Winning March Doesn't Mean Winning Playoffs

For frustrated Packers fans, there's this: The rosters of six of the last seven Super Bowl champions didn't include a top-shelf free agent acquisition. Fiscal restraint almost always trumps headline-grabbing transactions.

ATLANTA — Less than a full week into free agency, the NFL hasn't undergone so much an upheaval as it has a facelift, with individual and collective fortunes churning because of the player movement that has transpired since the league officially opened for business last Tuesday afternoon.

But this part of the picture, at least, remained unaltered: The crazy spending binge that has taken place, and the yearly roster reshaping that allows fans in some precincts the kind of hope that only the annual draft once provided, has not altered the landscape for most of the league's best franchises.

As of Monday morning, fully half of the NFL's dozen playoff teams from the 2011 season had yet to sign an unrestricted free agent from another franchise. Yeah, a few of the six teams had added so-called "street" free agents — Atlanta, for instance, brought in guard Vince Maunwai and middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu, neither of whom logged a regular-season snap in 2011 — and many spent the first week of the period ensuring that their own unfettered players didn't escape. A few, like the Ravens, admittedly missed out on guys they pursued.

But in places such as Pittsburgh and Green Bay and Houston, they don't have to smash the "Easy Button" to order up a case of erasers or Wite-Out. And they haven't reached for the panic button, either, and probably won't.

Stability and continuity might be passe pursuits in many places, but for teams that possess the manner of staying power that seems to annually make them postseason contenders, those attributes are bedrocks. Free agency is a breathless time for a lot of team officials and their fans. For the clubs with stability, it is instead a time to exhale and watch patiently until the market corrects itself.

Sure, the fans in places like Green Bay and Pittsburgh probably grow restless every March as the free agency parade rolls by and the home teams are spectators to the cash craze. Ten months later, though, those franchises are usually rewarded for their patience. And a least a few other clubs seem to be embracing the formula.

At the inaugural concert of his latest tour here Sunday night, Bruce Springsteen kicked off a two-hour, 40-minute party with "We Take Care Of Our Own," from the recently released "Wrecking Ball" CD. The song doesn't intentionally have football overtones — although the title track from "Wrecking Ball" was actually written in 2009 to mark the razing of Giants Stadium — but it was notable that several Atlanta Falcons officials were in attendance to see The Boss rock Philips Arena. For the past several years, the Falcons and owner Arthur Blank annually made a free agent splash by pursuing some of free agency's highest profile names.

It was that penchant for trying to buy a Super Bowl that prompted this columnist a few weeks ago to speculate that the Falcons would chase defensive end Mario Williams, the pool's biggest unrestricted prize — remember, quarterback Peyton Manning was technically a "street" free agent, having been released by the Colts and on Monday choosing the Broncos over the Titans and 49ers — with owner Arthur Blank typically opening the vault.

But the Falcons never made a move on Williams, finally having learned an important lesson, in sitting out at least the most frenetic segment of free agency.

Said one middle-level team executive last week, noting that the likes of Michael Turner and Dunta Robinson and Ray Edwards haven't helped Atlanta advance beyond its opening playoff games in its last three postseason appearances, as the market opened: "We've tried it the other way (and it hasn't worked)."

Granted, the results of traditional roster building, the drafting and development of players, doesn't always work, either. Still, it's laudable that the rosters of six of the last seven Super Bowl champions didn't include a top-shelf free agent acquisition. Next week will mark the third anniversary of the last time the Packers actually signed an unrestricted free agent of any level, in fact.

The free agency signings of the past week have, indeed, made headlines. But if history is an indicator, they probably haven't made Super Bowl champions of any of the teams involved.

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Len Pasquarelli is a Senior NFL Writer for The Sports Xchange. He has covered the NFL for 33 years and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee. His NFL coverage earned recognition as the winner of the McCann Award for distinguished reporting in 2008.

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