When it’s not ‘your’ money, everyone has an opinion on the best way to spend it. This is true with everyday life, but this is exceedingly the case when it comes to how NFL teams should best utilize their salary-cap dollars to make the best purchases and field the best roster for the coming season.
Sometimes free-agent deals work out great, such as the Kareem Jackson signing for Denver Broncos two years ago. However, it seems like even more often, signing free agents to huge a contract tends to backfire, as in the case of the Broncos and Ja’Wuan James during the same offseason.
The best players in the prime of their careers are typically tagged or extended by their original teams and never truly reach the open market, making the free-agent pool one to be wary of overspending on every year.
However, if a team is going to spend its limited salary cap space on free agents, an analytical method of who to pay and the best way to spread the limited cap space is probably the best approach. Every team will emphasize different players, skill-sets, and scheme fits, prioritizing things slightly differently.
But a model based on which signings could add the most wins to a team isn't a bad way to go. NFL Network's analytics expert Cynthia Frelund used a statistical methodology to divine which free agent GM George Paton and the Broncos should target based on her analytical model.
About her model, Freuland writes, "This model maximizes where each free agent would add the most wins in 2021, also taking into account scheme fit and cap space (per Over The Cap).
According to Frelund's model, the Broncos' salary-cap dollars would be best-spent on ex-Seattle Seahawks cornerback Shaquill Griffin. With 0.85 wins added in Frelund's model, Griffin is a solid athletic profile mirroring Marshon Lattimore's NFL Combine numbers.
Griffin has been somewhat ‘stuck’ playing in Seattle's Cover 3 defense over his career to date. With length and athleticism, he should also project as able to play boundary in Fangio’s match/quarters-heavy defense. On the signing and fit, Frelund states:
Since entering the league in 2017, Griffin has pressed on 41.2 percent of snaps when aligned as an outside corner (No. 20 in the NFL). Zero Broncos players pressed on more than 30 percent of snaps when aligned as a corner on the outside last season. The point here is, Griffin's versatility drives exceptional value, when you take into account the combination of Denver's pass rushers and the skill set of franchise-tagged safety Justin Simmons. (If the Broncos sign Griffin and complement that with a nasty rookie CB, they'll be in great shape.)
Can Griffin play off-coverage to the extent that Fangio’s scheme depends, or is he a player that would be better served playing in another Cover 3 scheme, Cover 2, or press-man? The answer would come down to Paton and Fangio’s opinion on Griffin’s skill-set.
If the Broncos believe Griffin has the agility, burst, and fluidity to play 'off man' [coverage], he'd be an excellent signing. As previously written, given Paton’s history and connection with the Minnesota Vikings, it should not be at all surprising to see the Broncos hurl resources at the secondary this offseason.
Could a heavy investment in Griffin be in the cards? Frelund believes it would be a wise investment but soon enough, with the 'legal tampering' window opening on Monday, followed two days later by the new league year and the start of NFL free agency in earnest, we'll find out just what happens.
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