Why the NFL Loses to the NBA in Free Agency
Every judgment is subjective, and every decisive assertion is based on personal likes and dislikes.
Except this one: The National Football League doesn't do free agency as well as the National Basketball Association, and it has failed again this year.
That's probably as it should be as well. The NFL is best at the draft because there are more potential game-changers/team-fixers in football (and yes, we cleverly avoided the trap of typing team-changers/game-fixers) than basketball. It is also better at making the draft a year-long media-blowhard-o-rama because it has unfettered access to more media blowhards.
And yeah, you know who you are.
But free agency? The NFL is pure unadulterated meh on feh because unlike the NBA, the NFL acts ashamed to be throwing money around drunken sailors on leave in Bangkok. It gives money figures that aren't really money figures because you not only have to subtract for guaranteed money, you also have to qualify what "guaranteed" actually means. It's bait and switch with your customers, and a statement that you're not actually proud of the thing you just bought. It's like the owners want you to take their side in every deal by marveling at the bargains rather than accepting the fact that all fans want to see is money flying around.
This even trickles down to players. Veteran safety Eric Weddle, among others, Twitter-ranted about Sam Bradford's latest contract by pointing out that Bradford has made $134 million without producing much of substance as a quarterback. This shows not only petty jealousy but a basic misunderstanding of the market, and Weddle is actually much smarter than that.
Bradford got his $20M ($15M guaranteed, and see how much that sucks?) because he is a quarterback who might not stink in the right environment. The money wasn't a reward but a desperate gamble based on the current quarterback scarcity and nothing more. The owners and general managers have decided that quarterbacks are the only players who actually deserve money, and everyone else is just tools on a belt. That sucks a lot of potential fun out of the market.
The NBA, on the other hand, recognizes all positions as essentially equal, and throws cash all around the floor like a Houston Rockets shot chart. It is no longer a center-centric league, so Stephen Curry can make as much or more than LeBron James. More total money is spent on guards, but centers make the highest average salaries, followed by small forwards. Everyone can get rich in such an egalitarian environment.
Plus, because the money is fully guaranteed, so the numbers you see are the numbers they get, making the joy of marveling at the deals less ambiguous and more jaw-dropping. And let's face it, sports sells best when it amazes, even if what amazes here is "PAUL MILLSAP MAKES MORE THAN KEVIN DURANT?"
And finally, the NBA spends proudly and with a snootful of adrenalin, although there are signs that some Scrooge McDuck owners want to tamp that down, NFL style. That makes it a true bacchanal of roasted cash, and who doesn't like a barbecue with dead president as fire starter? Fewer positions helps, a fat TV deal helps, and owners who actually want to compete, at least at the top end, helps too.
In sum, the NFL doesn't do free agency well, and knowing their thickskulled approach to such things, they will try to make it even duller next year because they think America wants to see them deal out pay cuts rather than max deals. They understand nothing.