The modern era of sports has been dominated by free agency and the accompanying rising salaries. Starting with George Steinbrenner and the New York Yankees in baseball, many deep-pocketed professional owners have attempted to dominate their sports with their checkooks.
It worked sporadically for Steinbrenner operating in baseball's unrestricted salary structure, but it hasn't panned out in other sports where salary caps help keep the playing field even. That's been especially true in the NFL.
Jerry Jones and his Dallas marketing machine won three Super Bowls in four years in the early 1990s, but have been a middling .500 team since then, winning only one playoff game since Barry Switzer brought them their last title in 1995. Even then the Cowboys success was a product of building through the draft, not free agency. That hasn't kept Jerry Jones and other owners from trying to break the bank to hoist the Lombardi Trophy.
The most recent example of this is in Philadelphia, where Jeffery Lurie shelled out a king's ransom to form his "dream team" last off season. Despite their payroll, the Eagles didn't make the playoffs last season and are languishing at 3-6 after yesterday's home loss to the Cowboys.
Perhaps the Eagles should have held on to Ryan Grigson, who has demonstrated the value of spending wisely under a limited cap and what a good draft combined with focusing on character over talent can do for a team.
Other insights on this week in the NFL:
The Cincinnati Bengals rebounded in a big way Sunday, crushing the defending champ Giants 31-13. Both of these teams have been built through the draft. For all their history as the "Bungles," since Marvin Lewis came to town, the Bengals have moved into the middle of the NFL pack, making the playoffs two out of the last three years. By moving to 4-5, they now face some very winnable games that could move them back into the race. The Giants have won two Super Bowls by drafting players like Justin Tuck and Ahmad Bradshaw in middle to late rounds and finding gems like Victor Cruz in the undrafted free agent pool. They're 6-4, but will be in the mix in the end like they always are.
The Patriots are 6-3 after beating the Bills in Foxboro yesterday. During their dynastic run, the Patriots have been far more likely to let go high-priced veterans than to go searching for high-priced fixes through free agency. When they have (see Chad Ochocinco) it hasn't necessarily worked out well for them. The core of their team remains a sixth round draft choice out of Michigan. This week the Colts come to town. Could we see a changing of the guard?
The Texans are the latest franchise that has ridden years of smart drafting to championship contention. Credit has to go to Texans' owner Bob McNair and the patience he has shown with Gary Kubiak as they've built a Super Bowl contender. One by one, the Texans picked up the key pieces, including their own diamond in the rough, running back Arian Foster. Meanwhile, when players like Mario Williams have become unfriendly to their salary structure, the Texans have let them walk. In their place, they've had the depth to not skip a beat. Last night, they dominated the Bears in the slop of Soldier Field.
The surprising score of the day came out of Miami where the Tennessee Titans, fresh off home losses to the Colts and Bears, thumped the Dolphins 34-3. Jake Locker returned to the Titans' lineup, but wasn't nearly as efficient as Matt Hasselbeck had been. Miami, meanwhile, who looked like a wild-card contender despite losing to the Colts' last week, mailed in a lackluster performance at home that saw Ryan Tannehill throw three picks, including one returned for a touchdown.
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