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Redskins are always wrong, etc. Annoying pet peeve watch

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Monday Morning Quarterback Peter King, in yesterday's column, mentioned the ever familiar Redskins as paradigm case of Free Agency mismanagement:

We always chide the Redskins for being so aggressive in free agency, then going out and not doing well during the season. What has winning the offseason done for Washington the last three years? Gotten them a 22-28 record when the ball's kicked off, that's what. So don't go and automatically think the 49ers are so much better because they've signed Nate Clements and Michael Lewis to contracts totaling $110 million. And don't think the Bills have solved all their offensive line woes by throwing $74 million at Derrick Dockery and Langston Walker. If history is a good judge, winning free agency might just be the same as losing.
Couple things. First, the Redskins didn't spend too much in this year's Free Agency, certainly not as much as many others. Second, that the Patriots have aggressively pursued expensive free agents hasn't stopped anyone from jumping their jock; the early returns are that the Patriots brilliantly maneuvered free agency in '07.

All of which should suggest that the only standard for evaluating success is winning, and that's as fine a standard as any. What the Patriots do is win; what else they do is always cited as the cause. What the Redskins do is lose; what else they do is cited as the cause.

Logically this becomes difficult to accept when the two teams behave the same way yet yield different results. Without the slightest sense that there is a different standard for the Redskins and the Patriots, Peter King makes the demonstrable connection between spending and losing when it comes to the Redskins and applies it to the 49ers and Bills -- but not the Patriots. Or later more explicitly:

9. I think as much as I praise teams for showing a little restraint, I think one team that's gone wild and has done a good job is New England ... and the Patriots aren't done. For $14.2 million in 2007 cap dollars, the Patriots bought blocking back and special-teamer Heath Evans ($720,000 cap charge for '07), versatile defender Adalius Thomas ($3.4 million), blocking tight end Kyle Brady ($2.3 million), second running back/special-teamer Sammy Morris ($1.83 million), possession wideout/return man Wes Welker ($1.7 million), special-teams captain Larry Izzo ($475,000), third guard Billy Yates ($650,000) and, on Sunday, starting wideout Donte' Stallworth ($3.1 million).
All of this should be fairly obvious to casual NFL fans. There's a whole lot more to winning and losing than merely the dollar amounts on contracts. Redskins fans would be quick to identify plenty of reasons besides Archuleta's contract for why we fell short in '06. A coaching change, devastating injuries on our defense, even bad luck. That Adam Archuleta signed the highest paid Safety contract in NFL history really had no impact on the Washington Redskins besides his replacement of Ryan Clark, who for whatever reason was a reliable Safety in our defense. In any event, had Pierson Prioleau not gone down for the season on a freak non-contact injury on the first play of the regular season, whatever shortcomings we eventually realized in Archuleta might have been mitigated. It didn't help when Shawn Springs went down, either. Or when Big Joe Salave'a and Cornelius Griffin missed games. So on and so forth.

For another example just check out this Michael Clayton article which characterizes the Patriots as "aggressive" in Free Agency. I don't have a problem one bit with this characterization, I just wonder why he didn't bother comparing the Redskins aggressive '06 with the Patriots aggressive '07 -- like causes like effects and all that, right?

Really, trying to predict or predicate success and failure merely on the aggressive offseason approach of any NFL team in any particular Free Agency cycle is a pointless endeavor as there are countless other factors to be considered. Yes free agency matters. Overspenders put themselves in a position to spend less money in the future and thus handicap themselves significantly. But conclusions about effects should limit themselves logically. Was the Redskins "aggressive" FA approach of the past simultaneously responsible for their failure in '06 and their success in '05? Or are there things happening on actual football fields that are as or more important to outcomes as the dollar amounts on contracts?

None of this is to either claim that the Redskins are geniuses in Free Agency or even to exonerate their spending excess strategy as pimped out by conventional wisdom. I just think we need to view any individual team's free agency approach in the context that they find themselves in. And I happen to be in good company in this approach -- it was Bill Belichick in yesterday's New York Times that essentially defended that approach:

"In my mind, it's not a philosophical thing to do or not do," Belichick said Saturday, in a telephone interview before the Stallworth deal was done. "Just because something wasn't done in another year doesn't mean that if the opportunity had been there it wouldn't have been done. In some years, we didn't have much cap space. There was no money to spend. You work within the constraints you have. To me, we're taking the same approach to the season that we have every season: do what you think is best."
Crazy. Rather than trying to reconcile the conventional wisdom narrative about the Patriots and fiscal responsibility with their aggressive approach this year, Belichick responds in precisely the kind of way you'd expect of a winning NFL Coach: that he'll temper his behavior based on circumstance and will do whatever he thinks gives him the best opportunity to win games. Conventional wisdom be damned.

And if the Patriots win 10+ games next year will we have to accept that their new Free Agency approach caused it? And if they have an off year will everyone conclusively claim (unreasonably) that spending precipitates losing? Personally I think Football is far too complicated and nuanced a game to demand those types of conclusions, though maybe that's just me.