answers that some fans and media members have been brainwashed into thinking you can't win if you are extremely active and/or a big spender in free agency. But is that really true?
Let's look at the two teams that played in this year's Super Bowl to help us find an answer to that question. We can start with the Denver Broncos. Sure, guys like Demaryius Thomas, Derek Wolfe, and Super Bowl MVP Von Miller were drafted by the team and have become big components of Denver's success. But consider the following players as well: Emmanuel Sanders, TJ Ward, DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib, Owen Daniels, Evan Mathis, Louis Vazquez, Darian Stewart and, of course, Peyton Manning.
What do all of those players have in common? You probably guessed it by now, but they were all signed as free agents by the Broncos over the last few years. In fact, with the exception of Mathis, they were all signed during March, and most of them during the first week of free agency when "overspending" takes place. Do you think owner Pat Bowlen or General Manager John Elway felt like they overspent during that Super Bowl parade they had last month? Neither do I.
The point isn't that you can necessarily "buy a championship" by spending huge amounts of dollars like the New York Giants did on the first day of free agency this year -- but you sure as heck can bring in a lot of good players that play a big role in winning a title. I'm not saying the Giants are going to win the Super Bowl, but does anybody doubt they have more talent on defense right now than they did last season?
The Green Bay Packers and their GM Ted Thompson are notoriously quiet during free agency -- which is a fine organizational philosophy if you are winning -- but the Packers haven't made it back to the Super Bowl in five seasons even though they have had arguably the best quarterback in the NFL during that time. Heck, they've only even made it to one NFC Championship game during that time. You can't tell me that some of the players that the Broncos have signed the last few years, for example, couldn't have helped the Packers get over the hump during the last half-decade. Someday, Thompson is going to wake up from his annual free agency-induced coma and realize that he just wasted the prime years of Aaron Rodgers.
Even if they don't spend big money like the Broncos have, many teams like Green Bay could have supplemented their roster like the Panthers and GM Dave Gettleman did. The Packers could've definitely used a tackle like Michael Oher for those games when Bryan Bulaga and David Bakhtiari were injured. Or how about a deep threat like Ted Ginn, something the Packers were sorely lacking once Jordy Nelson went down due to injury? The Panthers didn't break the bank for either of them, instead getting them off the free agent scrap heap, and they became major contributors for the NFC Champions.
Only time will tell how the moves made by teams like the Jaguars and Raiders in free agency this offseason will turn out, but if you have more than enough salary cap room and money to spend, what is the problem with using those resources? As long as you don't guarantee too much money in future years or create a potentially hazardous dead-money situation for your cap, I fail to see the issue.
After all, once the games start in September, nobody cares what a guy's salary or cap hit is. They just want to win.
Kind of like the Broncos and Panthers.