How Free Agency Impacts Draft Strategy

March 16, 2011 | Brian Billick

It is anybodies guess whether free agency will begin, as it usually does, prior to the draft, or for the first time since NFL free agency has come into existence, after the draft.

Coaches and GM hate uncertainty.  Even worse, they hate when their routines are changed and they don’t have history to lean from when making major decisions.  We like to compile stats, spreadsheets, case histories, and various lists to determine whether we will fill a void by picking up a free agent or drafting a prospect.

It is the classic what came first, the chicken or the egg.  I have spoken with several GM’s and coaches that would prefer for free agency to come after the draft.  This way, they can focus more specifically on their needs with the new rookies factored in the overall makeup of the team.

The argument goes like this:  what happens if we take someone in free agency, then the ‘best player available’ in the draft plays that same position.  Now, we have wasted valuable cap space on duplicating the position.  Once that position is filled in free agency and you get to the draft, you convince yourself that the player that fits your remaining need is indeed the “best player available” when in fact, you have let your previous signing sway your judgment into bypassing a better player because of your need.

Most teams would prefer to keep the system as it has been with free agency before the draft.  I had the amazing experience working with Ozzie Newsome in Baltimore, and he is brilliant at filling needs in free agency, then having the discipline to truly stay with the “best players on the board” draft strategy.  That is how we ended up with Todd Heap after we had signed future Hall-of-Famer Shannon Sharpe. Ozzie said, “It is very comforting to know that I don’t have to go one way or the other in the draft because of need.  It allows you to trust your board and just compile the best group of football players you can.”

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