I got an email yesterday from NFL.com writer Jason Feller regarding my critique of his free agency article, where he ranked the Cowboys OG Leonard Davis as one of the best free agent acquisitions of the last 15 years. Here's the email:
It was profoundly entertaining for everyone because I actually grew up in the Washington DC metro area as a Redskins fan and am the farthest thing from a Cowboys fan you could find. That said, you made some very good points in your critique and that’s what these pieces are for -- to remind people about the history of free agency and get people thinking.
I stand by my choice of Leonard Davis as he was the only addition on an offense that was the second best in the NFL and had a breakout season after struggling much of his career. Kerney would have also been a fine choice as would have Garcia. I felt that while Kerney played great individually, the Seahawks as a team had a nearly identical record with him (10-6) as they had without him the year before (9-7) and advanced to the second round, the same stage they advanced to in 2006. Garcia I did not include, because projecting out I see Garcia as a relatively short-term solution for the Buccaneers, while Davis stands a chance to contribute for most, if not all, of his seven year contract. Again any of those players could be argued as the correct choice, but I’ll stick with Davis.
Many thanks to Jason for two things: 1) Reading the site, and 2) Offering a good response and a kind email. I also apologize to him profusely for suggesting he (a Redskins fan) was a Cowboys fan. I might as well have shown up at his home, slapped his wife, and spit on his kids. My apologizes, Jason.
Despite his thoughtful response, Jason is still wrong in picking Davis as one of the best free agent acquisitions in recent memory. I know he decided to pick one for each year, but the numbers and the production still clearly favor Tampa Bay QB Jeff Garcia or Seattle DE Patrick Kerney. Yes, I know Seattle's record with Kerney in 2007 is the same as Seattle's record without him in 2006, but come on. Circumstances and players change from year to year. Without Kerney, the Seahawks don't make the playoffs in 2007.
In the comment thread in the last Feller post, shake n bake posted Seattle's d-line ratings in 2006 and 2007:
2006 10th vs the run, 11th vs the pass
2007 4th vs the run, 7th vs the pass
That's a damn significant jump, and with all the struggles and injuries Seattle has faced on offense since their Super Bowl appearance, it was their defense (in particular their pass rush) that guided them through the year. Their pass rush also helped them win a playoff game against Jason's beloved Redskins, a game where Kerney went bonkers.
Garcia had a similar impact on Tampa Bay:
Jeff Garcia: 11th in total value, 7th in per play value
Tampa’s overall offense improved from 30th to 10th
Passing offense up from 31st to 14th
The Bucs also won the NFC South and hosted a playoff game, losing to the eventual Super Bowl Champion NY Giants. So, knowing all this, the question lingers: How did Leonard Davis help the Cowboys improve? If you look at the numbers, they didn't improve much:
2006 8th in run blocking 23rd in pass pro
2007 14th in run blocking 7th in pass pro
So while the Cowboys improved in pass protection (do in part to having the mobile Tony Romo start an entire season) their running got worse. This is a team with Marion Barber III folks. He could run through a brick wall. And while Dallas' record improved from 2007 to 2008, the numbers clearly show that it had very little to do with Leonard Davis.
And really, did the Cowboys really improve from 2006 to 2007? They lost another playoff game. They haven't won one in almost 15 years. In the grand scheme of a season, your regular season record means nothing. The Giants are the best team from 2007. No one cares who won the NFC East. No one cares who went 13-3 or 10-6. No one.
All that matters is winning in the playoffs. If you get there and win, people will remember your team more so than the division winner who showed up and lost. Trust me, as Colts fans, we all know. And if your supposed key free agent acquisition cannot help his team win in the playoffs, he isn't very "key."