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Cover 3: Best draft pick vs. Best free agent

Posted Feb 15, 2017

Three Giants writers debate if the best draft pick or the best free agent is a better option:


Now that the Super Bowl has come and gone, the NFL community turns toward free agency and the 2017 NFL Draft. These are two of the most important events on the calendar each year as teams try to strengthen their rosters for the upcoming season.

So in this week’s Cover 3 on Giants.com, we asked our staffers the following question: If you could acquire either the best free agent or the best draft prospect, which would you choose?

Here is what they had to say:

YOUTH IS THE KEY
By John Schmeelk

This is an easy one. Give me the best draft prospect any day of the week. The first reason is the contract. The drafted player will be under a rookie scale deal for four years with a team option for a fifth. You would have to pay the best free agent at market value, which is always very high. The second reason is age. The player you draft will be at the start of his career, while the best free agent on the market will be in his mid to late-20s depending on when he came out of college and whether he had been franchised by his previous team. With a younger player, generally, you get a healthier player as well.

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The third reason is that when you draft a player you have the chance to teach him and mold him into the player that fits how you want to play. Sometimes the best free agent on the market might come from a different system and could struggle adjusting to what you want to do on your team. The final reason is overall talent. Very rarely do generational talents become available as free agents. Teams lock those players up and they never reach the market. You can find generational talents at the top of the draft far more easily.

I see the argument for taking the free agent. There’s less risk given everyone has already seen what that player has done on the pro level. There’s always a chance someone you draft, no matter how talented, can be a bust in the NFL. But in the end, I like the upside of the draft prospect, and I’ll accept a certain level of risk for the chance of acquiring a future Hall of Famer.


TAKE THE PROVEN PLAYER
By Dan Salomone

In this hypothetical vacuum, I think you’d have to go with the free agent because he is proven. Take this year for example: Would you rather have Le'Veon Bell or Myles Garrett? They are, according to many NFL analysts and draft experts, regarded as the best free agent and the best draft prospect, respectively. One is a first-team All-Pro selection and a two-time Pro Bowler. The other hasn’t taken a snap in an NFL practice.

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Countless hours (and miles) are spent scouting college players, but at the end of the day, the draft is a gamble. You try to increase your chances the best you can, but it’s still a gamble. Go with the known quantity in this situation.

BUILD WITH THE DRAFT
By Lance Medow

I’ve said multiple times the draft is by far the best way to build the nucleus of your team, so there’s no question I’d take the best draft prospect.  From a financial perspective, it’s a no-brainer.  Would you rather have a top prospect on a manageable rookie contract for the next few years or a top free agent who will eat up a lot of cap space?  That’s a rhetorical question.  And who’s to say there will be a huge disparity in production.

While the financial angle may be the most attractive, the age factor is the most important. With the best draft prospect, you can groom him from the time he enters the league to the when he’s ready for his second contract. You can shape the nucleus of your team around him; whereas, with the best free agent, there are no guarantees you will have him for the long term or any specific time period, depending on salary cap restraints and roster needs.  

Given the physicality of football and the injury rate, it never hurts to invest in youth.  While you can certainly make a strong case for going with the proven commodity, in a league defined by parity, continuity and roster stability is a huge advantage.  It’s much easier to keep young players together for an extended period of time than expensive free agents