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2016 NFL free agency: Is the market filled with fool's gold?

Free agency is filled with "fool's gold." How well teams tell the difference is a key.

Olivier Vernon
Olivier Vernon
Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

NFL free agency is an exciting time for fans who dream about the big-name players their team might sign for the upcoming season. It's a time when players who have reached the market dream on what might be their one massive payday. It's a time when NFL teams hope to find players who will fill holes, or, in some cases, help turn their franchises around.

In the end, it often turns out to be a time where teams who invest heavily in the market end up with buyer's remorse. They end up handing out large checks and not getting what the hoped for in return. Think about the Giants after the 2013 season. They went out on a massive spending spree, grabbing 14 big-name free agents they hoped would upgrade a team that started 0-6 in 2013 and re-signing a handful of their own unrestricted free agents. They spent more than $100 million. They got back-to-back 6-10 seasons for their efforts, and have only Rashad Jennings and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie left from that shopping extravaganza. They could also keep Robert Ayers, if they are willing to pony up a rich free-agent deal for him.

Why am I bringing this up now? Because Sam Monson of Pro Football Focus, writing for ESPN Insider, has penned a piece listing the top 10 players he believes to be "buyer beware" free agents. Many of the players on Monson's list are of interest to the Giants, or at least to the Giants' fan base.

No. 1 is Miami Dolphins defensive end Olivier Vernon, a player many would like to see the Giants target to upgrade their pass rush. Monson writes:

Vernon was dominant for much of the season, and legitimately elite, but when compared to his career baseline, it represents an alarming outlier in a contract season. He recorded 81 total pressures this season, 33 more than he had in any other year of his career. In addition, a breakdown of his season shows the bulk of his dominance coming in a 10-game stretch to finish the year. He showed the ability to be one of the best edge defenders in football, but teams face the prospect of handing him a contract commensurate with that ability when it represents just 10 of the 46 games he has started over his career.

Jason Pierre-Paul of the Giants is No. 2 on Monson's list. He writes:

His true ceiling and ability with his hand the way it is remains up in the air, though, and any team pursuing him in free agency is operating with a degree of guesswork.

No. 3 is running back Doug Martin, who we profiled today. Monson says "his career has been entirely boom or bust."

No. 6 is Kansas City Chiefs guard Jeff Allen, another player we profiled. Of Allen, Monson writes:

At just 26 years old in a league struggling to find quality O-line play, he may well be one of the most desirable targets out there. The issue is that we have seen a lot of play from Allen at this point in his career, and very little of it has been good. He did not allow a sack last season and surrendered only 14 total pressures (four of which came playing out of position at right tackle), but in his two previous seasons, he surrendered an average of four sacks, 5.5 hits and 18.5 hurries, and he run blocked poorly. The potential is there, but banking on it in 2016 is a gamble.

Valentine's View

The point of highlighting Monson's post is not to trash the individual players on his list. It is to, once again, drive home a point I have made before -- you cannot rely on free agency to build a winning team. You have to draft and develop a solid core of your own players, then supplement with targeted free agent acquisitions. Monson is right when he says free-agent prizes often turn into "fool's gold."

Yes, the Giants are flush with cap space. It is, however, a sign of weakness that they are in a position for the second time in three years where it appears that a free-agent spending spree is going to be required to fix the mess that poor drafts and devastating injuries have combined to create.

It is fun to think about how the Giants will spend the pile of free-agent cash they appear to have. There is, however, no guarantee that spending it will actually help them get better on the field.