Free agency means finding right fit on field, in locker room
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) NFL free agency isn't as simple as making a shopping list among available players and positions, then writing checks.
No matter how much a team needs a top cornerback to fix a porous secondary or a left tackle for a struggling offensive line, adding a veteran means finding someone who plugs as seamlessly into a locker room as into a coach's schemes on the field.
That requires as much homework and study as does drafting a player out of college. Fitting a coach's strategies, displaying a strong work ethic and even the player's personality all are crucial pieces of the decision. Interviews at the NFL scouting combine years before supply some answers. Game tape helps check production.
A wide receiver might've caught more passes if only his quarterback had more time to throw the ball, or that quarterback's line didn't protect well. Or that QB wasn't very good.
Before agreeing to a big deal, a chat with his own players is a must for a general manager, assuring himself that a free agent will meld with teammates.
''All these guys, it's a brotherhood,'' Titans general manager Jon Robinson said. ''NFL players talk, and they communicate with each other. We summon their opinions on the guys. You try to get the right chemistry and the right fit.''
Free agency starts Thursday, and general managers always believe they're filling needs while also signing players who slide perfectly onto the new rosters no matter the reasons teams targeted them.
STRONG IMPRESSION: Robinson needed a center to fix the Titans' offensive line and help a young quarterback in Marcus Mariota. Knowing Houston center Ben Jones was about to hit free agency, Robinson thought back to when he interviewed Jones at the NFL combine while working for the New England Patriots. Jones impressed with Robinson by how he worked with his quarterback installing the game plan, and meeting with both his coordinator and coach Mark Richt.
''I'll never forget that conversation,'' Robinson said. ''The way he presented himself. You could tell football was very important to him, yet he had a personality that you knew everybody was going to try to jell and he was going to kind of help with that. Specifically to him, that combine experience with him certainly played a role.''
Jones anchored the NFL's third-best rushing unit and a line that allowed 28 sacks a year after Tennessee gave up a league-worst 54 sacks.
HELPING JULIO: Atlanta already had its No. 1 wide receiver in All-Pro Julio Jones and wanted someone with size and toughness capable of playing with its star. Mohamed Sanu is 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds, so Atlanta lured him away from Cincinnati with a five-year deal . Sanu responded with a career-high 59 catches in helping the Falcons reach the Super Bowl.
''One of the things I really appreciated about him was he is such a competitor,'' Atlanta general manager Thomas Dimitroff said. ''And he has versatility. He can line up inside, he can actually line up behind the center, like he did. Guys like that, I think, are really good for the No. 2 spot.''
BUY WINNING EXPERIENCE: Oakland general manager Reggie McKenzie had plenty of youth and needed playoff experience when he went on his spending spree last year. He brought in linebacker Bruce Irvin , with two Super Bowl appearances from Seattle, to ease the focus on Khalil Mack, and Irvin came through with seven sacks and six forced fumbles. Unsure if he could keep left tackle Donald Penn, McKenzie spent big on Kelechi Osemele , who came with a Super Bowl ring from Baltimore. Osemele meshed so well beside Penn, who returned on an extension, that Osemele earned his first All-Pro berth at left guard.
ALL-PRO FIND: Defensive tackle Damon ''Snacks'' Harrison played right under the noses of the New York Giants, spending his first four seasons in the same stadium playing for the Jets after going undrafted out of NAIA-level William Penn. The Giants made their biggest splash by signing Olivier Vernon in their 2016 free agency haul. Harrison proved worth every bit of his five-year deal with $24 million guaranteed by becoming an All-Pro. He also set career highs with 2 1-2 sacks and 86 tackles.
So even with all the study and preparation, sometimes teams just get lucky.
''If you have a chance to hit with some clean players that you feel good about that can make you better,'' Giants coach Ben McAdoo said at the combine, ''then you take your shot.''
AP Sports Writer Michael Marot in Indianapolis contributed to this report.
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