ST. LOUIS (KMOX) – The turmoil in the NFL created some uniqueness to the draft this season. Some new rules had to be put into place regarding trades and what teams could do with picks. But the biggest aspect impacting the draft this season has nothing to do with what is happening, but more what didn’t happen. Free Agency.
In the NFL, free agency was supposed to start in March. Teams could address specific needs buy buying whatever talent they wanted, based on what was available and how much they wanted to pay. If you needed a wide receiver, buy one. If the defensive line needs an upgrade, buy one. And so it goes. But this season, free agency did not happen and teams were unable to fill specific needs prior to the draft. With more uncertainty, as to how needs will get addressed, teams had to draft accordingly.
This is a great opportunity to squash the idea professed by GM’s that they just take the best player available and it’s not based on needs. That philosophy only holds true if the player available is heads and shoulders above anything else.
There may be no greater example of no free agency affecting the draft than the trade pulled off by Atlanta in round one, jumping from 27th to 6th in order to pick receiver Julio Jones. Atlanta dealt a 1st, 2nd and 4th pick in this draft plus a 1st and 4th in next summer’s draft to Cleveland for the chance to take a potential game changing receiver and thus giving Matt Ryan a spectacular target . No maybe this was Atlanta’s plan all along. Maybe they were willing to do whatever it took to get Jones. In a league where drafting well is critical to long term success, Atlanta gave up a lot.
With the likes of Sydney Rice, Vincent Jackson, Santonio Holmes, Braylon Edwards and other solid wide receivers (character issues aside of course) available, it begs the question. If Atlanta had been able to sign a big time wide receiver prior to the draft, would they have had to give up so much to draft one? Or even if they did not sign one, would the cost have been so high had other teams addressed the wide receiver need as well? It’s all a factor.
Moving ahead, the NFL will have to decide what to do. Keep things as they were and keep free agency before the draft, or do like this year and move free agency to after the draft. The new CBA could play a large role. If both sides accomplish a new rookie salary wage scale, it may be financially beneficial to try and address as many needs through the draft first, then fill holes with free agency. With a wage cap for rookies, Julio Jones could cost Atlanta a lot less than a marquee free agent. The flip side is also a gamble. If you can’t get the players you covet in the draft, there is a chance the market could be stronger for the free agents and prices could go up.
Free agency in the NHL and the NBA kicks in after the draft. The NHL does not compare because teams are typically picking players that won’t impact their roster for a few years. It’s tough to compare the NBA just because the number of players involved is so much less.
We’ll have to wait and see what the NFL decides to do with the timing of free agency in terms of its draft in the coming years. But knowing the importance of the draft to a teams long term success, the unique aspect of this draft will have and already has had an impact that goes beyond just the three days of picking.
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