Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Stafford had a great workout

Did you see the news pieces about the Lions private workout of Stafford?

Stafford wows at private workout
Sources described Stafford's workout as flawless, stating it was significantly better than his March 19 pro-day workout... The Lions coaching staff put Stafford through a workout that included an assortment of passes and routes he will be required to complete in the NFL and which will be part of the Detroit offense in 2009. The draft's top quarterback was on point with all his throws throughout the session. He threw just about 40 passes and hit on all but three of them. ... the Detroit brass were very complimentary about Stafford's work today. The Lions praised his overall passing mechanics and the way he threw the ball. ... observers in Athens got the impression it was a "done deal" and the Lions will use the first pick to acquire Stafford.

The best take on that comes from one of the comments responding to a piece on the Football Outsiders site, about the possibility of the Broncos trading their QB. This from a reader named "Bowl Game Anomaly":

Football Outsiders Extra Points - Bowlen to trade QB - comment
I don't care if Stafford saved a baby from a burning building during his private workout.
The Lions would be idiots to draft Stafford if they have the option of trading for Cutler instead.

I agree.


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Four new rules

The NFL has passed four new rules for the upcoming season. There's a clear focus on player safety here. I actually have to wonder if some of this is coming about because of the recent headlines about older players, the condition they're in likely because of playing, and possible legal action resulting from it. Certainly the discovery of brain damage in some of the recently deceased players could be on the minds of owners here.

Anyway, here's a run-down...

1) The initial force of a blindside block can't be delivered by a helmet, forearm or shoulder to an opponent's head or neck. An illegal blindside block will bring a 15-yard penalty.

This is sort of being termed the "Hines Ward Rule" and is closely associated with Ward's crushing block on Keith Rivers this past season.

2) Initial contact to the head of a defenseless receiver also will draw a 15-yard penalty.

3) On kickoffs, no blocking wedge of more than two players will be allowed. A 15-yard penalty will go to a violating team.

4) Also on kickoffs, the kicking team can't have more than five players bunched together pursuing an onside kick. It will be a 5-yard penalty.

Okay, that last one I hate. What qualifies as a "bunch?" How will it be possible to retrieve an onlide kick? How will it be possible to keep another team from getting one? The rule is too ambiguous and doesn't make any sense to me. So onside kicks will now just be a five on five mad scramble? The whole reason onside kicking is tough is cause the receiving team can bunch up to retrieve it. Even out the numbers, and IMO it's FAR more advantageous for teams to attempt to onside kick the ball.

There also was a rule "adjustment" as it may be called...it's being dubbed the "Tom Brady Rule" although we can all likely remember the same thing happening to Carson Palmer a couple years back. Players knocked to the ground cannot crawl to tackle the QB.

I hate this one as well. I understand the league is better off with Brady on the field than on the sideline. But this is a once-every-few-years issue in terms of the injuries relating to it. And it's probably going to hamper a defense to know that once you're on the ground, you're pretty much screwed.

Overall I like the head protection aspect of these, but the rest of it I think is wussifying the game. I'm not a big fan of that.


Friday, March 20, 2009

Prospect Evaluation – On-Field Producer vs. Workout Warrior

It’s a question that seems to come up every year, and it’s one that I’ve asked myself consistently since the Ravens took Kyle Boller in the first round of the 2003 draft.

When evaluating a draft prospect, how important is one aspect in determining success, when the other is lacking?

I’m not asking what happens when a guy has both down pat. If a guy crushes on the field and blows away their workouts, you’ve got a clearly solid prospect on your hands. I’m talking about the Calvin Johnsons and Joe Thomas’ of the world. Doesn’t mean they’ll certainly succeed, but they’ve got a good chance of doing so.

No, what I’m asking about here is, when a guy has mediocre to poor college performance, but a terrific workout, how likely is he to be successful in the NFL? And how does he compare to a guy that has terrific college performance, but has a mediocre to poor workout.

This question becomes particularly important to me – a Ravens fan – this year as two prospects that are likely to be at least considered by the Ravens fall into each category. So here I’ll use them as the centerpiece for this discussion.

The first, the workout warrior, is Darrius Heyward-Bey (DHB).
The second, the on-field performer, is Hakeem Nicks.

DHB’s production on the field can best be described as erratic and mediocre. In three years he compiled 2,089 rec yards and 13 TDs. His senior season (actually red-shirt junior) he had 42 rec, 609 yards and 5 TDs, not as good as the prior season where he had 9 more rec and 180 more yards, though he did have 2 more TDs. Still it was a disappointing year for him after showing in his red-shirt sophomore year a great deal of promise, I think expectations for him were to catch 60+ passes, 800+ yards, and 5+ TDs on the low end. In reality, all his receiving numbers in 2008 couldn’t crack the top 100 NCAA D1 receivers lists in any category.

However, DHB also qualifies as a “workout warrior,” not having the production on the field, but having truly stellar production in his workouts. He ran the fastest 40 time of anyone at the combine at 4.30 seconds, and stories both from the combine and his pro day are that his route running was much more crisp and his hands much better than expected. He’s ranked in the top 10 of WRs in all of the critical WR combine workouts.

His great workouts have led to his being projected as a mid-to-late first round pick. Typically I see him in mock drafts being taken as the #3 or #4 WR, interchanged between Percy Harvin, and occasionally with Nicks.

On the flip side, you have Hakeem Nicks, who’s production on the field has been unmistakably terrific. A true Junior, he followed up a very strong sophomore performance of 74 rec, 958 yds and 5 TDs with an outstanding 68 rec, 1,222 yard, 12 TD performance. He is known for having terrific hands on the field and running terrific routes. And his on-field performance is even more outstanding when you realize that he was in the #74 D1 passing offense. In fact, he accounted for almost 50% of North Carolina’s receiving yards, more than half their receiving TDs, and had over 3x the receiving yards and 4x the TDs of the next most productive receiver on the team.

Where he’s been dinged is his 40 time. Running a 4.49, he didn’t come close to breaking into the top 10 in the category, and is thought to lack the deep speed to challenge over the top. He is the same size as DHB, but his “measurables” seemingly do not stack up.

The knock on him has always been his speed, and it’s caused his draft stock to seemingly plummet into the late first or even potentially early second round in most projections. Typically I’ve seen him in mock drafts as the #5 overall receiver, occasionally #4 or #6, rarely as the #3 WR taken off the board.

So as a Ravens fan, I’m left to ask myself, “If I have the choice between these two guys, which one would I want?” I think a lot of fans have to ask this question of themselves between two guys that fall into the same category.

I think most people would prefer the on-field production. But by how much does this make a difference? To look at this, I’ll use a comparison that seems to me to be somewhat similar. And it works out quite nicely, as both went to the same team.

We take the case of Anquan Boldin vs. Bryant Johnson in the 2003 draft. Bryant Johnson was a Penn State alumn (I am as well, which should tell you all you need to know of where my loyalties lie) that was a shining light on an offensive unit that wasn’t very good. He had decent receiving yards (Mills specialized in the “chuck ball in air, hope PSU player comes down with it" play), but overall his production was mediocre. 48 catches, 917 yds, 4 TDs.

He was an early to mid rounds projected player until he started performing quite impressively in his workouts, and ran a 4.37 40 yard dash. This turned out to be a good bit faster than most thought he could run, and subsequently he began moving up draft boards. Arizona wound up taking him #17 overall to be their go-to guy, the year before they drafted Larry Fitzgerald.

Boldin on the other hand was coming out of school off an incredibly productive year. In ’00 he had over 600 yards and 6 TDs before sitting out the ’01 season. In ’02, his final year at Florida State , he had 65 rec for 1,011 yards and 13 TDs. This, with Mcpherson and Rix throwing him the ball…those two combined were a bit more productive than Mills, but it’s not like we’re talking about Carson Palmer here.

But then Boldin wound up running a 4.71 40 yard dash, and suddenly his draft stock fell apart completely. He was labeled too slow to likely make a huge impact in the NFL, and fell to become the 5th receiver taken at #45 overall.

Anquan Boldin's stats.
Bryant Johnson's stats.
I shouldn’t have to do much to convince you that Boldin has been the better player of the two. His first game, he set a rookie receiving record with 217 yards and 2 TDs. In their careers, Boldin has more than double Johnson’s rec yds, and more than triple his TDs. Boldin is currently considered one of the best in the game, Johnson a role player.

The first round seems littered with examples like these; guys that have not produced well in college, had dominating workouts, were drafted significantly higher than they would have been had the draft been done on Feb 15 and subsequently dramatically underperformed. Tony Mandarich is the most famous of these workout warriors. Kyle Boller is a classic example. Troy Williamson had an extremely mediocre final season at South Carolina before becoming the #7 overall pick to a Minnesota team wide-eyed from his measurables and hoping to replace Randy Moss.

On the flip side of that you have guys that have played very well after great college careers that slipped because of poor workouts or questions that came up in the combine. Guys like Terrell Suggs who’s slow 40 time took him from a sure-fire top 5, probable top 3 pick to the Ravens at #10. Freeny, who was a beast at Syracuse before size questions dropped him to Indi at #11.

This isn’t meant to say that automatically workout warriors are never going to be great, and on-field producers will never be busts. We’ve certainly seen otherwise, and the draft is always a gamble.

But I do believe that the on-field producer is classically more likely to become a solid to great player in the NFL than the workout warrior. The only piece of the puzzle I haven’t figured out is, why aren’t NFL scouts weighting this as such? Obviously mock drafts aren’t perfect and don’t represent what NFL personnel are thinking, but typically they’re a decent measure. And what I can’t figure out is, given how clear it seems that on-field production is the better measure of how a player will fair in the NFL, why is DHB considered by most to be a better prospect than Hakeem Nicks?

One thing I know for sure… I’m glad he is. I hope he gets taken before the Ravens pick. And then, I hope the Ravens get a shot at Nicks. Chalk me up, I’m on the Nicks bandwagon.


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Where's The Love?

Matt Stafford.

Quite a few of the more prominent talking heads think that either the Lions will draft Stafford or that they should. Scott Wright of DraftCountdown went as far as to call for seven years bad luck if Detroit passes on Stafford. The absurdity was he was completely serious, however he worded it, even though regardless of how good Stafford becomes passing on him would be nothing more than a missed opportunity, not a fate-determining outcome. The most famous example was Portland passing on Jordan, but we aren't often reminded that the Trailblazers became a dominant team pretty quickly anyway, making it to the Finals before his Airness got past the Pistons.

But this isn't about that.

I can come up with a different argument for every day of the month as to why Stafford should not be the #1 overall pick. And I'm pretty sure I have. He will be one of the youngest quarterbacks ever drafted in the first round, true junior, accuracy issues, seems to freeze up under pressure, never took his team to the next level, lacks ideal height and so on.

But when it comes down to it, none of these arguments matter all that much, regardless of their historical correlation to poor outcomes. If a guy has it, he has it, and probably doesn't need that fourth year. Drew Bledsoe had it, he spend exactly three years in college, had fewer starts than Stafford and took New England to a Super Bowl in his third or fourth year (maybe fifth, don't feel like looking it up). So maybe Stafford has it too. Maybe the accuracy issues and other collegiate limitations will disappear with maturity.


But I don't buy it.

I think this argument has been lurking in the back of my head from the beginning, but only blossomed a couple of days ago.

Sure, Mel Kiper and Scott Wright swear by Stafford. Sure McShay amd Mayock are resigned to the Lions drafting him. Sure, Gil Brandt thinks they should. Sure Terry Shea has nice things to say about the kid. Sure.

But not one of these guys works for an NFL team. This doesn't invalidate their opinions, of course, but they aren't adequate evidence of how NFL teams actually feel about Stafford. And just a couple of days ago, it occurred to me exactly how teams outside of Detroit feel about him.


If Stafford is really that special then why isn't anyone picking up the phone? Why isn't Denver jumping at the chance to dump Cutler and replace him with Stafford. Why aren't there rumors about Cleveland or Jacksonville or San Francisco or anyone displaying interest in the guy?

Two years ago there were all kinds of trade rumors, for both the first and second pick. Some teams were rumored to want to trade for the #1 for Russell, others to get ahead of Detroit for Johnson, others to move into the #2, or whatever. Where are this year's rumors? I know it's early, I know Stafford is just having his pro day tomorrow, I know things are yet to heat up, but no rumors at all? Not one?

On top of this, I read a lot of speculation of where Stafford will be drafted if Detroit passes. No one thinks he will go to Seattle or Kansas City. A few people think Cleveland at #4 or Jax at #8 or San Francisco at #10 might consider a quarterback. Might.

On the other hand, if Detroit passes on Curry he won't fall any further than fourth. Likewise Jason Smith. And by historical standards, those guys really aren't great prospects. But Stafford might slip out of the top ten? Doesn't this inform us that he is more of a #15 - #25 guy than a #1 guy?

Unless other teams start showing some interest in drafting him with a premium pick I will remain convinced that for Detroit to invest their first pick in him would be a terrible mistake.


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Denver's Drama Queen

What's the difference between RuPaul and Jay Cutler?

RuPaul has balls and doesn't whine like a b*tch.

So here's my rough understanding of this giant cluster-eff of a situation...
1) McDaniels gets hired to replace one of the last remaining Superbowl winning coaches.
2) McDaniels and/or the organization decides they want Cassel, and subsequently start considering to shop Cutler, but aren't decisive enough to pull the trigger on anything.
3) Cutler somehow gets wind of this and gets upset.
4) Pissing match ensues.

At this point, Cutler puts his house onto the market, his entire family puts theirs on, and now Cutler is flat demanding a trade.

A couple things strike me here...

First is how baby-ish Cutler is being. I understand the feeling of not being wanted. I also understand that can be problematic. What I don't get is making such a huge deal over it in front of the national media. He only hurts himself. While he can hurt his trade value a bit, he shouldn't hurt it that much by making it known he wants out. The problem is there are lots of people that would want a QB like him, so even if Denver doesn't have the ability to keep him, demand should still be created by several other teams that would want him. But what hurts his trade value is that he's acting like a whiny little baby, so teams won't pay as much for him as they would someone who handles the situation with maturity. This doesn't hurt him in the trade, but could easily hurt his contract value. So not only is it baby-ish, it's potentially really, really stupid.

Second is how Broncos owner Pat Bowlen must be crying in his beer right now about how terribly he's handled the team, and his newly appointed Coach McDaniels and GM Xanders have effed up this whole situation. He rid himself of a coach with a track record of success because the guy couldn't GM, rather than forcing him to relinquish that role (albeit we can't know he didn't offer that and Shanahan respond "I'd rather be fired"). Then he went and hired two completely green guys to come into the fold.

Patrick has made some interesting notes on the success of such combos, though I don't think the point has been completely researched. That will be a post for another time. But the point being that new, young coaches paired with new, young GMs don't typically make for a winning combo. Usually someone has massive faults stemming from at least being naive (if not simply being incompetent), which get exposed, subsequently exploited, and lead to usually one if not both being fired as soon as the honeymoon is over (2-3 years in most non-insane organizations). Interesting hypothesis worth testing later, but for now, the point remains that it should have been theorized that Bowlen was making a bad move at the time, and the indicators today seem to support such a theory.

And so their hand is now forced to look for a way to deal the spoiled little brat (who is also a solid if not potentially great QB) with no possible way of getting the one guy that could have made for a solid replacement. It leaves two interesting questions on the table...

1) Assuming they move him before the draft, what will they get for him?
2) What possible drama can Culter bestow upon us next?

As a side note, here is an interesting article on what McDaniels may have been thinking. The problem is, while it's okay to say "The Pats are super successful because they never pander to their stars, hence McDaniels shouldn't be faulted," reality is that's not exactly true. Does anyone here think Belichick wouldn't hang up on McDaniels if he called about the possibility of moving Cutler to New England? Sometimes you should pander a little bit to certain players, and it's not wrong to do that. All players shouldn't be treated as equals because in reality, all players are not equal.


Monday, March 16, 2009

Jay Cutler



Thursday, March 12, 2009

$43 Million Worth Of Criminal

I wonder if the Redskins - or anyone - knew about this. And I wonder if there is any recourse at this point.

Washington Redskins defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth has been indicted on two misdemeanor traffic charges in Tennessee after an accident that seriously injured another driver.

District Attorney Kim Helper says Haynesworth faces charges of reckless driving and having expired registration.

Haynesworth, a former Tennessee Titan who signed with the Redskins last month, was released after surrendering Wednesday. Maximum punishment is six months in jail and a $500 fine on the reckless driving charge and 30 days and a $50 fine for the other charge.


Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Ray Lewis' contract

Numbers taken from the Baltimore Sun piece on Ray's signing, and formatted for easy reference:

Ray Lewis' contract
2009$1.00 m$6.25 m$2.75 m
2010$4.25 m0$1.25 m
2011$4.50 m0$2.00 m
2012$4.95 m00
2013$5.40 m00
2014$5.85 m00
2015$6.30 m00

What you notice about this is that it's not a freakishly backloaded contract. There are no weird years where there's a sudden $7 m bonus in 2012, or a monster salary in 2013, where you can tell just by looking at the numbers that the team is going to cut him before that payment is due..

Ray of course is not going to play thru this entire contract. A 40yo linebacker! But it looks like his ability (/desire) is going to be the determining factor for when he's done, not some twisted numbers in the contract.

Having said that, year 3 might be the beak-even point. What gets accelerated under the cap when a player is cut? Just the signing bonus, or roster bonuses too? Assuming it's just the signing bonus, then I get this:

Cap acceleration
cut afteraccelerationnext yr's number

After two seasons, it's cheaper to cut him than to keep him: the base salary in year 3 is a wash against the cap hit, but there's the $2m roster bonus. But that number is not forbiddingly high if he's still Ray Lewis. You might keep him for that much delta. After three seasons, the difference between keeping him and cutting him is only $1.38m: again a small number, you'd keep him if he were still Ray Lewis. At that point we're talking about a 37yo linebacker, so the likelihood that he's still great is – well, it's not high. But only a $1.38m roster savings, so it's conceivable he would take a victory lap. There's not a huge incentive to cut him, if he can still contribute.

After that, it's noticeably more expensive under the cap to keep him than to cut him. No way he plays years 5-6-7 of this contract. My guesstimate is he plays three more seasons plus/minus one: that is, 2-4 more seasons.

Of course Ray won't be "cut". He'll retire, at some mutually agreed-upon time. Are the cap acceleration rules for retirement the same as for cuts?

Anyway: what I like about this contract is that it's not deceptive. It's not one of those contracts where they say "seven years for a hundred mil," but then you look at it and the player will never see 3/4s of it. There's no hidden incentive to cut Ray after season x. It's a "reasonable" contract for both parties. If Ray plays two more seasons he's $15.5m richer; 3 more, $22m richer. It's good money for a great player nearing the end of his career.

(And if by some miracle he's still a great linebacker at age 37, keeping him would be affordable at around $5 m.)


Saturday, March 7, 2009

The Warring Voices In Jerry Jones' Head

The most disappointing but underreported storyline of the season is the Dallas Cowboys quietly having the best offseason in football.

This is a team that was a Tony Romo injury away from a sure playoff spot and probably a strong competitor for the conference championship. This despite regular absurdities from TO and more distractions from Pacman. With those two pushed from the stoop there should be much greater harmony in Arlington. Roy Williams (the wide receiver) was virtually a non-factor after leaving Detroit but he is fully capable of moving into Owens' role, although with one-third the drama.

Cutting Jones and the other Roy Williams were more additions. Neither player was effective at all last year. Their cuts signify at least a temporary maturing of philosophy in Dallas. The Cowboys will be forced to address the safety position, most likely with their first pick in the second round. Mike Jenkins will likely move into the starting lineup opposite Terrance Newman. They signed Keith Brooking to replace Zach Thomas in what should be no less than a parallel move and their recent addition of Igor Olshansky brings them the best 3-4 DE available in FA. Wade Phillips - probably deservedly - gets a lot of criticism for his coaching demeanor but the man can certainly coach up a defense, as he demonstrated the last half dozen games after taking it over. The pieces are there for the defense to improve over '08.

With Jones, Barber, Williams, Witten, Bennett, Crayton and Austin there are plenty of tools on offense. Romo has yet to shake the reputation of Not Quite Good Enough When It Counts, but that is more likely to be a sample size issue than an actual flaw. The offensive line is not quite the sum of its parts but that is also a factor for minor upgrades and tweaks.

Sadly the Cowboys have improved to become a contender with a normal range of weaknesses rather than a contender that was likely to completely melt down from week to week. The latter was much more fun.


Friday, March 6, 2009

Why did Matt Birk visit Baltimore?

It is possibly relevant that Matt Birk's agent is Joe Linta, who is also Joe Flacco's agent.

Such little background connections are not very visible to fans; yet they often drive some of the major moves we see. Like the underground shifting of tectonic plates, or something.


Thursday, March 5, 2009

The F.U.T.O. Club expands its membership

At this rate, Owens is likely to have every fan of every NFL team become a charter member of the F.U.T.O. Club by 2021. Teams so far include (in chronological order):
- Cowboys (later removed from the fan club when he signed with them)
- 49ers
- Ravens
- Eagles
- Cowboys

An amusing timeline of T.O.'s shenanagins. For some reason it only goes through 2006, and I can't find a button to go to the second page...sorry 'bout that.

Also, Bodog has apparently been taking bets on where he'll land. The list:
Oakland Raiders 7/2
Washington Redskins 4/1
New York Jets 6/1
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 13/2
New England Patriots 13/2
Tennessee Titans 13/2
Miami Dolphins 8/1
Philadelphia Eagles 50/1
Field (any other team) 5/2

Why is it not surprising the Raiders and Redskins top the list? Oh, that would be because both teams seem to be ready to kill to get a big name receiver in the door, and both are run by men who are certifiably insane.

I'm reeeeeeally hoping he works his way into Washington. I'd love to create a tee-shirt with something around TO working his way through alienating the NFCE.

Plus I hate the Redskins...


Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Ravens scorecard

A week ago I listed the Ravens free agent re-signing priorities:

Terrell Suggs – Franchised.
Jason Brown – Lost to Rams, replaced with Matt Birk, at a much cheaper price.
Ray Lewis – Re-signed!
Bart Scott?? – Lost to Jets; expendable with Ray-ray's return and Tavares Gooden draft last year.
Jim Leonhard – Lost to Jets; somewhat expendable with Landry's expected return and draft last year of 2 safeties.
Dawan Landry – Tendered, restricted free agent.
Brandon McKinney – Re-signed.

And the Ravens added Dominique Foxworth at corner for 4 yrs $27m.

Ozzie has had a great, great early free agency period. I could quibble, for example with getting 7 years older at center (3 years from now we'll rather we had Jason Brown, than Birk's expiring contract); but five days in, Ozzie's done a terrific job of putting these puzzle pieces together into a competitive roster. Should also be noticed that this is considered an excellent draft for centers; and one must also must consider the lower-profile players on the roster, that I haven't taken notice of, that Ozzie has also locked up: players like CB Evan Oglesby and WR Marcus Maxwell and whoever else he's taken care of that hasn't made headlines.

And the draft is still to come!


Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Taking less to make the team better

I'll hand it to Kurt Warner on this one. He appears to be a pretty innovative guy. He's basically putting money where his mouth is, looking to take less in order for the team to get better...

On Tuesday, Warner instructed his agent, Mark Bartelstein, to make a two-year, $23 million proposal to stay with the Cardinals. According to Bartelstein, Warner's proposal would include $12 million in guarantees, $6 million each season.

To further sweeten the deal to the Cardinals, Warner, through Bartelstein, is willing to reduce his contract by $1 million a year if they can successfully renegotiate the contract of wide receiver Anquan Boldin.

There's really nothing I don't like about this. The guy clearly wants to come back to Arizona. He also wants to do what's best for himself and the team. Would he really want to leave Arizona where he can throw to Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin, to go to San Fransisco where he can throw to ... um ..... other receivers?

He's bending over to make his other receiver happy. He's taking one for the team. It'd be nice to see more guys do this. Love the idea behind it.


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