NFL teams can make all the bold moves and big plans they want, and something will always come along to upset the order.
It’s the first rule of the NFL.
It’s also the first thing forgotten at this time of year.
Whether it’s free agency or the draft, fans are certain their teams have gotten the one player who will take them to the Super Bowl. Or they’re certain those running their teams are morons who have blown the opportunity to get said Super Bowl MVP.
In almost all cases, they will be wrong.
As Denver fans giddily searched for Case Keenum jerseys Tuesday and Minnesota fans signed up to shovel Kirk Cousins’ driveway in January, the best perspective on what the free agent frenzy really means came from a deal made a year ago. See, Tuesday was the first anniversary of the Philadelphia Eagles signing Nick Foles to a two-year deal worth $11 million.
You can be excused if you had forgotten such a momentous occasion because, aside from Eagles’ fans and Foles’ family, few made much of the signing when it occurred. Foles was the quintessential NFL retread, bouncing around three teams in his first five years, never able to establish himself as a bona fide starter.
He was to be Philadelphia’s insurance policy for Carson Wentz, nothing more.
We all know how that turned out, of course. Wentz blew out his left knee Dec. 10, tearing both the anterior and lateral cruciate ligaments. Foles came in and led the Eagles to their first Super Bowl title, shocking the New England Patriots and winning MVP honors in the process.
Which is a drawn-out way of saying it is far too soon for anyone to make plans, even tentative ones, for a Super Bowl parade. Or for those who feel their teams lost out – sorry, New York Jets fans – to toss their jerseys in the garbage.
It wasn’t a surprise that Keenum, who has agreed to a deal with the Denver Broncos, and Cousins, expected to sign with the Minnesota Vikings, were snapped up so quickly. The NFL is a quarterbacks league, and they were the cream of the free-agent crop. After A.J. McCarron and Teddy Bridgewater, it’s a sharp dropoff to Tom Savage and Blaine Gabbert.
But it’s also worth remembering that Keenum, Cousins and everybody else was up for grabs for a reason. If they were the answer, the difference between Super Bowl champions and also rans, they’d have been locked up by one of their previous teams long ago.
Peyton Manning going to the Broncos as a free agent six years ago was the NFL equivalent of a unicorn sighting. Franchise players, quarterbacks in particular, don’t see the light of free agency until they’re past their prime or have suffered a significant injury.
Yes, Drew Brees was a free agent this year. But no one, not even the teams that reached out to him, believed he was leaving New Orleans.
That’s not to say Keenum or Cousins or Sam Bradford in Arizona won’t lead their new teams to a 12-win season, a division title or the Super Bowl. It could very well happen. Brees blossomed with the Saints and Sean Payton after five years with the San Diego Chargers that are best described as serviceable.
But so could whichever quarterback gets scraped off the bottom of the free-agency barrel.
Kurt Warner signed with the Rams out of Europe and, two years later, led them to the Super Bowl title and won the first of his two NFL MVP awards. And in Philadelphia, fans are now outraged at the idea of the Eagles parting ways with Foles.
Free agency is, was and always will be a crapshoot. Some teams will make wise choices and be rewarded, others will make ill-advised decisions and get what they paid for.
And still others will do seemingly everything right only to have it blow up in their faces because of injuries, clashing personalities or an inability to adapt to a new system. It’s just the way of the NFL.
There are few guarantees in the NFL, be it the money in the free-agent contracts or the guys who get them.
By Nancy Armour
This article was republished with permission from the original author and 2015 Ronald Reagan Media Award recipient, Nancy Armour, and the original publisher, USA Today. Follow columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.