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Not a lot in this FA class

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It's a great free agent class if you like big-name players whose best years are behind them. And it's a great class if you like former first-round picks and high-priced free agents who turned out to be disappointments, and maybe even a better free agent class if you like guys coming off injuries.

In other words, this isn't a very good free agent class. There just aren't enough players the likes of Robaire Smith, which is to say young guys who are just coming into their prime years and whose talents have yet to be fully realized. Yeah, Smith is a guy you want. He won't come cheap, but you might get him for a price less than or equal to the performance he'll give you.

Look at what the Patriots have done in free agency. Theirs is the model every team professes to embrace. The Patriots have hit home runs with free agents such as Mike Vrabel, who came to the Patriots in 2001 as a young player who had shown flashes with the Steelers, but not enough of them to bid against other teams. Vrabel is the "poster boy" for the Patriots' success in free agency.

But the Patriots have struck out with some free-agent signings, too. They struck out with Donald Hayes in 2002. Cam Cleeland was another major free-agency mistake by the Pats in '02. So was Tom Knight. None of those three players were on the Patriots' roster this past season.

The Patriots were anything but the model in '02. The fact of the matter is they got away from the philosophy that made them Super Bowl champions in '01, when they signed a lot of inexpensive players whose careers were in ascent – free agents such as Vrabel – and cheap reclamation projects such as Antowain Smith. In '02, the Patriots decided to spend some money, and that's where they made their mistake.

There's something about free agency that spells doom for teams that spend a lot of money. Players whose performances made them worthy of big contracts suddenly become, well, worthless. Not in every case – the Jaguars dug deep for Mike Peterson last spring and it would seem they got their money's worth – but the odds aren't in the teams' favor.

That's why this free-agent crop isn't the best. It's full of guys who will probably be paid for what they've done, not for what they might do.

Jevon Kearse has been one of the biggest names in the league since 1999, but he's coming off a foot injury that can ruin a career. He would be a major risk acquisition.

Bobby Taylor and Troy Vincent have been outstanding cornerbacks for a long time, but they are past their primes and the Eagles are very good about getting rid of players at the right time.

This free-agent crop is full of those kinds of players. It's a class full of recognizable names; a veritable paradise for those who think football is a video game. But football is a game played best by young men with healthy bodies, and that makes the draft the always-better alternative.

Teams venturing into free agency beware. It is, quite often, a trap for fools, and that may be more so the case this year than in the past.

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