Richard: Acquiring big-time players through free agency is now the way to go in the NFL
Will Richard | Thursday, March 21, 2019
Last NFL season, the Los Angeles Rams showed that acquiring foundational players through free agency or trades such as Ndamukong Suh, Aqib Talib, and Marcus Peters can pay dividends — albeit to the tune of a competitive loss to the long-standing New England Patriots dynasty in Super Bowl LIII. The free agency period of 2019 thus far has affirmed just that, with a multitude of teams doling out record-breaking contracts to prominent, highly talented players. The notion of remaining dormant and attempting to improve purely through the draft seems preposterous at this point, though the Patriots are in the midst of a dynasty where they have largely avoided expensive and/or big-name players. To provide some perspective to the frenzy of spending, here is a list of my three best offseason acquisitions.
RB Le’Veon Bell, New York Jets
Bell signed a four-year, $52.5 million contract with the New York Jets following a season on the sidelines due to contract disputes with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Comparatively, Bell’s contemporary Todd Gurley recently signed for $57.5 million on a four-year deal. Bell, 27, will presumably come to the field incredibly fresh, as he has not played in a game since Jan. 14, 2018. Additionally, the conference championship teams from last season (Patriots, Chiefs, Rams and Saints) all had pass-catching backs as an insurance policy in White, Hunt, Gurley and Kamara/Ingram, respectively. In 2017, Bell was 10th in the NFL in receptions, while playing on a team with Antonio Brown, who also garnered passes. The Jets bring back Sam Darnold under center in his second NFL season, and the signing of Bell will unquestionably aid Darnold immensely as he continues to develop and learn.
DE Michael Bennett, New England Patriots
Fresh off of a one-year stint with the Philadelphia Eagles, Bennett once again takes his talents via trade to the defending Super Bowl champions. Bennett is due $7.2 million this year, making him the 17th highest-earning player at his position. After a season in which he tallied nine sacks and 34 tackles, Bennett unquestionably performs above his monetary value. The Patriots, on the other hand, replace a glaring hole in the defense following the loss of defensive end Trey Flowers to the Detroit Lions. Bennett has experience and veteran savviness which is synonymous with the culture the Patriots remarkably sustain. Though he may not be a league leader statistically, Bennett will certainly make a crucial set of plays in the Patriots’ pursuit of a consecutive Super Bowl berth.
RB Mark Ingram, Baltimore Ravens
Many were confused when the New Orleans Saints let Mark Ingram go to Baltimore on a three-year, $15 million deal, only to sign Latavius Murray on a four-year, $14.4 million deal soon after. Like the New York Jets, the Ravens will continue to support second-year quarterback Lamar Jackson with a seasoned, multi-faceted option coming out of the backfield. Just two years ago, Ingram was second in the NFL with 12 touchdowns playing in a pass-heavy offense in New Orleans. The Saints no longer hold the great asset of having two starting-caliber players to interchange out of the backfield, with Drew Brees set to start the 2019 season at age 40. Baltimore has made it clear they plan to orchestrate a run-heavy offense, with Jackson never eclipsing 25 pass attempts in a regular-season game in his rookie season. Signing Ingram will be immensely beneficial to the raw-talented Jackson, and comes with an especially affordable price as the 13th highest-paid back in 2019.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.