It's that time of year. Time to look at Free Agents and talk draft picks. But what is the goal of each? Are we looking to bring guys in to compete for starting jobs? Or are we looking to upgrade starters at certain positions? Some may think those are one and the same, but I do tend to disagree. Of course, we should be looking to upgrade every position, but we must also realize that's not always possible.
Let me start with an example from last year to make the point of why we shouldn't sign Free Agent players to "compete", but rather to upgrade. At SLB we had Dekoda Watson under contract for $645,455. We brought in Jonathan Casillas to compete and as a free agent, ended up paying him $1.4M (or more) for the season. Casillas was not an upgrade at SLB, the competition was close and the stats show that. Watson had a couple sacks and an INT, but the tackle numbers and even starts were similar for both. The "competition" didn't "bring out the best" of the winner and make them more than what they were before, we simply had 2 players that were about equal, one making more money than the other.
Now, an example of bringing in a player to "compete" to be the starter being a good thing is with the draft, especially mid to late rounds. We got Glennon in the 3rd round, his salary as a rookie is next to nothing, we had Freeman making a small fortune and under performing. If Freeman wins the competition, he may be better and earn his contract, but if Glennon wins the competition we can get rid of Freeman and have a replacement that's better for less cap space.
And this is where I take issue with much of what I hear. Those that want to bring in average or below average players to compete with our average to below average players via Free Agency will only end up costing us more money against the cap and still not net us any improvement. The place to take that risk is in the draft. If you're going to sign a Free Agent, they should be a fairly definitive upgrade to the player you already have unless you're going to get them for next to nothing and have a specific role for that player. An example of that would be if DaQuan Bowers is a Free Agent and a team could sign them for next to nothing and see if they can find a fit for him as a part time pass rush specialist or run stopper or whatever.
If the Buccaneers are looking to add Free Agents this year they should be looking for upgrades, not competition. If we're going to sign a DE, they better be a nightmare off the edge for opposing teams. If we're going to sign this guy for $5M +, they better be head and shoulders above Clayborn's $1.5M or we should look to the draft for competition. Some say we should trade Revis for minimal amounts to clear up cap room for more Free Agent signings, but if we are going to downgrade the position, what good does the cap room do? Unless we have a line on multiple clear upgrades that we feel we can clearly outbid other teams (and probably overpay) and guarantee that all those other positions we add will be clear upgrades, why would we downgrade one position just to add "competition"?
The draft is always a risk. 1st round picks always have potential to boom or bust. 7th round picks have the chance to shine. Deep draft, weak draft, it's just a matter of level of success and how much luck is required to get something of value.
What I'm getting at (finally) here is we need to find Free Agents at positions we can CLEARLY upgrade. Things like a WR that is better than Sky Dawson or Chris Owusu would be pretty easy to find and probably would cost a lot. A major upgrade over those two would cost more but may compete with Williams for the #2 spot. Now we've definitively upgraded (#3WR) and potentially added competition (#2WR). Why bring in a OT if they won't clearly be better than Penn? or a MLB not better than Foster? or a QB not better than Glennon? I understand "depth" and yes, we may need to add some players specifically for depth reasons, but the objective is to upgrade. If we can't do that in Free Agency, we look to the draft. More risky, but in the first round, wouldn't you rather see a potential upgrade at a position that is more difficult to upgrade? Penn won't be easy to beat out, Glennon wasn't horrible, even Clayborn has had his moments. So, Clowney, Matthews, or Bridgewater would be great options to upgrade. Watkins, while great, is a position that the draft is deep in, a position that (for us) is easy to upgrade, even late in the draft (if we don't in Free Agency). High draft picks are to upgrade above average players to very good or elite players. That's how you build depth. You now have an elite player with an above average player as a backup.
So, the next time someone says "We should bring in (this guy) to "compete" with (that guy)"... I hope you cringe like I do.