Free agency is over, which means that the cries of "build through the draft" are being heard again. Free agents bust every year, they say. The biggest spenders never win, they say. Free agency is expensive, they say. Building through the draft is much better for your team in the long run, they say. 'They' in this case being Matt Verderame over at SB Nation.
And Matt isn't wrong. He cites the 2012 and 2014 Buccaneers as two examples of teams that went overboard in free agency and didn't see a very good return
Of course, the free agency trap is kind of weird. It exists, in the sense that some of the free agents you sign will inevitably bust, as will some of the players you draft. In fact, that's probably true for most draft picks and free agents. Playing in the NFL is hard, and projecting to the future is even harder -- so much can go wrong, including scheme changes, injuries, lagging motivation and just random variance.
At their core, this reasoning of "spending is bad" skips over one very important detail: free agency spending is not mutually exclusive with building through the draft. Every team wants to build through the draft, because getting young, cheap, good players is beneficial. Obviously. No one in the NFL is going to say they want to draft poorly. But the reality of the draft is that you will draft poorly. Players will bust. A lot. No one hits on even a majority of their picks consistently. You can't. There's too much uncertainty.
What ends up happening when you try to build exclusively through the draft is that you end up with a depleted roster, unless you have a terrific string of good luck. A string of good luck that had better include a franchise quarterback, too. For a great example of the problem inherent in that philosophy, look no further than your very own Buccaneers who tried to go through that draft foundation process back in 2009, and haven't been to the playoffs since. Because prioritizing the draft is good, but you need to actually hit on picks to do so -- and anyone who tells you beforehand that they know their picks will succeed is a liar or deluding himself.
The Bucs have eight draft picks this year. They hope to hit on each and every one of them, but realistically, they'll get two reliable starters out of that bunch and a couple of backups/special teamers. The Bucs don't lack talent, but they have some significant holes and that will never be enough to plug them all. And while you wait for those holes to be filled with later draft picks, other needs will come to the fore.
The reality of the NFL is that building through the draft is ideal, but at the end of the day you need players capable of starting. And the draft alone just won't suffice.