It's 888 Miles to Chicago...
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The NFL offseason is officially underway, and the free agents are flying around the country, getting wooed and signed.  Already the media has crowned winners and losers of free agency, and we’re only a week in.  Some fans are getting up in arms because their team hasn’t made any big signings, but the question is, does it matter?

Bedtime is Daddy time in the Harrisking household.  It’s my job to get her bathed, brushed, and changed.  After some books and mommy time, it’s up to me to get her to sleep.  Getting her to sleep usually involves a story or two and then some singing…just be glad you can’t hear the singing.

Recently the stories have focused on what my daughter calls “the Adventures of Cow and Me”…where cow is creatively, a cow.  This wild and crazy pair of friends gets into all kinds of wild adventures, such as picking flowers, getting the mail, and having a tea party.  After my wife called me out for being boring, it became obvious that the Adventures of Cow and My Daughter needed a new angle.

A few nights ago, My Daughter and Cow discovered a magical doorway in the basement of our house.  This magic doorway led into the house of a little gnome.  This little gnome invited them in for tea, when Cow asked, “What is your name?”

And that’s when Daddy froze…what in the hell was I going to name this gnome?  What are gnomes named?  Would “Ted” work?  No, something strange…”Frodo”…nah, he’s a hobbit…and then my mouth opened and out came…

“My name is Quid”

Why Quid?  No idea.  It just popped into my head, and before any thought could happen, it fell out of my mouth.  The story went on, with Quid offering them tea and cookies…suddenly, my daughter bolted up, and laid her hands on either of my cheeks…looked into my eyes…I stopped talking…and she said…

“Quid is an awful name Daddy.”

My 3-year-old daughter called me on the name of a made up gnome.  That’s how bad the name was.  The only explanation that could be offered was, “Honey, gnomes have different names than people, and this gnome is named Quid.”

She allowed me to continue with the story, and as it was winding down, she once against raised up, looked me in the eyes and said….

“Quid is an awful name Daddy.”

The story finished up, and my mind was already composing a story for how to kill off Quid to remove this terrible name from my daughter’s ears.  Do gnomes drive?  Is it too early to scare my little girl about the dangers of drinking and driving?  Maybe the pilot on his gnome stove will go out….or he suddenly needed to relocate to gnome-Europe for his work, to be replaced by an identical looking gnome named “Ted”.

Arriving home from work the next day, from the other room then end of a conversation could be heard…

“…and then Quid gave me a cookie.  Quid is so nice, he’s my friend.”

And like that, Quid’s death was averted, the arsenic was siphoned from his tea, and all was right with his world.  The morale of the story? Our first reaction or impression is not always right.

Onto the subject of Free Agency, here we are only a week into the process, and already people are declaring winners and losers?  Really?  Poor Quid would have met with a terrible combine accident if these members of the media had been handling the bedtime story.  Let’s slow down, and take a breath…

Okay, now that we’ve composed ourselves, let’s take a look at a couple of issues….the first being that the offseason is completely overrated, and the second being that how are there winners and losers already?

The Overrated Off-Season

Every year, the team the lands the most big fish, gets crowned as the “Winner of the Off Season”…and every year they finish out of the playoffs, or short of the real prize.  Teams like the Giants get beat up for NOT doing enough during the offseason…and then win the Super Bowl.  Look back, the last several Super Bowl winners got there and won the day without a big name free agent.  The Steelers, Colts (They signed Vinatieri, but a kicker?  Come on.), Patriots…none of them were considered the “Off season winner”, and yet they were the ones standing at the end of the season.  What impact does the off season have on the regular season?

It’s not about the biggest moves

Every year, there is a handle full of free agents that are labeled as “Difference makers”…and every year the team that signs these guys are declared winners.  Remember how Edgerrin James was supposed to be the the final piece to get the Cards into the playoffs?  Yep, still no playoffs.  Or Nate Clement was supposed to be the piece that put the Niners over the hump last year…and nope, they missed the playoffs again.  Signing the big name is a great boost to ticket sales, fan hope, and owner’s credibility…but the on field results aren’t all that great.

The key isn’t the team the makes the biggest moves, it’s the team that makes the right moves.  Often the reason a team doesn’t chase the big fish is cause that player doesn’t line up with their needs, or the fact that the player would come at such a high cost, it wouldn’t make sense to take them on.

Never forget Chemistry

Chemistry is one of the most forgotten things in sports.  We forget that you can’t manage a real team like a fantasy team.  Just grabbing all the best players and throwing onto the same field does not yield a superior team.  Players need to compliment each other on and off the field.

Look at the Chargers, there was a team that lacked a vocal leader.  Sure, they have some of the best talent in the league, but they had no one, coaches included, that would walk into the locker room, and command attention.  Every team needs a player or coach who can quiet the room by clearing their throat…causing every head to turn in his direction and wait for him to speak.

As for off the field…look at the Broncos and Bengals…both have a collection of head cases and questionable characters.  The team doesn’t need to be filled with choir boys, but if the expression “the lunatics are running the asylum” applies to your team…well…prepare for disaster.

The focus is in the wrong place

What signings get the most news?  Skill players…the glory hounds.  WR, RB, QB, LB, CB…sign one of those guys, and all your problems are solved…

Too bad the biggest universal key to success in the NFL is line play.  The big boys up front, are the ones that have the most direct impact on the long term success of a team.  Signing Michael Turner is great…Bernard Berrian is a great deep threat…Asante Samuel is a fantastic CB…but who is going to clear the road for Turner?  Is Tarvaris Jackson going to have time to get Berrian the ball on the go route?  And if the QB doesn’t have a guy in his face, does it matter how good Samuel is?

The skill players will always get more props, it’s just a fact of life.  But when assessing a team’s offseason performance, never forget the lines…they make everything else possible.

In the end, its table scrapes 

Let me share with you a little secret…come closer…a little closer…

The reason most players get to free agency?  Their present team doesn’t want them.

Yes, you’re right, every year there are a handful of players in their prime, and at the top of their game that make it to free agency…but these are the exception to the rule…the rest of free agency is made up of players that aren’t wanted by their team.

But one man’s garbage is another man’s treasure…until it becomes his garbage as well.  And who wants garbage?  Especially garbage that costs that much?  Imagine this…you goto your favorite fast food place…and instead of the normal cheap prices, they not only jacked the prices up, but you also had to outbid the other customers.  Would you join in the bidding for a Big Mac?  Or just walk out and find some where else to get your food?

Fools gold…

Look around, the teams that consistently at the top of the conferences are built through the draft.  Free agents are just a stop gap, temporary fixes, or depth.  These teams do not sign big name free agents to take up starting roles.

Look around again, the teams that consistently sign a ton of free agents?  They are up and down.  Every once in awhile they get lucky, and get a run together…but with a constant influx of new players, that are old and overpaid…their shelf life is very limited.

Let’s go back to the above fast food example…

You have 2 options…

Pay $100 for a Big Mac

Or go to the grocery store, pay $10 for hamburger ingredients, and make your own.

For the $100 you know what you’re getting…an okay burger.  But it’s $100…for $10, depending on your cooking skills you could turn out the best burger ever, or something that at least does the job.  But even if it isn’t as good as the Big Mac, its 1/10th the cost.

Landing the big name player always looks good, but it doesn’t change the outlook of the team unless it’s part of a bigger plan.  Usually, a plan takes time….hmmmm…maybe then it’s….

Too early for winners and Losers

The fact that people started declaring winners and losers already was really what got this topic flowing out of my brain.  One article in particular had me screaming at my computer screen and wondering what was wrong with people…let’s take a look at some of these “winners and losers” and see what the “real story” is…

Chicago Bears

This is of course the “loser” that got me screaming.  And before anyone starts calling me a homer, let’s take a look at the moves and logic…

The Bears have signed Lance Briggs – A month ago it was a foregone conclusion that Briggs would be playing elsewhere.  There was no way he would resign, and everyone was marking that as the death of the Bears defense…now one of the best OLB in the game resigns, ensuring that defense will continue to be a strength, and that’s not a major victory for the Bears?

Bears resign Rex Grossman – Yeah, trust me, this is not a happy moment in any Bears fan life…but look around at the other options…no, look at them.  Okay, no one is a difference maker.  Now consider for all of Rex’s faults, and there are a lot of them, he knows the system, and was able to get them to the Super Bowl.  Finally, consider he will be competing for the starting job, and he’s only signed for 1 year…how is that bad?  Low risk, and most likely he’s the backup…this is a push.

Bears lose Bernard Berrian and cut Mushin Muhammed – Okay, there is no way Berrian is worth the money he got paid, he dropped too many balls, and doesn’t win battles.  Mushin is done…anyone that watched him last year could see he has nothing left…but the biggest thing…the Bears QB situation is a mess, why does the WR position matter so much?  If you don’t have anyone to get them the ball, should you focus on that first?  And rebuilding the line and running game is a MUCH better use of that Berrian money.

Will the moves the Bears have made so far hurt their passing game?  Sure…but their passing game was terrible last year as well.  This is a defense and running team…and the running game needs help.  If the Bears do nothing to bolster that area of the game by the end of the off season, then let’s call them losers.

New England Patriots

Pats secondary walks out the door – Asante Samuel and Randall Gay are gone…Eugene Wilson is rumored to be gone as well.  That hurts…but has anyone noticed that these Pats seem to unearth more players than the lose?  Yeah, this will sting, but they seem to be pretty good at finding vets of the scrap heap, and making the most of their draft picks…so let’s give them some time on this one.

Donte Stallworth leaves – Does this hurt?  Sure.  But he was the 3rd best WR and getting paid a lot of dough.  They have several other options, and once again, any WR you throw in there with Brady, Moss and Welker is going to have plenty of open passes coming their way.  This isn’t a huge loss.

The Samuel loss is big, but the Pats seemed to be resigned to that, so it’s a safe bet they have a back up plan.  Of all the teams out there, it is way premature to call them losers just yet.  Let’s see if they can work their normal magic

Minnesota Vikings

Sign Madieu Williams – So signing a safety from a terrible defensive team is a win?  Um…I’ve got this swamp land that you might be interested in…

Sign Thomas Tapeh – Wow…a Fullback.  The phrase “scraping the bottom of the barrel” comes to mind.  Last we saw the Vikings, there were 2 big problems with this team…and running the ball and run blocking were NOT 1 of them.

Sign Bernard Berrian – Big signing, injure a division opponent in the process.  But couple problems here…the Vikings had serious drop issues last year, so did Berrian.  Maybe they were made for each other.  The other big issue in the passing game, you still have Tarvarias Jackson throwing the ball…he makes Grossman look like Montana.  A WR is only as good as his QB…still not sold on the QB in Minnesota.

The 2 big problems this team had last year was passing and defending the pass.  They were god awful at both.  These signings were steps in the right direction, but there is a lot of work to be done before you can say they are winners…and giving that much money to a WR that drops a lot of balls, well, it could come back to haunt them.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Sign Jerry Porter and trade for Troy Williamson – Wow, they added a headcase and a bust!  Woohoo!  Roll out the Super Bowl trophy!  Porter can be a good WR, when he is motivated, but will that happen?  And Williamson?  Well….he’s fast.  Outside of that, he’s looked lost and horrible out there on the field.

Sign Drayton Florence – Decent pickup…makes for a nice CB combo.  Of course they really needed a safety…but a Florence – Rashean Mathis combo sounds good.

Trade away Marcus Stroud – The strength of this defense has been their 2 big DTs…and now one of them is no more.  This is a huge blow to a solid defense….and while Stroud missed the last few games of the season last year…it will be interesting to see how the Jag fare without him for a whole season.

Lose Bobby McCray and Ernest Wlford – Neither of these are huge loses, but they are significant.  Losing McCray weakens the DE depth…and the DE in Jacksonville weren’t much to write home about last year.  And Wilford seemed to always come up with the big catch.  Seeing him stay, and Reggie Williams or Matt Jones taking a walk would have been much more encouraging.

Working to improve the WR and Defensive backfield are both good moves…but not sold on their choices.  But with the moves made above, the D-line, once a strength, needs to be addressed desperately.  They need depth and talent…if they don’t improve on the D-line, won’t matter who in the hell they have playing DB.

Cleveland Browns

Trade for Shaun Rogers and Corey Williams – When you have one of the worse defenses in the league, and you add two top notch Defensive lineman, you’re doing something right.  The line folks…that’s where you built from.  The Browns defense has looked like garbage, and instead of throwing money at Samuel…or Briggs…they went after lineman…the football gods are smiling right now.

Sign Donte Stallworth – He’s now going his 4th team since August 2006…hmmm….he looked great at times with the Patriots, but Brady has that effect on WRs.  Will he look as good with Derek Anderson?  Only time will tell.

Sign Derek Anderson – Go with the hot hand, the proven player…this is a huge move.  It lets the vets know that the Browns want to win, and it rewards a player that had a fantastic breakout year.  For both their sake, here’s hoping that it wasn’t a fluke.

The Browns look to have made some fantastic moves.  They focused on the right positions on defense, and held serve on offense so far.  The only issue, is they have almost no draft picks left…might not hurt them this year, but a season or more from now, that could be very bad.

Making sense of it all….

What does this mean?  Simple…when you’re looking at the early moves by your team, and you’re thinking…”A gnome could be killed off by a lawn mower pretty easily”…just take a deep breath, relax and remember that it’s a long off season.

It also helps to remember that the last several Super Bowl winners lost a “irreplaceable” player during the off season, and still managed to win.  The Giants lost Tiki Barber, the Colts lost Edge, the Steelers lost Plaxico Burress…so when that big fish walks away, it’s not the end of the world.

That means you Packers fans.  Remember, Brett Favre retiring just means that John Madden will have to talk about him in the past tense now…other than that, Sunday night football will be the same.

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