Flow of NFL Free Agents


Some people call the off-season months of free agency movement the “hot stove” since it’s always cooking. A more accurate moniker is the “silly season” because you’re going to hear a lot of nonsense.

Predicting free agent destinations is hard. Just ask the Miami Dolphins if they thought Jay Ajayi would be their starting running back – or the Jets if Geno Smith was going to be under center come Organize Team Activities (OTAs).

There are many factors that go into the financial aspect of the decision alone – salary cap implications to build a good team, guaranteed money, some states having no state income tax, etc. When you see a commentator on television placing a free agent in a city minutes after the Super Bowl fireworks fade away, he is only looking at two factors: first is team need and fit, and second is cap space to meet the player’s demands.

We wanted to see which teams are recruiting and transferring free agents the most and how the flow of them looks across the country. Keep reading for this overview of free agents.

Free Agency Is Like Buying a House


The next time your team signs a marquee free agent and some cynic crows that free agency has ruined sports and money is the only thing that dictates movement, hit him or her with some of these facts about player movement.

  • Homeowners are always asking about school ratings. Likewise, the No. 1 factor driving player movement is coaching changes. Four of the top five pipelines from city to city directly reflect a prominent coaching hire who brings his guys along for the ride.
  • A zip code can make a huge difference in price. A lot of times, you’re paying for reputation. For NFL teams, success on the field breeds success on the market. Believe it or not, many vets take pay cuts to play for a winner. Not surprisingly, Seattle, New England, Green Bay, New Orleans, and Denver have seen high numbers of free agents walk in the doors.
  • Location, location, location: Coastal teams playing in large markets have lines coming and going, indicating many turnovers, while flyover country is crisscrossed by other players headed for the shores. Many of the classic “build through the draft” teams not so coincidentally reside in the small-market heart of the country.
  • Neighbors. Never forget to ask about your potential neighbors because you’ll be seeing them a lot. Often, we hear stories of players signing somewhere in the division for revenge, but the numbers don’t bear out. Whether it’s a desire to get far away and change the weather, or not have to play against old teammates, all but one of the dark lines over the past decade span the country. The sole short one – the red dot over Oakland and San Francisco – shows that players don’t even have to change their children’s preschool but still don’t have to play against their old team, so that fits the narrative.

Hey Coach, Wait for Me!


In the end, a player can choose his destination based on the highest bidder all he wants. But what dictates the movement is the clubs that extend offers – and so many factors drive a decision on whether or not to offer – that scrambling to find a fit becomes a reality for guys everyone assumed would be cashing in.

When a player hits free agency, he is already many seasons into the league and has been pigeonholed into one role or another. In addition, he’s played under a certain number of schemes and coaches who are either familiar and fans of his work, or not. So the tiny world of the NFL shrinks fast for a free agent.

Often times, the best bet is “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” and players will simply follow a previous coach they had success under to a new team.

Such is the case with the following coaches:

  • Josh McDaniels, who has now migrated from the Patriots to the Broncos and back to New England.
  • Scott Linehan, former offensive coordinator of the Miami Dolphins and St. Louis Rams head coach.
  • Bruce Arians, who once promised to retire a Steeler coach but now says Pittsburgh turned its back on him, consistently recycles the old parts from his days in Black and Gold for his rebirth in Arizona.
  • Adam Gase, new head coach of the Dolphins and former Broncos coordinator.

Turnover: Coaches’ Worst Nightmare, Yearly Reality

Landing a big fish is always a cause to celebrate. It reflects a positive image of the club, and when it rains free agent scores, it pours – often directly from one team to another.

But the free agent market, on top of all these other factors, is also artificially influenced by league rules to create roster turnover.

Build through the draft teams that covet picks are given extra incentive to lay off pursuing free agents. This is because if they lose a good player, and don’t sign another player of that caliber, they are rewarded compensatory draft picks in the middle rounds of the draft.

Teams with big pockets then have a larger talent pool to choose from, with less competition for their services. Plus, since signing one free agent has the same negative impact as signing 15 (you can only say “no compensatory picks for you” once), you’ll often see big overhauls of entire units.

For more information about NFL free agency, news about your favorite teams, or to purchase the jersey of that prized new free agent for the upcoming season, visit Fanatics.com.




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