Falcons fans have been clamoring for free agents since before the Super Bowl had even been played, and rightfully so. Atlanta lost six starters — Todd Gurley, Alex Mack, James Carpenter, Ricardo Allen, Keanu Neal, and Damontae Kazee — this offseason. Without grabbing any free agents in the first wave, Terry Fontenot has acquired two veterans in Lee Smith (via trade from Buffalo) and Erik Harris (via free agent signing).
The Falcons don’t have much cap room to sign any notable names this free agency, but that’s not because they can’t. Restructuring Grady Jarrett, Deion Jones, and Julio Jones would create enough room to sign a few high-priced free agents, but spending big money doesn’t necessarily positively correlate to winning; in fact, it negatively correlates. Teams who spend the most during free agency have historically performed poorly the next year.
If you have cap space heading into free agency, you don’t have a lot of your own good players to re-sign. If you don’t have many good players to re-sign, your team probably isn’t very good.
Using Spotrac’s offseason spending tracker, I looked at the three-highest spending teams in free agency and their records the following year. *Did not make the playoffs
There are obvious cases where teams spent big money in free agency retaining their own free agents, but the point remains the same. At least two of the top three highest-spending teams in free agency didn’t make the playoffs the following season. Many will point to the Buccaneers as an example of spending in free agency resulting in success, but as a team, they spent an average amount compared to the rest of the league. Tampa Bay had the foundation already in place to court someone like Tom Brady in to take the reigns, thanks to their successful past few drafts.
Fontenot signed Erik Harris, who is a cheap veteran with more intangibles to offer than physical attributes. Expect more of these bargain bin signings, but the real test will come in April. The formula to win a Super Bowl is ever-changing; there’s no single method that works, the strategies are always fluid. The one constant, though, is those teams drafted most of their key contributors; in fact, only one team has won a Super Bowl in the past ten years, which exceeded $100 million in free agency spending.
2020 TB $75M (14th)
2019 KC $83M (13th)
2018 NE $42M (23rd)
2017 PHI $51M (21st)
2016 NE $40M (22nd)
2015 DEN $34M (26th)
2014 NE $68M (15th)
2013 SEA $26M (25th)
2012 BAL $100M (10th)
2011 NYG $62M (18th)
— Gil Brandt (@Gil_Brandt) March 18, 2021
If you don’t believe me, look at the Falcons Super Bowl roster from 2016 — 15 of the 22 starters on offense and defense were drafted by the Falcons. The one critical free-agent addition was Alex Mack, and that’s the exact formula that winning organizations use. Build mainly through the draft and round out the roster through free agency.
Falcons fans can stop freaking out. Who do they play Sunday? Nobody. The offseason is a long process, and it just begun, give the new regime time to right the ship. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Fontenot and Smith will build this franchise back brick by brick.
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