Covering a first-time GM is always tricky, there’s a lot of guesswork and assumption making. ‘Well, the team has these holes so let’s connect all the available free agents at those positions to them.’ Or, ‘well this team is really bad so they’re going to need to spend money.’ But it’s not until said GM actually starts making moves that we learn how they operate in the big chair.
Joe Douglas learned under the GOAT GM, Ozzie Newsome, in Baltimore. His last stop was with the Eagles, that should lead you to believe that Douglas will operate in a fashion similar to those teams. But will he have the patience and discipline to stick to everything he learned from his previous employers? Will the pressure of sitting in the big chair cause him to venture outside of the strategy he learned under Newsome? Will the fact that the roster is so littered with holes force him to sell some of those ideals, at least for year-one of the rebuild? Now we have our answers.
Joe Douglas will attempt to build this team through the draft. He will treat free agency as a way to make some minor improvements. But he will set a price on each available free agent and he will not budge off that price. In the future you can expect to see Douglas let free agents walk to collect the compensatory picks. You can expect him to make moves like trading a fifth-round pick for a veteran like Calais Campbell. However, he won’t make those moves until he’s built this roster up first.
This is absolutely the correct long-term strategy to build an NFL roster. Build through the draft and use free agency as a tool to supplement the roster without exceeding a player’s value. But is it the correct strategy when your franchise quarterback is entering his third-year and the offensive line needed a complete overhaul?
Last season we couldn’t accurately judge Sam Darnold because the offensive line couldn’t protect him. We were told we couldn’t criticize Adam Gase because the line was such a mess. Now they’ve upgraded at center, most likely downgraded at left tackle and brought back Alex Lewis. So essentially it’s close to a wash right now. Obviously this is where the draft will come into play, but what if the top four tackles are gone by the 11th pick? Fans need to start bracing themselves for this possibility. Douglas will look to go tackle at 11 and take one or two more lineman somewhere in rounds three-five. But will that be enough to help Darnold this season?
It’s always risky to count on an immediate impact from rookies, but even more so this year. We are still doing the social-distancing thing and it doesn’t look like we’ll be stopping anytime soon. Mini-camps might not happen, training camp could be delayed or shortened. Depending on a rookie to contribute from day one might be too much to ask.
Douglas’ strategy is perfect when you already have a solid foundation of talent to continue building around. Make smart, measured moves based on value. But if you’re trying to compete immediately, you need to make a couple of moves outside of that strategy. Douglas was smart to stay out of this cornerback market, Dante Fowler would’ve been a good addition but it’s probably wise to avoid paying him $16 million per year. Your third-year, franchise quarterback though? He needs protecting. And he needs it now.
Maybe Douglas hits it out of the park with his draft picks and gets at least two day one starters on the line. But if he doesn’t then it might be time to make a decision on whether or not to give Darnold a second contract before this line gets good enough to properly evaluate him.
Douglas is sticking to his principles and executing the only reliable and proven strategy. But just like GMs will go outside of this strategy if they feel they are close to winning a super bowl, GMs should also be willing to be flexible in order to reshape a terrible roster.
Douglas decided not to compromise that strategy and now we know exactly who he is as a GM. We just need to find out if he can draft.
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