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A Quick Thought On Big Free Agency Splashes

First off, the word ‘quick' up there? Yeah, that's a lie. So is the cake, FYI.

Earlier this offseason, what little there was of it, Viking fans expressed a mixed bag of emotions when it came to how we did in the FA mad dash. On the loss side, apart from Sidney Rice's departure, there really weren't any huge shocks: our other three biggest losses- Tavaris Jackson, Ben Leber, and Ray Edwards- were pretty much written on the wall as goners (TJack especially so). Bryant McKinnie's departure a bit later did come as a surprise, but it wasn't a FA move technically... the man was cut.

On the pickup side, our biggest move was picking up vet stop-gap QB Donovan McNabb. We also picked up LT Charlie Johnson when McKinnie was cut, and made the moves for WRs Devin Aromashodu, Michael Jenkins, and Emmanuel Arceneaux (while not a part of the normal ‘FA' period per se, he, like RB Lorenzo Booker and DE Adrian Awasom, came in a sort of quasi-FA move).

Some Viking fans were overall pleased with these results, others were disappointed (especially in the WR FA hunt), and still others were uncertain and are still withholding judgment. But let's review a little bit about FA splashes after the leap of faith. (G-d bless you brave souls who make it.)

FA is a tempting period, for teams and fans alike. Sometimes the FA class is weak, sometimes it is strong. This year there were some notable stars in it, most notably of course CB Nnamdi Asomugha- who went to the Eagles, the team many pundits have since crowned the ‘winners' of FA.

And if FA is something that can be one independently of, say, actual results in real football games, I'm inclined to agree. The Team That Boos Santa Claus, aside from the Asomugha move, made, amongst a slew of other FA signings, trades or pickups for WR Steve Smith, OT Ryan Harris, DT Cullen Jenkins, QB Vince Young, and CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. On paper, that looks pretty darn impressive, considering especially their losses were pretty darn minimal.

But... with news breaking and then un-breaking today of Chester Taylor (no secret around these here parts an old favorite of mine) being released and then un-released... it does make me look back to two particular FA splashes in recent years. I'm not going to go and do exhaustive research on this, I will be frank. But there are two big FA splashes in the past five years in the NFC North that I'd like to point out, and consider the results.

In 2008 offseason, our own beloved Minnesota Vikings made quite the FA splash with signings at three important positions we were, at the time, quite weak at: DE Jared Allen, WR Bernard Berrian, and FS Madieu Williams. It was several ‘huge' moves and we were even, at one point, crowned Super Bowl favorites in the after math.

And yes... in 2008, we did win the NFC North. But let's get real honest with ourselves here... it was partly by default. The NFC North that season wasn't exactly a powerhouse division. The Lions had not truly started their rise yet, the Packers were still recovering from the loss of Brett Favre and were transitioning to the beginning of the Aaron Rodgers era, and the Bears were the... well, they were da Bears. And our glorious Super Bowl run was cut early... quite early... as in, one and out... in the playoffs that year.

Once the dust had settled, we were free to pat ourselves on the back for picking up Jared Allen, and let no one fool you: we should still be patting ourselves on the back for that. But Madieu Williams hurt himself early on and never did perform to any expectations (on the field, anyways- let's never forget that we were at least blessed in terms of having the best guy in the NFL off the field), and was cut rather quickly this abbreviated off-season. Bernard Berrian did perform quite solidly in 2008, but in 2009 he regressed thanks to a hamstring, and in 2010, when we truly needed him, he decided to switch positions from Wide Receiver to Magician, and began to practice his disappearing act (and he was quite successful at that, I'll grant him- guy's got a future at kid's birthday parties). Now, Berrian has had to re-structure his contract just to earn his final shot, and we have such faith in his abilities that we felt it necessary to pick up the three WRs mentioned at the beginning in FA.

Overall, splashy as it may have looked on paper, in reality in 2008, the Vikings really only made one key FA move.

Now let's fast forward a bit and switch NFC North teams. Last offseason, the Bears made their own major three-player FA splash by picking up DE Julius Peppers, RB Chester Taylor, and TE Brandon Manumaleuna.

And yes, last year, just like us in 2008, the Bears won the NFC North. And again... a bit by default. Ok, very much by default. While they didn't make themselves a one-and-out, they really don't deserve quite as much credit as they may like for reaching the NFC Championship- they truly got lucky when they ended up facing the Seahawks. And that first round bye? Yeah, they were one The Catch That Wasn't (But Really It Was) away from that. And now, one year later, Manumaleuna is already gone, and Taylor, despite still apparently being on the team, is truly looking at the door, pain me in a way as it does to say it. Ironically, much like our own three player splash really only netted us DE Jared Allen, their own FA splash really only netted them DE Julius Peppers.

I'm sure that the Eagles will be quite happy with the addition of CB Nnamdi Asomugha, and will be so for quite some time. The guy is awesome on and off the field, and you've got an argument on your hands trying to convince me that that will be ending anytime soon. And that Cromartie-Dominique guy's pretty good too. But that said... there's news already afoot (and has been so for a while) that their other star CB, Asante Samuel, is not all that pleased that the Eagles felt it necessary to add two other players to his position. And while Vince Young could theoretically continue the Eagle's recent tradition of having strong depth at QB... he's also Vince Young.

It seems to be a recent trend that the big FA splashes end up having less than desired results, with many players picked up ultimately turning into busts for their new team. Sure, switching divisions for a second, one could point to the Jets' recent history of attacking FA like a pack of ravenous wolves and typically doing quite well with that, but they have still yet to make it past the AFC Championship game, yet to win their division, and constantly appear like a powder keg team just waiting to explode. I still say they're playing the devil's game with how they do things roster-wise, and sooner or later, the devil comes to collect. (Should the Jets win the Super Bowl this year, by all means please feel free to find this article, post it as a FanShot, and comment ‘HAHA' mercilessly.)

So for Viking fans still a bit perturbed at how we ‘performed' in FA... just remember, FA itself isn't a game to be won. That's for the 16 games in regular season, and the 3-4 post season games. And a look at recent Super Bowl winners- Packers (dammit), Saints, Steelers, Giants... these aren't teams known for huge FA moves or big splashy roster make-overs during that period. (Yes, Drew Brees did enter the Saints via FA, but that's a bit of an anomaly, and also not indicative of how the Saints typically do things.) Neither are perennial contenders the Patriots or the Colts (recent Kerry Collins pickup aside- that's really only ‘dramatic' due to him being from a divisional rival and having retired, etc. etc.).

We'll see what shakes out when the season rolls around, and in particular post-Super Bowl.

In other news, Randy Moss and Brett Favre are still retired. (I did that just to tick some of you off. I am sorry. Yes, I do feel bad.)