Front offices have different philosophies when they are building their teams. Some teams build through the draft, others through free agency and other do a mixture of both. Teams that build through the draft often don’t resign their free agents, and instead choose to replenish through the draft. Teams that build through free agency are typically draft for immediate need, instead of drafting for value as they need the players to perform immediately. The majority of teams build primarily through the draft and supplement through free agency.
An example of a team that builds through the draft is the Pittsburgh Steelers, they rarely resign players once they play out their initial contracts. They have recently shown this in how they have handled their wide receiver position. When they won the Superbowl, Santonio Holmes was the Superbowl MVP, let they didn’t re-sign him and let him walk. Everyone questioned that move… then he went on to be a let down and they replaced him with Mike Wallace. Mike Wallace was a perfect replacement and he outproduced Santonio Holmes in 2010 (the year he became the #1 option). The Steelers drafted Antonio Brown a year after they drafted Wallace and when Wallace was a free agent they let him walk. They let him walk and Brown stepped in as the #1 option, what happened?… Brown outproduced Wallace by 200 yards and became one of the best receivers in the game. You can imagine what will happen when Brown is ready to be a free agent, it is clear that the Steelers build through the draft and don’t want to pay big money to a receiver.
Teams that build through free agency are rarely successful, the Washington Redskins have provided that this doesn’t work. The Redskins has won free agency several times over the past 5-10 years, but it never translated to a deep playoff run. In 2006, they signed Adam Archuleta to a record six year $30 million contract. The result was 7 starts in one season in Washington before his career ended. In 2009, they took another swing at the bat and signed Albert Haynesworth to what is now known as the worst contract in free agency history (7 years, $100 million). He was suspended the following season for conduct detrimental to the team and was out of the league three years after signing the contract. Washington has proven that you can not build a team through free agency, though teams still try to.
The team that has done the best job building through the draft and supplementing through free agency and trades is the New England Patriots. They drafted the best player on their team in Tom Brady and their current best player on defense in Chandler Jones. However they have done an excellent job supplementing their draft pieces with free agents and trade acquisitions. In 2007 the Patriots acquired Randy Moss for the Raiders for a fourth round pick. He was the perfect receiver for Brady, they went on to have an undefeated regular season and lose in the Superbowl. Brady broke several records in that season and Moss set the record for most touchdowns caught in a season. In 2014, the Patriots signed Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner and they went on to win the Superbowl on a play in which their secondary intercepted the ball. New England has been incredibly successful targeting select key free agent or trade acquisitions to supplement their drafted players.
Teams that build through the draft and supplement through free agency and trade acquisitions are typically the most successful, although teams that build through the draft can be successful if they have excellent scouting.