For those of you who don't know and in the interest of full disclosure, I spent the past 2 seasons working as the Salary Cap Analyst for the Redskins. So naturally, some of you have been, for lack of a better word, "clamoring" for my perspective on the deals executed by the Redskins last week.
In short, my opinion is that history and statistical data has proven time & time again that you cannot build a championship team via free agency. The fact of the matter is that the salary cap plays such a pivotal role in team building that the most prudent way to build a team is thru the acquistion of cheap labor, which occurs via the draft. Instead of buying a Haynesworth or a D. Hall, find the next Haynesworth or D. Hall in the draft; they'll cost you significantly less than what they're gonna cost on the free agent market. However, when you operate in a manner that diminishes the value of draft picks, such that you trade them away (ie, the knee jerk reaction to trade a 2nd for a 35-year old Jason Taylor who ultimately only played 1 season for you at a low level), you then become handcuffed from building your team in the most efficient manner possible. Look at the rosters of Indy and Pittsburgh and look at how many of those players are "home grown;" similarly, look at how those teams rarely, if at all, participate in free agency and have shown a willingness to let players leave (ie, any number of LBs who have had success in PIT, or a Cato June, Marcus Washington in Indy) in lieu of paying them significant money to stay with the team. This willingness to let players walk is because they know that they've got an inexpensive young player who can step in and fulfill the role of the player who they're letting go. It's simple economics.
The New England Patriots take a different approach to team building; they clearly draft well (ie, flipping a 7th round, obscure QB out of USC named Matt Cassel into a 2009 2nd round pick), but it's how they acquire multiple draft picks and then leverage those picks to acquire even more picks is what is interesting. They clearly value draft picks and have down to a science how to flip those picks to their advantage. In addition to their draft pick management strategy, they approach free agency not looking to land the biggest fish in the free agency pond, but instead to find the best value and more importantly the best fit for their system. You look at their acquisition of a Fred Taylor. He's an established vet, who's gonna be good in the locker room, can still be productive as a tag-team partner with a Laurence Maroney or BenJarvis Green-Ellis. More importantly, he's gonna serve as a great mentor to those 2 young RBs; one thing that alot of fans don't see about the NFL is that coaches don't do alot of technique coaching, they're busy installing the game plan on a week-to-week basis; which then leaves the technique coaching to veteran players. So the coaches scheme, the vets mentor, and the young, inexpensive players develop; together, its proven to be a winning formula.
As far as the Redskins, from a pure salary cap standpoint, if you would've told me that they'd be able to sign D. Hall (without getting a discount from him) and sign Albert Haynesworth, I wouldn't have believed it, and I really wouldn't have believed it if you told me that they were going to keep Jason Taylor at his 8.5M cap amount. The Redskins are a team that is constantly up against the cap; so to be able have Hall, Haynesworth, and Taylor, was unbelievable. Folks around the league knew that Shawn Springs' fate was tied to whether or not a deal with D. Hall got done; so it didn't come as a surprise to me that once the Haynesworth & Hall deals got done, Springs was shown the door, because the $6M savings realized from his release was going to help free up space for the signings. Between the release of Springs, Marcus Washington, and ultimately Jason Taylor, the Skins saved themselves $19M in cap space; not to mention the $10M or so in savings they realized by restructuring the contracts of Randle El, Andre Carter, and Cornelius Griffin. So my old boss, Eric Schaffer, (who by the way doesn't get enough credit for the work that he does under the circumstances; and I'm not just saying that because he's my old boss) definitely has earned his paycheck this off-season in positioning the Skins to be able to make these moves.
But the question then becomes, are these the right moves? When you have glaring needs on offense, I can't agree with spending tons of money to add players to a defense that finished ranked in the Top 5. So last week in my opinion, marked the return of the free-spending Redskins; just when you thought that they were "getting it" last season by remaining on the sidelines during free agency, they come out and sign players who could end up becoming the 2.0 versions of Dana Stubblefield and Deion Sanders.