Free Agency is March Madness, NFL Style

By Carlton Chin
Robert Griffin 3
Brad Mills – USA TODAY Sports

March Madness and the NCAA Men’s College Basketball tournament will soon take center stage in the sports world. Previously, we computed the odds of picking a perfect bracket. Hopefully the odds of your favorite NFL team having a solid 2014 season are better than that! While sports fans are getting set for March Madness bracket pools, NFL executives are preparing for this year’s free agent season which kicks off on Mar. 11.

The March free agent season is the NFL’s version of March Madness. Football fans and their favorite teams will look to balance team needs with free agents while juggling player projections, team chemistry, value and salary cap issues — all while keeping the May NFL Draft in mind.

Indeed, the Philadelphia Eagles recently made news by signing several key players. A highlight was 32-year-old offensive tackle Jason Peters signing a four-year contract extension worth $41.3 million, bringing his contract total to $51.3 million over five years. The Eagles improved to a first place 10-6 record in 2013 after a difficult 4-12 last-place 2012 season. However, the Eagles face a more difficult first-place schedule in 2014 due to the NFL scheduling system.

On the flip-side, the Washington Redskins are on the bottom looking up. However, the Redskins will face a last-place schedule in 2014. Interestingly, while the Eagles went from worst to first, the Redskins declined from a 2012 first place finish to 3-13 and last place in 2013. While some have given up on Robert Griffin III, others feel that RG III will return to his rookie season form. A softer schedule and hopefully a full recovery from injuries should help.

While the Eagles and Redskins are extreme examples of how the NFL scheduling system and parity can impact team records, the Oakland Raiders and their fans have suffered through years of underperformance. However, this year, the Raiders also have major flexibility in the form of the most salary cap space in the NFL.

Teams are positioning themselves as the NFL’s version of March Madness gets set to start. We are hearing about contract extensions and other signings. Then, on Mar. 11, we expect to hear news of major free agent signings. This is all in preparation for the upcoming draft in May which features big-name quarterbacks like Blake Bortles, Teddy Bridgewater and Johnny Manziel — and other great athletes like Jadeveon Clowney, Jake Matthews and Sammy Watkins.

In a future article, we will discuss game theory and a framework for how teams approach this time of the year with respect to team needs versus “best athletes” — and more. As the free agent season of 2014 gets underway, football fans are excited about March Madness, NFL style.

Carlton Chin is a quant researcher and sports analysis contributor at Rant Sports. Please follow him on Twitter @QuantFacts, “Like” him on Facebook, or add him to your Google network.

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