Scot McCloughan learned his craft under Packers Hall of Fame general manager Ron Wolf. So did current Packers GM Ted Thompson. Knowing this goes a long way towards explaining McCloughan’s very cautious approach to free agency.
AN SB Nation Packers writer wrote a very interesting article breaking down why Thompson, who has a successful team that is almost entirely built with its own draft picks, employs an ultra-cautious strategy when it comes to free agency.
The article lists eight rules that appear to guide Thompson as he makes free agency decisions. Not all of them apply to McCloughan in Washington but let’s take a look at a few of them that the Redskins’ GM subscribes to.
—Players who are considered "good" will always be overpaid in free agency.
Call this the Jason Hatcher rule. In Bruce Allen’s one year in charge of personnel he gave Hatcher a four-year deal with $10.5 million in guaranteed money. For that the former Cowboy provided 7.5 sacks in two years. Hatcher was considered to be a good player after he posted 11 sacks with the Cowboys in 2013 but he was never going to return enough to be worth his contract. McCloughan liked the player but seeing that he clearly was overpaid he released Hatcher before the start of free agency. The Redskins are eating a $4.5 million dead cap charge in the wake of his departure.
—Players drafted in the first 3-4 rounds are about as likely to succeed as free agent acquisitions, and if they fail, the financial impact is far less.
As early as the Senior Bowl in January, McCloughan had already determined that he will not move up from pick No. 21 in the NFL draft. The cost of moving up would be at least his third-round pick and perhaps his second. Giving up a chance to draft players in those rounds will create a hole later on that may need to be filled with a free agent. Like the free agent, the draft pick may or may not work out but at least you’re not going to be stuck with a big pile of dead cap if he doesn’t.
—Signing your own players eliminates the biggest peril of free agency—determining system and team culture fit.
This isn’t one of the eight principles in the post, it’s something mentioned earlier in the article. But it’s key in McCloughan’s thinking. He explained when he spoke to the media at the NFL owners meetings last week. “You identify your own – who can play, but not just from a talent standpoint, but from a personality standpoint, character standpoint, a passion standpoint, a competitive standpoint where you know, ‘This guy fits what we’re looking for. We can build on these guys,’” he said. When you sign a free agent you can do background checks and watch a ton of film but you don’t really know if he fits on and off the field until he gets there. You’ve had your own players at practice and in games and in the team facility for years; you know who they are.
—For most positions, waiver wire fodder is as good or better than "medium salaried" veterans.
In 2014 the Redskins signed Adam Hayward and Tracy Porter as medium salary free agents. Porter was released a year ago and Hayward’s release after he missed all of seems to be just a matter of time. Meanwhile they picked up Mason Foster and Will Blackmon off of the waiver wire and they were so effective the Redskins re-signed both of them to multi-year deals.
—Running backs and inside linebackers are, respectively, the least valuable positions on offense and defense.
Even though Alfred Morris got a relatively modest contract with the Cowboys, signing for $3.5 million over two years, the Redskins did not attempt to match it financially. The Redskins will either pay, say, a fourth-round pick with a 2016 cap hit of $585,000 or a veteran with a cap number not very much higher than that. That back will work with Matt Jones ($689,000) and Chris Thompson ($675,000). McCloughan will have the Redskins paying the value of the position.
It’s an interesting article and at this early stage it doesn’t appear that McCloughan is following the Thompson blueprint to the letter. But Thompson has been building almost exclusively through the draft, with the noted exceptions like Charles Woodson, since to took over as GM in 2005. He has draft picks to replace draft picks who have moved on. McCloughan doesn’t have that luxury yet so it will be a few years before we can see if he will eventually go into full Thompson mode.