There's a running theme so far in free agency -- familiarity. Everywhere you look, players have been reuniting with former coaches.
It started in Detroit, where defensive end
But it wasn't just Detroit. Tight end
This is not unique to 2010, mind you. Every year free agents get acquired by teams that have a certain level of familiarity and comfort with them. Take last year.
Spagnuolo's first big move on defense in St. Louis was bringing in safety
The pros of bringing in players like this are obvious. Like in any other industry, coaches want to work with players they know, so that they won't have to worry about things like the player's work habits or what type of guy he will be in the locker room. It also makes for a very smooth transition schematically. Not only does he know the verbiage and the specific plays, but also the nuances. Sometimes it can take a new player months to really feel comfortable with the subtle differences that can make a complex offense or defense successful.
More than anything else, coaches want to have a reasonable expectation of what a player can and can't do because they can game plan around certain strengths or weaknesses as long as they have a solid understanding of exactly what they are.
But what if the player is no longer what he once was? This is a common problem. Players change, whether because of injury or father time slowing them down. The coaches may be remembering the player from yesteryear, like a young Randle-El, while the scouting director who watched him play the previous season may no longer think he still has the quickness that made him a good player in the first place. These are the discussions teams need to have so that they're not investing money in players no longer capable of performing the way they once did.
I know a little bit about this because I experienced it firsthand, albeit on a much lower scale from an investment perspective. During the 2007 offseason, I had a couple of former teammates and coaches talk to Redskins head coach
Though I still felt like I was good enough to contribute, the truth is I was no longer the player I was in 2002-03, when I played either alongside those players and for those coaches. I had undergone a serious back surgery in 2005 and was not quite as explosive out of my stance as I once had been, which is saying something because I probably wasn't all that explosive to begin with.
With that in mind, I plan to keep an eye on Vanden Bosch and Robbins. Vanden Bosch is a warrior who has always played the game the right way and is well respected throughout the league. The problem is his relentless style tends to age players faster than normal. He has already shown significant signs of slowing down, with just 7.5 sacks over the past two seasons combined. I think it is very doubtful the Lions will get the kind of production they're hoping for when they signed him to a four-year, $26 million deal with $10 million in guarantees. He simply is not the same player he was for Schwartz in Tennessee between 2005-08.
The Rams' contract with Robbins appears to be much safer, as the big defensive tackle can earn up to $12 million over three years, but only if he hits a number of incentives. Still, the chances of him being the player Spagnuolo remembers from 2007-08 appear to be remote. Robbins had microfracture surgery after the 2008 season and was clearly not the same in 2009. The Rams, clearly, are hoping that being a year removed from surgery helps him get back to being the player he was. You have to think that is pretty unlikely for a guy who will turn 33 later this month.
The fact that a lot of these moves don't and won't pan out doesn't mean the free agent familiarity will slow down any time soon, however. With