Inside The Bills

How a GM looks at free agency

Posted by Chris Brown on March 9, 2013 – 9:14 am

He’s been through the free agency process a countless number of times. Now an ESPN NFL analyst, six-time NFL Executive of the Year, Bill Polian explains the thought process of an NFL GM when examining the crop of free agent talent and matching it up to his team’s needs and salary cap budget.

“There are three things at play here in free agency,” said Polian. “The first is the need. Free agency is almost always aimed at a needs situation. So you almost always try to fill a need.

“The second is cost. What is the cost? What is the outlaying cash? What is the outlaying guarantee? In many respects, particularly in this early period that we are about to enter, the marketplace dictates that.

You could sit there, and I often did, and say this player should command only X. And then the market would open up and the player would command X plus Y. And you’d say, ‘Oops, well, that’s not in our bailiwick.’ So we don’t know what the market will bring.

“We know where there are numbers or clumps of players, although the recent franchise use of the franchise tag has reduced that considerably. And this is all tied up with the money, too, are there age and injury concerns? How much of that money are you going to reasonably accrue by signing this player? I believe that the statistics clearly show that there’s (additional) money attached to every free agent signing. There is always some dead money attached to it, and you build that into your budget.

“So the question is how much dead money? Medical and age concerns enter into that. That’s how you view it. And because you’re spending big money, usually and because you’re, again, involved with the reasonable prospect of some dead money at the end, you now come in and say, ‘We have to try to fill this need and at least on teams that I was with, we always had a strata of people.

“If we can’t afford player A, let’s see how much different is player B, and how much different is player C? In the end of the market and in the aftermarket, again, you’re looking to fill needs almost always with reasonably priced players who are not at the same talent level or production level as the top guys.”

It’s interesting that Polian admits to tiering free agents to have less expensive alternatives at the ready to pursue. Polian also talked about how free agency sets up GMs to make mistakes, which is perhaps why Polian while in Indianapolis focused more on re-signing his own than pursuing someone else’s free agents.


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