I don't know if new general manager Dave Caldwell can straighten out the Jacksonville Jaguars, but I know he has the right idea. He won't power a relaunch by investing heavily in unrestricted free agents.
"We're going to be a very young team," Caldwell said of this year's Jaguars, "and it's going to be built through the draft and college free agency."
Notice he said nothing about unrestricted free agents. That's because Caldwell knows better. And what he knows is what former San Francisco 49ers' boss Bill Walsh reminded us years ago -- namely, that you don't build teams through free agents; you do it through the draft.
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Caldwell witnessed that in Indianapolis in 1998 and again in Atlanta in 2008. To put Jacksonville back on the map, he must chart a similar course -- which means spending wisely and avoiding the money traps that can sink a franchise and get a coach and/or GM fired.
"It's hit and miss," said Vinny Cerrato, former Washington general manager and now a talk-radio host for 105.7 The Fan in Baltimore. "[Free-agent additions] have got to fit in as people, and they have to be able to play out their contracts."
Cerrato should know. He lost his job after signing the most lucrative free-agent in the 2009 market, defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth. Haynesworth was supposed to revitalize the Redskins' defense and make the club a factor in the NFC East. Instead, he was a bust and so were the Redskins -- with Cerrato paying the price.
He was fired at the conclusion of that season.
Philadelphia went through a similar experience in 2011 when the Eagles broke from tradition and assembled an all-star cast of free agents, including cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, defensive end Jason Babin and defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins. They were the "Dream Team" that would return the Eagles to the Super Bowl.
Only they didn't. Players never meshed, losses piled up and coach Andy Reid was fired after 14 years on the job.
"I'm not a real big believer in spending in free agency," said Minnesota general manager Rick Spielman. "We're always going to try to build through the draft and continue to do that. I think you have a lot more success when you sign your own players as unrestricted free agents because you know them the best. I think it's a little riskier when you go out and try to sign other teams' UFAs.
"They take time to adjust to their new teammates, take time to adjust to their new surroundings and take time to adjust to the new offenses they're running. So it's not always as smooth a transition as people would think it would be."
Spielman has that right. Look who gained the big money a year ago: defensive end/linebacker Mario Williams. The Buffalo Bills made him the highest-paid defensive player for all the right reasons -- because they believed he could revitalize their pass rush and help close the gap between them and the Patriots. Except he didn't. While Williams wound up with a team-high 10 1/2 sacks, he never had the impact Buffalo envisioned -- with Williams producing 1 1/2 sacks his first five starts, three of which Buffalo lost.
Of course, that doesn't mean there haven't been bull's eyes. Defensive end Julius Peppers was the hottest free agent on the market in 2010, and he not only made the Chicago Bears better; he helped put them in the NFC Championship Game.
Quarterback Peyton Manning was the most lucrative free agent a year ago, though his situation was a bit of an aberration because he hadn't played in a year and a half, underwent four neck surgeries and had a ready replacement -- quarterback Andrew Luck -- waiting to be drafted.
Nevertheless, he had an immediate impact on Denver. The Broncos had the AFC's best record, and Manning had one of his best years as a pro.
There are other examples of success, such as Michael Turner with Atlanta in 2008 or Justin Smith with the 49ers the same year. But for every strike you can name I'll counter with a Dana Stubblefield, Adam Archuleta, Javon Walker or Nnamdi Asomugha -- high-profile players who didn't pan out when the big money was there.
"A lot of times," said Cerrato, "a guy wants the big pay day, and what do you get?"
A lot of times ... not much.
Bottom line: Free agency isn't the panacea it sometimes is portrayed to be. Look at the Baltimore Ravens. Of the 53 players on their roster for Super Bowl XLVII, 36 were either drafted or originally signed by the club -- a lesson for anyone holding a checkbook.
"If you want success," said Indianapolis general manager Ryan Grigson, "you can't start with guys who are on the wrong side of 30. That's just the truth. You have to have some youth, with some vets splashed in."
Take the hint, free-agent shoppers, and be smart next week.