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Spending or Saving In Free Agency: The Best Way To Build a Contender

It seems that Super Bowl-winning teams used to avoid free agency, instead saving their money for keeping their own players and signing cheap but useful depth to fill out their roster. The most competitive teams in the league last year took the opposite approach and added some big names that drastically improved their tams. Should the Falcons follow suit and have an active free agency?

Thomas Dimitroff and Arthur Blank
Thomas Dimitroff and Arthur Blank
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

If twitter is any indication, the Falcons will make or break their season in free agency by either (1) spending all their cap space on big names or (2) failing to bring in big names and keep the roster full of soft players.

Both, to their extremes, are likely true.  The free agency winners used to be the regular season losers.  The bad team overpays a single player or two, needing to lure a proven commodity to a team likely to continue losing.  For instance, see the Miami Dolphins offseason every single year.

Yet the best teams in the league made the Super Bowl thanks to their free agency prowess.

The Denver Broncos, who were on the receiving end of a brutal Super Bowl beating, were not afraid of bringing in talented players in free agency.  The forehead face of the team was a free agent signing, but Peyton Manning isn't the typical free agent.

More typical would be Wes Welker.  The Broncos had loads of talent at wide receiver but added the grizzled slot receiver to help add even more firepower to their offense.  On the other side of the ball they signed Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, the talented but disappointing cornerback.  He flourished and helped improve their secondary.

The Seattle Seahawks shut down the Broncos offense by attacking most of the top-rated defensive ends in free agency, signing Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett to team-friendly deals.  Those additions helped add an elite pass rush to their defense that ultimately helped them secure a Lombardi trophy.  Not specifically free agency but their addition of Percey Harvin should certainly be mentioned.

This successful spending to win isn't a particularly new phenomenon.  The New Orleans Saints consistently terribly drafting has been helped out thanks to fantastic moves in in free agency.  Well, fantastic moves in free agency, finding undrafted gems and Jimmy Graham.  Drew Brees, of course, was their best signing.  But other staples like Darren Sproles, traitor Curtis Lofton and the former Saints Jonathan Vilma and Jabari Greer were quality signings that were amongst their best players for years.

I think the best idea is here is a balanced attack to free agency.  Signing no one will leave you like the Green Bay Packers: a one player team.  Without Aaron Rodgers, that team was so bad even the Falcons almost beat them.  Signing everyone will put you in cap trouble pretty quick, or maybe just a jumbled mess of players that have no chemistry, like the Dolphins.

I contend the Atlanta Falcons could manage one big name player.  Whether your Jairus Byrd or Michael Johnson, Atlanta can get a big name to fill a need assuming the cost does not get prohibitive.  The Falcons can then focus on one or two other starters who should be reasonably priced, like Jon Asamoah, Lamarr Houston, Knowshon Moreno or whatever is left of Champ Bailey.  The remaining signings would be depth or mere role players.

The contracts should leave the Falcons with a reasonable cap while filling holes on the roster.  Yes, the team can average out Byrd at between $8-9 million a year and not have cap trouble.  If the best teams are making a splashy but measured approach to free agency, the Falcons should likely follow suit