Remmeber Joe Johnson?
It was 2001 and the Packers looked like they were one guy away.
It was so obvious. The Packers needed a defensive end. Joe Johnson was a Pro Bowl defensive end. The fans could have made that choice (and surely would have given the chance). But it’s not that easy, football isn’t plug and play.
It’s never that easy in football. There’s 22 moving parts on the field at the same time. In basketball, LeBron can be dropped on to any team and be a stud. The same can’t be said in football, especially on defense. Scheme is a big deal, but chemistry is even more important. Football isn’t a series of one on one matchups like most other sports, everything is happening all at once, super fast, and it’s all related.
Year to year, things change. Players age fast in football (which is why I’m not a big fan of picking up 32 year old cornerbacks). Everyone changes a little bit each offseason and since players on the field are so interrelated, those small changes have a ripple effect with exponential impact.
The Packers were coming off a 12-4 season where pass rush was lacking. They drafted Jamal Reynolds, but that didn’t fix it. Meanwhile, Joe Johnson had put together 21 sacks int the previous 2 seasons in New Orleans, while going to two Pro Bowls in the previous three seasons.
He was just what the Packers needed.
He was the missing piece.
Picking him up was the surefire path to the Super Bowl.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the grocery store. Joe Johnson, after cashing in, played like sh!t and then got a Martellus Bennett like injury and ended up totalling 12 tackles in 2 years with the Packers en route to never playing again.
The Packers went 12-4 again and got bounced in the Wild Card round, losing at home for the first time ever in a game I had to sit through in the snow.
Now, that was a long time ago. Everyone is getting back on the “free agents fix everything” hype train. A more recent example is Martellus Bennett. But apparently that was just Stupid Ted – Gutey is gonna get it right! His free agent signings are going to make it all better!
Signing Muhammad Wilkerson and Trumaine Johnson will patch our only holes and then we’re guaranteed a Super Bowl! Oh wait, I almost forgot to add Jimmy Graham.
Free agents aren’t plug and play like fantasy football. We have no idea how any of these guys would fit. Sure Pettine worked with Wilkerson before and Johnson looks like the type of big corner he likes, but there’s too many moving pieces in a defense to be able to make assumptions based on that.
Usually, you don’t even know what your needs are going to be. Just look at 2013 and 2015 – no one thought quarterback or wide receiver were needs going into those years. And just like in the Joe Johnson story – there are no guarantees.