What is the formula for keeping and signing free agents? Obviously, people far more astute than me are paid large sums of money to tackle this dilemma. But let’s take a crack at anyway, shall we?
The Chargers, like all teams, have a mixed bag with regard to free agents throughout their history. Nothing is 100% guaranteed, and all strategies are hit and miss. But is there a basic “correct” way to deal with free agents? Perhaps.
First and foremost, cap space is an issue, of course. And although that is without doubt the primary factor in considering a signing, it is not an aspect that will be considered here because this article is taking a more general approach to free agents. This analysis is about optimizing the roster space and the future of the team while making the current team as competitive as possible. If you can’t afford them then there is no sense in discussing the topic, and that totally defeats the purpose here.
Before we get to players, though, let’s take a look at the factors in determining whether or not to pull the trigger on a player.
Factor 1: Expense
Let’s face it, some free agents are out of the Charger’s price range, and that is actually a smart position to be in. Certain players are off limits and although we may miss out on some All-Pro type players, we also avoid the HUGE dud that can set a team back for years.
Factor 2: Future
The life of an NFL player is alarmingly short. Future is import, but it is short term future that should be the top consideration. A player on the way up is obviously preferable to an older player whose career is waning.
Factor 3: Age
Athletic maturity combined with mental maturity is the balancing act that many players must traverse. Some players peak athletically before their mental acuity has a chance to catch up with them. When they finally “figure it out” they can be on the downslope of their athleticism and they have missed an opportunity.
Factor 4: Athletic Peak
Not all players hit their peak at the same time and some experience longer period of peak production than others.
Factor 5: Fit
Does the athlete fit the team’s system in place.
Factor 5: Coaching
Can the right coach make a difference in productivity?
Let’s start by looking at some of the history that has been Charger free agency. Keep in mind, hindsight is always 20/20, but it is possible to rate signings and use that criteria to look at current “types” to determine the best course of action. The following Chargers, past and present, help to illustrate the importance of each factor mentioned. We can then use this analysis to take a look at a few current free agents to see if they would be good signings this year for the Bolts.
King Dunlap- Opponent player we signed, he was a low risk guy and turned out to be a great signing. The price was right. Dunlap was young enough, and not at the stage of his career to expect a decline in athleticism. But the two factors that seem to be the most notable are fit and coaching. His style of play fit the zone blocking scheme and Joe D’Alessandris clearly gets the best out of his linemen.
Rodney Harrison- Our player we didn’t sign, Rodney went on to be a key player on a Super Bowl championship team. Ask most people and they would say that not signing Harrison was a huge mistake and it would be very hard to argue, but at the time it was a good decision. Why you ask? (With good reason.) It was logical to assume that Harrison was at the peak of his career when he was with the Chargers (and therefore it was reasonable to expect a decline in performance). Wrong! For sure wrong, but the last thing a team wants to do is pay for past performance. A player at the peak of his earning potential is often at the beginning of his athletic decline. And the last thing any team wants to do is pay for peak performance and get declining performance. It’s tricky to be sure, but it is essential to lower risk and optimize potential. That’s why it is generally safer to go with a younger guy.
Donald Butler- Our player we did sign, Butler’s worth is yet to be determined. Did we do the right thing? This is as close to a no brainer as you can get. He’s young and not only a part of our system, a leader in that system. He basically fits every factor and whether he ends up being the player we think he is or not, this has to be classified as a good signing. Remember, we are evaluating decisions at the time of the time of the decision, not after we have obvious results.
Derek Cox- Opponent player we signed. Cox was a mistake, but was he a bad signing? The obvious answer is OF COURSE, he ended up finding himself in the doghouse and was released. But was he really a bad decision? Frankly, it doesn’t look like it if you look at it at the time of the decision. Cox fit most of the factors and was, most certainly, a player whose position was one of great need for us.