Giants fans clamoring for that big-money free-agent signing might want to take a moment to reflect over the findings in a new report by Jason Fitzgerald of Over the Cap.
In a breakdown of all 32 NFL teams, Fitzgerlad's report showed that splurging in free agency like a shopper during a post-holiday doorbuster sale is not necessarily a recipe for success.
Fitzgerald’s report, which covers 2017 to 2020, notes that the Giants, who spent on 37 free agents (five more than the 32 draft picks they’ve had over the same period), were paid an average clip of $3.326 million per player.
But the return on the investment hasn’t been there, as the Giants are tied with the Jets for the lowest win percentage (0.281%), which works out to the giants having spent $6.837 million in free agency per win.
The Giants' free-agency follies have resulted from the front office trying to cover the significant whiffs the team has had in the draft, which always has been and always will be the way to build a winning franchise.
Here is a 5-year breakdown I recently did for the Giants' team report set to appear in Lindy's 2021 NFL Draft Preview issue.
This table represents each Giants draft class from 2016-20 and the status of the various picks concerning the overall roster makeup as of the end of the 2020 season:
In 2016 (a year not covered by Fitzgerald’s report but which I have in the above table), the Giants went on one of their biggest free-agent spending sprees when they spent over $100 million in total guaranteed money on contracts for defensive tackle Damon Harrison, defensive end Olivier Vernon, and cornerback Janoris Jenkins—all mulligans for the failed draft picks of defensive tackle Marvin Austin (R2-2011), defensive end Damontre Moore (Round 3-2013) and cornerback Eli Apple (R1-2016).
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Although the Giants went 11-5 and made it to the playoffs in 2016, those contracts began to weigh down the team efforts to retain other homegrown talents that might have been worth keeping.
That trend of using free agency for mulligans on whiffs is also a big reason for the team overspending on offensive tackle Nate Solder after Ereck Flowers (R1-2015) didn’t pan out.
And while this remains to be seen as to what happens, the Giants might not be in a position to retain interior defensive lineman Dalvin Tomlinson and running back Wayne Gallman.
Although the Giants’ draft classes' quality has improved over the last two years, there’s still a lot of damage that the front office has been trying to repair.
When you add to that the fact that the Giants only recently (in the last two years) figured out that it’s best to stockpile draft picks—something that the soaring Cleveland Browns finally figured out—it’s no wonder that the Giants have been slow to get on the right track.
But back to Fitzgerald’s report. Just because a team doesn’t indulge in free agency doesn’t make them an automatic contender.
The draft—and being able to retain that talent makes a huge difference. That’s why regular playoff teams such as the Saints, Chiefs, Ravens, Patriots, Steelers, and Seahawks make up five of the top six teams who have the highest win totals in that period while also having spent less than $2.1 million per win.
While the signing of a big-name player in free agency makes for an exciting piece of news, realistically, it rarely leads to sustained success.
And let’s hope that the Giants, whose needs include a receiver and edge rusher, remember this when free agency begins March 17.
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