Eric Decker may be a hot name in free agency, but many have him pegged as a potential free agent bust in 2014.
Every year at the beginning of free agency, a few teams take shots on big-name, big-salary players they believe will push them over the top. Even though this tactic rarely works in the long run, we see it over and over again, year after year. Teams think that just because they made a run into the playoffs the season before, they’re just a stone throw away from a championship.
There’s no shortage of potential “missing links” in this year’s addition of free agency. Hakeem Nicks, formerly of the New York Giants, even used that exact phrase, saying, “Ideally this is what I want. I want to go to a team where I’m the missing link. There are a number of teams that I have my eye on once I hit the market,” Nicks told Josina Anderson of ESPN.
There’s just one problem. The missing link fallacy is almost always a cruel mirage brought on by the parity driven nature of the NFL. In other words, a true missing link rarely occurs outside of a hypothetical vacuum.
In fact, most missing links come in the form of quarterbacks. A year ago, Alex Smith was traded to the Kansas City Chiefs. Obviously, the Chiefs needed a competent quarterback, but Smith wasn’t the only necessity Kansas City filled. The teams also made the power move to hire Andy Reid to coach the team.
In 2012, we saw the most recent true example of a missing link when Peyton Manning took his talent to Denver, instantly turning the Broncos into a Super Bowl threat year in and year out.
The whole analogy of a missing link is ridiculous in the NFL, at least in most cases. Teams can win a championship in a number of ways. Instead of thinking of a team as being one player away, we should think of that team as simply needing to play to their strengths better. Sure, adding impact players expands those strengths, but there’s no team has a given number of star players they need to get over the hump.
Free agency is simply a double-edged sword. Teams have the ability to add elite talent into the mix, but it comes at a huge price compared to taking controlled shots in the draft, especially under the current CBA.
In rare cases, there’s a player in free agency worthy of throwing mountains of cash at in an effort to bring him into the fold. Peyton Manning was such a player, but those types of players are incredibly uncommon, and missing on such a gamble can bog down a franchise for years. Consider this. What position would the Broncos be in if Peyton Manning’s neck couldn’t stand up to the grind of the NFL season, and he was forced into retirement? Would we consider the Broncos even remotely close to contending for a championship? Chances are good that they’d be an afterthought at best in the AFC West.
So as we enter free agency and some of this year’s big names start inking contracts with teams all over the country, consider this. Their services are being purchased a premium. For a few teams, those huge contracts may pay off, but for the rest, free agency will be where we look as the point where everything went wrong.