When you think of NFL free agency, there are certain images that come to mind. I’m prone to envisioning little Danny Snyder hopping on his private plane at midnight the day free agency opens to throw tens of millions of dollars at anyone he’s ever owned in his fantasy football league. Or I picture the Double J driving a Cadillac with a longhorn hood ornament down to a hot free agent’s house to offer him gobs of money and the chance TO PLAY FOR THE DALLAS COWBOYS, THE SHINING STAR OF TIXAS!
Snyder and Jones are two men who find themselves constantly chided time and again for landing splashy free agents. They are told constantly that you cannot buy a championship. The conventional wisdom in the NFL is that you win by drafting and growing your own, as the Steelers and Colts do.
But that’s not always the case. Indeed, of the four remaining NFC playoff teams, three are led by quarterbacks who were brought in as free agents. And the Minnesota Vikings, who the Cowboys face on Sunday, are proving that spending big on free agents sometimes DOES pay off. From the Wall Street Journal:
The Minnesota Vikings have never won a Super Bowl. They play in a drafty old dome in a sensible Midwestern city where the average low temperature in January is four degrees.
But in each of the past four seasons, the Vikings have used a combination of charm, shoe leather, a private jet, clever legal maneuvers and gobs of cash to craft a roster that's full of the kinds of gifted free agents who almost never become free. While most NFL teams have very few imported stars, half of the Vikings' current starters—from quarterback Brett Favre and guard Steve Hutchinson to Pro-Bowl defensive end Jared Allen—were drafted or signed by other teams.
This is true. Antoine Winfield, Ben Leber, Bernard Berrian, Pat Williams, Visanthe Shiancoe, and various others have been brought in via free agency and played well with the Vikings, giving the team a seemingly unusual high rate of success in their free agency signings. It still probably doesn’t make up for the Herschel Walker deal, but there you have it. Is there a legitimate reason for this? Probably not. When an outfit led by Brad Childress succeeds, luck is sure to play a vital role.
Of course, Minnesota wouldn’t be where they are without some of their homegrown players as well, including Kevin Williams, Adrian Peterson, and Percy Harvin. In fact, five of the team’s eight Pro Bowlers are their own draftees. So the article in the Journal may be a bit misleading. As always, the team that usually ends up winning it all is a team that deftly mixes shrewd drafting with smart free agent hires, like what the Cowboys did by bringing in Keith Brooking. There’s no one correct way to build a championship team, apart from making sure you don’t sign Terrell Owens.