Every team loses players to retirement and free agency, have underperforming players, and positions where they are weak. They have three ways to fix as many issues as they can: the draft, trades, and free agency. Some teams prefer to lean heavily on the draft, a few will make trades, but most teams will look to free agency to get at least a few of their needs met.
Free agency opened on March 9 at 4 pm, with a flurry of deals being made in the first couple of days. Teams wasted little time in snatching up the best players available and committed a ton of money in the process.
The pace has slowed down, 15 days into free agency. The only marquee names left are ones who, like Arian Foster, are still recovering from an injury, or players whose team placed the franchise tag on them. Should a couple of those guys sign long term deals, this off-season could be the best for free agents in recent history.
So far, teams have signed 100 defensive unrestricted free agents and 104 offensive unrestricted free agents to contracts, with a total value of $1.975 billion, with $843.1 million of that guaranteed. The split is almost even, with $961,245,000 ($433,910,000 guaranteed) going to defensive players, and $966,851,900 ($388,336,900 guaranteed) going to offensive guys.
When broken down into position groups, however, the split is not even close to being even. In fact, there is one position that has made significantly more than any other this off-season, and it is not one that you would expect: offensive linemen.
2016: $1.975 billion/ $843.1 million guaranteed
Defense: $961,245,000/ $433,910,000
- Defensive Lineman (25): $375,850,000/ $191,565,000
- Linebackers (34): $183,910,000/ $76,225,000
- Secondary (41): $392,315,000/ $162,330,000
Offense: $966,851,900/ $388,336,900
- Lineman (36): $487,356,900/ $179,306,900
- Quarterback (11): $125,640,000/ $60,990,000
- Running Back (18): $104,745,000/ $45,745,000
- Wide Receiver (14): $157,280,000/ $73,500,000
- Tight End (15): $105,560,000/ $38,365,000
So, why are offensive linemen in such demand? It is probably because teams are desperate for quality offensive lineman who can step in and make a difference immediately. Considering the speed with which defensive linemen and linebackers are rushing the quarterback now, teams need offensive linemen who can catch the speed rushers, as well as open up holes in the running game. It is not that easy to find such players, though.
Why not use the draft more often? Even first round picks need time to acclimate to the NFL game. If a team wants to have a chance at blocking Von Miller, J.J. Watt, or Justin Houston, now they need a guy who is ready. They can't wait for him to acclimate to the speed of the NFL game.
So rather than draft someone, they choose to pay the players someone else has drafted and developed.