Following the 1991 Major League Baseball season, the Pittsburgh Pirates, winners of two straight NL East crowns, lost All-Star outfielder Bobby Bonilla to their division rivals, the New York Mets, via free agency. The Mets, who finished in fifth place, and 21 games behind Pittsburgh in '91, also signed veteran slugger Eddie Murray to a deal. Those deals, along with the acquisition of pitcher Bret Saberhagen, convinced most of the "experts" that New York was suddenly the team to beat in 1992 despite its less than stellar record the previous year.
Fortunately for the Pirates, they still had Barry Bonds, Andy Van Slyke and Doug Drabek as stand-outs on a veteran team that knew how to win.
Sure enough, on September 27th, at old Three Rivers Stadium, Pittsburgh vanquished the Mets to claim a third straight division crown. Of course, there was still a week remaining in the regular season, and New York had long since been eliminated from contention, eventually finishing in 5th place for a second straight season--this time, 24 games behind the Buccos.
Every time I think of NFL free agency "winners," those '92 Mets come to mind. Baseball is a more individual game than football, the ultimate team sport, and knowing that free agency "bonanzas" don't always result in postseason harvests on the baseball diamond, imagine how much I tend to snicker when football fans and pundits gush over key acquisitions during the NFL free agency period--the Chiefs, 2-14 a year ago, are among this year's "winners."
Even in Steeler Nation, we sometimes get caught up in the hype.
For at least two years, Steelers fans were absolutely smitten with Oakland's phenomenal all-world corner, Nnamdi Asomugha, and some were willing to sell their right kidney for a shot at that guy.
Speaking of which, back in March/April of 2010, when Ben Roethlisberger was going through his legal troubles, the Raiders were rumored to be a potential trading partner with Pittsburgh if the time came for a possible parting of the ways with the two-time Super Bowl winning quarterback. Along with Oakland's first round pick, there was talk that Asomugha would also be part of the deal, and I know for a fact, many people were ecstatic over the possibility.
A year later, during the 2011 NFL Free Agency Extravaganza, corner Ike Taylor was a free agent, and it looked as if he would prove to be too expensive for the always cap compromised Steelers. Asomugha was also a free agent by this point and a much sought after commodity. Despite the team's cap troubles, many thought he would be a good replacement for Taylor, and several fans were willing to part ways with half the roster and Mel Blount's legacy in-order to have Asomugha in Pittsburgh.
Unfortunately (or fortunately), Asomugha signed with the Eagles and was the key piece to their 2011 "Dream Team," which also included fellow corner Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, defensive end Jason Babin and back-up quarterback Vince Young, who actually coined the "Dream Team" moniker.
Here is a Tweet from Babin following the acquisitions and the "Dream Team" declaration:
"I feel like we're the Miami Heat of the NFL."
So, anyway..........the Dream turned into a nightmare, as Philadelphia went 12-20 over the next two seasons--including 4-12 a year ago--and none of those 2011 acquisitions are still with the team. Babin is with the Jaguars; Rodgers-Cromartie is with the Broncos; Young spent the 2012 campaign out of football after being cut by the Bills shortly before the start of the season; and Asomugha was released at the onset of the 2013 free agency period by the Eagles, who are now a "Rebuilding Team," sans long-time Head Coach Andy Reid, who was very, very successful before Philadelphia attempted to be the NFL's version of the Miami Heat (Reid is now the coach of those "winners" in Kansas City).
As for Taylor, he eventually re-signed with the Steelers and spent the past two seasons playing, perhaps, the best football of his career.
NFL experts and fans love to talk in absolutes when discussing which team benefited the most in free agency--often anointing it a Super Bowl favorite by late March--but unless that team already has a very solid foundation (or it lands Peyton Manning), there's a very good chance it could be just another "Dream Team."
I'll leave you with a list of some of the worst free agent acquisitions in recent memory. I'll bet Albert Haynesworth would have made the Steelers free agency "winners" had they landed him---but probably losers everywhere else.