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Mike Giddings: Reviewing the Good, Bad, and Ugly of Past Free Agencies

Mike Giddings: Reviewing the Good, Bad, and Ugly of Past Free Agencies

After an eventful NFL Scouting Combine where fans and media freaked over Kenny Pickett’s eight and a half inch hands and marveled at Jordan Davis’ 4.78 40 yard dash at 341 pounds, the next date circled on the NFL calendar is free agency. 

Mike Giddings, the owner and president of Pro Scout Inc helps us break it down here. Since 1977, Pro Scout Inc. has worked with and provided insight for 34 Super Bowl teams and 12 Hall of Fame coaches, owners, and general managers. Pro Scout has also worked with 40% of the NFL's Executive of the Year recipients. 

Giddings and his staff are constantly evaluating. Whether it’s preparing for the season, reviewing game film, or analyzing offseason trends, Giddings is often tasked with providing NFL decision makers his unbiased perspective. Today, he is going to give us a sneak preview by providing insight on recent free agency spending. 

Over the last four years, NFL teams have collectively spent over $8.4 billion in free agency. While traditional wisdom suggests that the more a team spends, the higher the probability they will succeed, this has not been the case as of late. 

Giddings free agency spending

From 2018 to 2021, the New York Jets spent $70 million more than any other team, yet they only trail the Jacksonville Jaguars for the team with the fewest wins during that stretch. Flip to the other end of this spending spree and you see the Pittsburgh Steelers, Green Bay Packers, and Seattle Seahawks all ranked in the bottom of the league in total acquisition dollars but are each in the top ten in total wins — the stat that matters. 

In a league with a soft salary cap like the NFL, willingness to spend on players is only one component to a winning formula. What is more important is how teams allocate their resources to maximize the roster and give themselves the greatest odds to win amid the constraints of a salary cap. 

Giddings has developed an in-depth metric for evaluating free agent spending across all the 32 NFL teams. The chart below analyzes how each team’s spending relates to the production they received from these free agent acquisitions. 

Giddings free agency preview

Pro Scout Inc. looks at acquisition dollars spent on players he deems ‘low odds’ meaning they either have an injury history, age concerns, or did not produce at their previous destination. After defining these players, Giddings evaluates their play every year throughout the duration of their contract and determines if they produced blue, red, or purple. This color coded system is part of Pro Scout’s evaluation strategy where blue and red players are those who win for you and purple players are those who you can win with. Giddings accounts for all players who fail to live up to this caliber in the chart. 

Giddings free agency spending

As you can see, the Arizona Cardinals spent the most guaranteed money on low odds players who did not produce blue, red, or purple. Over the past four offseasons, Cardinals GM Steve Keim spent a staggering $122.8 million on players who did not live up to their contract, including a massive $51.5 million last year. J.J. Watt and Rodney Hudson were major contributors accounting for a combined salary of $39 million despite only playing seven and 12 games respectively.

The Houston Texans closely followed suit spending $108 million on low odds players in the last four years with $58.8 million of that used last season despite finishing 4-13. Most notable out of that crop is Marcus Cannon who was guaranteed $14.57 million last year and only managed to play in four games. If it’s even possible, the previous offseason was arguably worse for the Texans as they gave a combined annual salary of $37.25 million to Bradley Roby and Randall Cobb — two players who are no longer on the team.

Rounding out the top six, we have the aforementioned Jets, Chicago Bears, Carolina Panthers, and New York Giants. Excluding Chicago, each of these teams have had a losing record over the last four seasons. What Giddings is highlighting is the importance of free agent allocation dollars. With a salary cap, it is immensely difficult for teams to recover from reckless spending sprees. 

Meanwhile, if you look at the bottom six teams in ProScout’s acquisition dollars chart, three out of the four final playoff teams (Cincinnati Bengals, Kansas City Chiefs, and Los Angeles Rams) were represented. These teams do not overspend and are economically accurate with their free agent money. For the Rams, not wasting their money on players who did not produce allowed them to retain Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey while extending Leonard Floyd and Cooper Kupp — all players who were critical to their championship run.  

In continuously scouting every player on every team by evaluating their production compared to their contract, Pro Scout provides their NFL clients with the most consistently up-to-date analysis. Lucky for us, we just got a sneak peek into the insight provided directly to several NFL teams.