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The Fallacy of Free Agency

Patching up the lack of premium talent with FA signings doesn’t often work

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Kansas City Chiefs Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

The hype. The excitement. The elation every fanbase experiences when the doors open to free agency is intoxicating with hope.

Join me in this ad-lib.

“With the [TEAM] signing [FREE AGENT 1], they’ll be a better team. [FREE AGENT 1] is an upgrade from [PLAYER]. If the offense can continue to progress, especially with [FREE AGENT 2], they’ll be a contender. I mean, last year, the [TEAM]’s defense was already strong. With [FREE AGENT 1], they could be even better!”

There is progression. There is regression. Unfortunately, the additions don’t always translate into the assumed production.

Through four weeks of the Ravens regular season, we’ve seen the highs and lows from free agent additions. The first game against the Dolphins was enough for all of the signings to be vindicated from questioning.

Honestly, they’re not playing badly, and this isn’t about the free agent acquisitions.

  • Mark Ingram has five rushing touchdowns and is averaging 5.9 YPC.
  • Earl Thomas hasn’t been targeted frequently. He has one interception on the year and has provided solid coverage.
  • Justin Bethel was a special teams signing and has done fine in his role.

As I said, this piece isn’t a knock against the additions; it’s to provide perspective that free agency isn’t the cornerstone for any NFL team.

Just like the Browns haven’t been fixed in a decade from signing free agents year-after-year, the Ravens won’t be fixed by their signings.

The issue is drafting. It always has been and always will be. That’s truly the nature of the NFL. Well, drafting blue chip players and supplementing them and their rookie deals with solid development and coaching. Also, a quarterback.

The good news is, the Baltimore Ravens have their quarterback. They also are solid in development and coaching. The lack of blue chip talent is the current struggle.

The past few draft classes have resembled some better talent than prior seasons but that doesn’t mean they’re on the come-up; rather, the Ravens are getting back on track.

Post-Super Bowl XLVII first- and second-round picks

2013: Matt Elam & Arthur Brown
2014: C.J. Mosley & Timmy Jernigan
2015: Breshad Perriman & Maxx Williams
2016: Ronnie Stanley & Kamalei Correa
2017: Marlon Humphrey & Tyus Bowser
2018: Hayden Hurst & Lamar Jackson
2019: Marquise Brown

Attempt, as you may, to be objective here. How many of these players can you qualify as a blue chip player?

Definition of “blue chip”, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary

:one that is outstanding: such as
a: an outstandingly worthwhile or valuable property or asset
b: an athlete rated as excellent or as an excellent prospect

Right now on the Ravens roster, I qualify only four of these individuals as blue chip players or prospects.

  1. Marquise Brown
  2. Lamar Jackson
  3. Marlon Humphrey
  4. Ronnie Stanley

Honestly, they’re the only names on the list I’d qualify as blue chip. Even if Mosley was still on the Ravens roster, I wouldn’t qualify him. He’s a good linebacker, undoubtedly, but he’s not a blue chip player. He certainly is not worth a five-year/$85 million deal with $51 million in guarantees. For those that read my opinion on the impending Mosley deal before free agency hit, I had his max value to stick with the Ravens at five-years/$52.5 million.

This is the fallacy of free agency. It’s looked out incorrectly.

NFL front offices don’t/shouldn’t look at free agency as a way to build their rosters. Free agency should be about supplementing their respective rosters with good-to-great players while drafting the next set of stars. Young players are the cornerstone of most successful franchises. And when your supply of blue chip players is at a low, coaching, scheming and depth can only carry you so far.

The Baltimore Ravens have done a mighty fine job of scheming around their best players. Head coach John Harbaugh doesn’t work with the most-talented roster in the NFL. Not many get that luxury. What makes him and his staff successful is knowing their vulnerabilities and mitigating them with late nights and early mornings in the office, scheming to allow them the best chance to succeed. When it works, it looks great. When it doesn’t, they appear lost, because you can only camouflage these deficiencies for so long.

The Ravens are still a good team and will compete in every game this season. They have enough talent to win games and fight for the AFC North. The problem is the italicized word from the previous sentence. They need more talent. They need these young players to break through being good. They need to find more talent in the years to come. Landing on their top picks is critical, just as it is for all 31 other NFL franchises.