Free-agency kings have turned into royal failures when it gets real

The bigger the name the harder the fall for teams that have landed them.


Cut the newspaper into long strips.

Dip into the chemicals.

Apply and voila!

The Paper Mache Lombardi Trophy is ready to go.

There's a recipient of this "award" every offseason for the NFL franchise that makes the biggest personnel splash.

The "Dream Team" assembled by the 2011 Philadelphia Eagles.

The 2012 Buffalo Bills after signing defensive end Mario Williams.

The 2013 Miami Dolphins led by wide receiver Mike Wallace.

The 2014 Tampa Bay Buccaneers with a major personnel makeover.

And there was the tie in 2015 between the Indianapolis Colts, following the additions of long-time standouts like Frank Gore and Trent Cole, and the Philadelphia Eagles with head coach Chip Kelly radically overhauling his team once given personnel power.

What do all these clubs share in common?

They didn't qualify for the playoffs.

Keep this in mind as free-agency frenzy kicks into full gear Wednesday with the start of the league year.

Those squads that make the largest splash or the most moves to try and better their rosters are initially perceived as winners. In retrospect, those teams are usually anything but once the games are actually played.

Those squads that make the largest splash or the most moves to try and better their rosters are initially perceived as winners.

In retrospect, those teams are usually anything but once the games are actually played.

A look at some of the biggest names of the 2015 free-agent class provides plenty of proof.

- Miami defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh: He became the highest-paid defensive player in NFL history with a six-year, $114 million contract that included $60 million guaranteed. At the time, Suh's name was bandied about in the same sentence as the late Reggie White as "generational" talents who rarely hit the free-agent market. Such comparisons proved blasphemy. Suh didn't dominate on a consistent basis nor show the same type of locker-room leadership that White did during his time in Green Bay.

The Dolphins recently restructured Ndamukong Suh's massive contract.

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- Philadelphia running back DeMarco Murray: Kelly thought he was getting an upgrade to replace the departed LeSean McCoy (traded to Buffalo) while hurting an NFC East rival by signing Murray away from the Cowboys with a five-year, $40 million contract that included $18 million guaranteed. A multitude of factors led to the NFL's reigning rushing leader experiencing a decline of almost 70 yards a game. Murray's flame-out behind the scenes was so bad that the Eagles are trading him to Tennessee after just one season.

- Philadelphia cornerback Byron Maxwell: Like with Murray, the Eagles are trying to part ways with Maxwell as quickly as possible. Kelly's perception of Maxwell as a shutdown cornerback -- and the six-year, $63 million contract that came with it -- was a huge mistake.

- Dallas defensive tackle Greg Hardy: Because of all his off-field baggage and four-game suspension to start the season, Hardy signed a one-year deal with a low salary but per-game bonuses that helped him earn $11.3 million in 2015. All that money bought the Cowboys 35 tackles, six sacks and a ton of headaches from the unprofessional manner in which Hardy conducted himself.

The Dallas Cowboys rolled the dice on Greg Hardy and lost.

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- Indianapolis wide receiver Andre Johnson: The ex-Houston Texan who once terrorized the Colts in AFC South matchups had little left in the tank. Having already released Johnson last week, Indianapolis ultimately paid $10 million in 2015 for a 34-year-old who caught only 41 passes for 503 yards and four touchdowns.

This isn't to say last offseason proved disastrous for every team that spent on big-ticket players in free agency. But many of the best signings like Buffalo quarterback Tyrod Taylor, Arizona running back Chris Johnson and Oakland wide receiver Michael Crabtree were far less costly.

Hitting on bargain-basement players like left tackle Michael Oher, wide receiver/returner Ted Ginn Jr. and safety Kurt Coleman helped Carolina into Super Bowl 50. Denver took a different approach in 2014 with three monster acquisitions -- defensive end DeMarcus Ware, cornerback Aqib Talib and safety T.J. Ward -- who proved worth the cash as the Broncos beat Carolina in Super Bowl 50.

Both franchises sprinkled these signings among players they drafted and developed. Meshing both methods of personnel acquisition along with shrewd trades, waiver-wire pickups and college free agents is how the perennially successful franchises like the past three Super Bowl champions (Denver, New England and Seattle) operate.

Remember this before confusing the Paper Mache Lombardi Trophy with the real thing.

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