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Old 09-11-2004, 03:30 PM  
philfree philfree is offline
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Teams more reliant on draft picks, re-signings

By John Clayton
ESPN.com

For months, fans around the country have wondered: Why didn't the Chiefs do more for their defense? Did the Seahawks do enough to fix their defense? How can the Colts and Titans think Super Bowl but add so few players? Such murmurs were heard in three-quarters of the NFL's cities.


The era of free agency is a blessing and a curse. It's a blessing in the sense that a team can make a quick fix if it needs more starting players than the draft can produce. It's a curse in the sense that the fans usually feel there isn't enough activity.


Even worse are thoughts that re-signing players doesn't count. It does. In fact, re-signings now are more valuable than additions. Like the NBA and maybe the top tier of Major League Baseball, once an elite team is established, only attrition or bad decisions tends to bring it down.


Use the ESPN.com Power Rankings as a barometer. Seven of the 2003 preseason top 10 finished in the top 10 at the end of the season. Six of those seven teams -- all but the Rams -- are in this summer's preseason top 10, and they return with minimal change, an average of slightly more than 13 new players.


In the old days, before free agency, 13 seemed like a lot. The good teams would cut third- and fourth-round picks because there was no room on existing rosters. Without free agency, great teams could hoard players. Some of them had better backups than starters on weak teams.


My personal seedings for 2004 have five AFC teams at the top of the league -- New England, Kansas City, Indianapolis, Baltimore and Tennessee. Study their offseasons.



Corey Dillon has rushed for over 1,000 yards in six of his seven NFL seasons.

New England: Even though halfback Corey Dillon was one of the big-name acquisitions, the Patriots have only 11 new players. Only five will see significant playing time early this season -- Dillon, defensive tackles Keith Traylor and Vince Wilfork, punter Josh Miller and tight end Ben Watson.



Kansas City: The Chiefs actually were active in numbers with 16, but not many will see the field. On defense, for example, Gunther Cunningham is breaking in only defensive tackles Lional Dalton and rookie Junior Siavii. The only new starter on offense is right tackle John Welbourn, acquired from Philadelphia in a trade.



Indianapolis: The Colts were capped out. The salary cap allowed them to add only rookies and minimum salary players. Joe Hamilton is temporarily the new backup quarterback. The other 11 additions are rookies -- seven draft choices and four undrafted rookies.



Tennessee: The Titans had the same problem as the Colts. To keep their existing team together, they had little room for new players. In fact, they've been more active this week in free agency than they'd been the entire offseason, a need created by injuries. Up until the final cut of 53, the Titans added veteran running back Antowain Smith and 10 draft choices. On Monday, they put in a waiver claim for linebacker Justin Ena. They signed veteran quarterback Doug Johnson this week. They are looking to sign receiver Kevin Dyson and add a kicker to replace injured Joe Nedney.



Baltimore: The Ravens had only nine changes. They added veteran wide receiver Kevin Johnson, quarterback Kordell Stewart, cornerback Deion Sanders, five rookies and an NFL Europe veteran, tight end Daniel Wilcox.


The lesson here is that free agency doesn't have enough players hitting the market to feed 32 teams, and general managers and coaches realize it. The elite teams are the teams building through the draft for years.


Free agency forces teams to make adjustments. Figure at least a 20 percent roster adjustment each year because players attain enough time in the league that they have choices -- stay or go. More players are staying if they have the option.


Though the number changes each day with minor roster adjustments, there were 501 players with new teams as of Thursday. That's 15.6 a team. If you look at next year's unrestricted free agent list, you are going to find only about 75 starters on opening day rosters. In other words, finding sure starters in free agency is an egg hunt.


"There used to be positions that always had surplus, but they are harder to find," Titans general manager Floyd Reese said. "You normally want to change about 20 percent of your roster, but people outside don't seem to credit you if you re-sign a key player. Imagine if you can add a linebacker as good as Keith Bulluck. We feel good about being able to re-sign him. If you can't draft well, though, it's going to be tough to find good players."


Free agency and the salary cap have been phenomenal for the NFL. It's created offseasons that top baseball for hot stove conversations. The cap prevents teams with deep pockets from buying championships and shutting out smaller-market teams.


Perhaps the best thing free agency did is promote an ever-growing evolution of decision making. Old concepts die quickly. A few years ago, general manager Randy Mueller changed 31 spots on the Saints' 53-man roster and stocked the team for years. Now, it's hard to make such a dramatic shakeup.


The Redskins broke the mold this year by churning 24 roster spots and taking their payroll to over $110 million. That was understood because Dan Snyder talked Joe Gibbs out of retirement. You're not going to put a NASCAR owner in a Rent-a-Wreck.


Both the Giants and Buccaneers brought in at least 20 players. But again, they are the exceptions to the rule.


Now, there is no excuse for teams not building through the draft. The league awards compensatory picks for the loss of high-priced free agents, so most teams will enter the draft with eight or nine picks. The eight-player practice squad allows teams to cut their lower draft choices and keep them around until they are ready for the 53-man roster.


Sure, the NFL is all about one-year turnarounds, teams coming out of nowhere to go to the Super Bowl. But there are no real one-year turnarounds anymore. They come from two or three years of good drafting and smart free-agent acquisitions.

John Clayton is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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The more things change the more they stay the same. Just what the fans wanted to hear. Least ways we know it's just not the Chiefs using this startegy.

PhilFree
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Old 09-11-2004, 03:57 PM   #2
Pitt Gorilla Pitt Gorilla is offline
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Dammit, Carl!!!

BTW,
I'm still hoping that Indianapolis cuts Lilja and we can get him back; losing him, regardless of how he sucked against Dallas and the fact that he was a Mildcat, still bothers me.
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Old 09-11-2004, 04:09 PM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Pitt Gorilla
Dammit, Carl!!!

BTW,
I'm still hoping that Indianapolis cuts Lilja and we can get him back; losing him, regardless of how he sucked against Dallas and the fact that he was a Mildcat, still bothers me.

Geez! We cant keep everybody! Get over it!
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Old 09-11-2004, 04:23 PM   #4
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I knew when we hired Vermeil that he would try to build from within after he got his pieces set (Green, Holmes, Barber, McCleon). He believes in the players he brings in, and he brings in the players he drafts. FA's are not the ultimate answer to him. Why bring in a Troy Vincent at the end of his career if you already have spent a draft pick on a young kid you believe in, in Julian Battle? Why bring in a Warren Sapp when you've invested so much time and money into players like Ryan Sims and John Browning?

Only time will tell if Vermeil is right or wrong.
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Old 09-11-2004, 04:25 PM   #5
Deberg_1990 Deberg_1990 is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by TRR
I knew when we hired Vermeil that he would try to build from within after he got his pieces set (Green, Holmes, Barber, McCleon). He believes in the players he brings in, and he brings in the players he drafts. FA's are not the ultimate answer to him. Why bring in a Troy Vincent at the end of his career if you already have spent a draft pick on a young kid you believe in, in Julian Battle? Why bring in a Warren Sapp when you've invested so much time and money into players like Ryan Sims and John Browning?

Only time will tell if Vermeil is right or wrong.
Well.he did make a trade for Faulk back in 1999. That was a genuis pickup for him.
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Old 09-11-2004, 04:28 PM   #6
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Hey, we kept Scanlon, that's all that matters!
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Old 09-11-2004, 04:29 PM   #7
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Vermeil makes a play in FA, especially if that player fits his profile, but for the most part, he gets his pieces together and sticks with them.

His trade for Faulk rates right about even with Trent Green in my opinion. Both very good players.
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