Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Tipping Point

Listening to Czabe Monday after the draft, he had Don Banks on. They discussed the lunacy of the Stafford deal, and were calling it the tipping point. This being the one contract that will essentially force everyone's hand in getting these contracts in line.

It's not a bad point. Take a look at the contracts of the #1 overall pick for the last ten years.

Name# YrsGuar $ / YrTot $ / yr
Matt Stafford6$7.0$12.0
Jake Long5$6.0$11.4
JaMarcus Russell6$5.3$10.2
Mario Williams6$4.4$9.0
Alex Smith6$4.0$8.3
Eli Manning7$2.9$7.7
Carson Palmer7$1.4$7.0
David Carr7$1.6$6.6
Michael Vick6$0.5$10.3
Courtney Brown6$1.8$7.5

The numbers are frankly pretty sick, in particular the guaranteed money. In ten years, the guaranteed money has increased almost 4x, and the total money has increased 60%. The last four years (somewhat arbitrary, but skips the massive jump Smith saw over Eli), the guaranteed money has increased an average of 15% each year. That's market-busting. The same time frame has seen an average of 10% increase each year for total money.

In particular, the basic size of the compensation has gotten out of hand. Stafford has gotten nearly $42MM guaranteed, and $72MM total for six years. Compare this to a few other contracts for established QBs...
Tony Romo signed a 6 year, $67.4MM deal with $30MM guaranteed in 2007.
Peyton Manning signed a 7 year, $99.2MM deal with $34.5MM guaranteed in 2004.
Tom Brady signed a 6 year, $60MM deal with $26.5MM guaranteed in 2005.
Ben Roethlisberger signed an 8 year, $102MM deal with $33.2MM guaranteed in 2008.
Drew Brees signed a 6 year, $60MM deal with $20MM guaranteed in 2006.
Carson Palmer signed a 6 year, $94MM deal with $15MM guaranteed after the '05 season.
Donovan McNabb signed a 12 year, $115MM deal with $20.5MM guaranteed in 2003.

Manning and Palmer are the only ones on this list above that have more total money per year than Stafford. None of them have more guaranteed money or guaranteed money per year. The seven QBs I've listed above are pretty much unquestionably the best QBs currently playing in the NFL not still on their first contract.

Matthew Stafford, the guy who has a ton of questions surrounding him. The guy who may not have been the best QB prospect in this year's draft class. The guy who was picked number one overall in what was said to be the weakest draft class in years. A guy who has never played a down in the NFL.

Matthew Stafford is no lower than the third highest paid QB in the NFL.

There are two issues this creates. The first is a CBA / NFLPA issue, and will be addressed in CBA negotiations. These contracts are taking money away from the established veterans who have earned their paydays. It is virtually impossible to argue Alex Smith has earned the $35 - $40 million he's been paid so far. Russell, even if he turns into a solid QB in the next four years, has essentially wasted two years for the Raiders, which turns his deal from $5.3 guar/year and $10.2 tot/year into $8 guar/year and $15.25 tot/year, spreading his money out over four instead of six years. So far the NFLPA is playing this issue as a non-starter they don't care about, but as Patrick said to me, it'll simply be used as a nugget to concede to the owners in negotiations.

The second is that it turns the top picks into an incredible burden for teams, where it's typically supposed to be helpful for them. Take a look at Jimmy Johnson's well known draft value chart, put together well over a decade ago prior to these rookie deals going out of control. As an example, the Browns traded with the Jets, from #5 to #17. To do this, the Jets would have to give 750 points in value. Their 2nd round pick was worth only 410 according to this chart. Sure they gave up some players, but none are critical players. They would need to give another 340 points worth. Anyone here think the Jets could have gotten the #56 overall pick for those three players?

The Browns are the first team since 2004 to successfully trade a top five draft pick. The reason for that is fairly simple. It's not cause the talent isn't there (though that's true some years). It's that no one wants to take the chance that a guy they're gonna pay $8MM - $12MM per year busts, in addition to the multiple picks it would take to secure him.

And there-in lies the problem. Detroit was an historically bad team last year. If any team needs the ability to get the best prospect available, it's them. And yet the pick is a burden for them, because it takes so much money to sign the guy. If Stafford busts out, it has two terrible connotations for the team. First, they are cap strapped at least partially because of the deal, limiting their ability to sign additional help needed to get out of the gutter. Second, the money they've committed to him nearly forces him to start earlier than maybe he should, and makes it impossible to wash their hands of him early if all signs point to bust. This means he sucks longer for the team, hurting them further. Alex Smith is the perfect example of both of these issues.

I have to agree with Czaban/Banks. I think this deal will wind up being a tipping point in implementing a rookie salary cap or fixed scale of some sort. I think this will be a great thing both for the league, as well as for the teams picking at the top that need the help these picks are supposed to offer. With any luck, it happens next off-season.


Saturday, April 25, 2009

Video from the Ravens war room

Here's video from the Ravens war room, at the time of their selection of Oher, complete with the guy who calls it in misspelling Oher's name:

War room vid

Other than Ozzie and Harbaugh:

  • That's Cam Cameron on the phone with Oher.
  • The guy at 1:35 in jeans and a dress shirt, sitting on Ozzie's left who pats his arm and tells him "good job", is owner Bisciotti.
  • It's dir of player personnel Eric DaCosta whom Ozzie tells at 1:45 "You kill me with your scientific s**t."
  • The guy in the green shirt, whom Harbaugh hugs and then tells "Best offensive line in the league," is OL coach John Matsko.
  • The bald guy is the spec teams coord Rosburg.
  • The old guy sitting down the table, just visible for an instant at 1:08, I think is former owner Modell. Might be wrong there: but they do continue to involve him in stuff. He was present at the presser announcing Harbaugh's hiring.
  • That's team president Dick Cass to Bisciotti's left at 1:15, who asks if Oher was the last guy in the green room.
Great to see Ozzie looking so relaxed and confident at the head of the table. Perhaps most interesting is the view of the walls around the room. I guess that's what the draft board looks like. The vid doesn't have enough resolution to read the names on the cards, but you can see how it's laid out, and get a sense of the process.

Great vid.


Thoughts on the Draft

I'm typing this as I watch. Not gonna do several posts, just one long one with a bunch of random thoughts.

4:05 - Interesting the fervor of the boos for the Stafford pick, and ESPN shows a couple of Stafford supporters cheering. I wonder if it was because of the size of his contract or something like that? Or maybe it just wasn't a NY guy and so the city boos him?

It'd be funny if Stafford just went up to the mic and said "Eff you guys, I've got $42 mil, so you can suck it!"

4:15 - Good selection by the Rams. They tried the smoke-screens, and good for the other teams that were (reportedly ... HUGE caveat of course) thinking about trading into the spot, calling the Rams bluff. Jason Smith is a good kid, too. You look at his reaction, and he's not just smugly happy knowing he's a big prospect about to sign a huge deal. He just looks thrilled to have been picked.

4:27 - Wow, the Tyson Jackson hype panned out. Good for him I guess, but hella reach for the Chiefs. And let's not forget the Chiefs haven't had the greatest luck with first round DL-men, and not like they don't have practice. Jackson is the fourth in the last eight years.

4:34 - The first real surprise of the draft. Not sure any mock I saw had Curry going to Seattle, and I don't think Kiper had EVER talked about Seattle taking the kid, so I think Boomer saying "Not really surprising" about the pick is funny. But this is a great pick. Clearly not the biggest need spot for them, clearly BPA. Starts the Seahawks out really well.

4:37 - LOL... I'm flipping between NFLN and ESPN. Mort comes on ESPN so I switch over to NFLN, where Deion is about to start interviewing Curry. Lesser of two evils? Mort wins that contest...

4:42 - I know it's totally false excitement cause it doesn't impact me and it's not game action, but these moments in the draft when the crowd blows up with the trade announcement, and then the speculation of who it's for, and then Sanchez jumping out of his chair cheering... These are the moments that make the draft a lot of fun and fairly exciting to watch.

And man, did the Browns get a haul for that pick.

4:53 - Meh, color me unimpressed. Andre Smith has so much potential, but I think he's the kinda guy who really needs discipline to reach his potential. Is Cinci gonna provide that? Doubtful.

4:57 - Raiders didn't waste any time getting that pick in, did they? I love it. Never count the Raiders out to do the dumbest possible thing.

I think what concerns me most (and makes me happiest the Ravens didn't take him) about Heyward-Bey (DHB) is the look on his face when he was taken. Pretty much the exact opposite of Smith and Curry's reaction. His family blows up, and he just sits there with this look on his face like "Yeah that's right, I am the m*$%&#$@ing man."

McShay on ESPN just says "This has bust written all over it." Yeah, no joke here. Mayock looks virtually in shock that DHB gets taken before Crabtree, and it saying it's quite possible the Jags trade the pick to someone who wants him. Kudos to Crabtree...looks calm on camera (though he looked literally shocked when the pick was announced) and still smiling.

I actually half wonder if he was relieved the Raiders didn't take him...

5:06 - You know, I can't help but think the Jags are just gun-shy about drafting WRs. It's understandable, between R Jay Soward, Reggie Williams and Matt Jones. And Monroe really is a good pick at #8 overall. But Michael Crabtree, almost unquestionably the second best prospect in this draft, is starting to represent simply ridiculous value.

5:12 - BJ Raji appears to be the guy, but I couldn't help but feel a little bit of hope that the Ravens do exactly the opposite of what they did with the Jags last year and go from 26 to 9 to get Crabtree for their 1st, 3rd and a 2nd next year. Raji is a decent pick for them.

5:15 - LOL...Erin Andrews says when the Raiders made the pick, someone at the Crabtree table went "Phew!"

At this point, is it even possible that the Niners take anyone other than Crabtree, or trade the pick to someone who will?

5:24 - No.

5:28 - Maybin concerns me a bit. I feel like he's got boom or bust written all over him. And that it's more likely he busts.

5:34 - The Moreno pick to Denver is a bit surprising, but I'm not too surprised by it. I mean, they had such RB issues last year. Maybe this finally locks the position down for a while.

Right after that goes Orakpo to the Skins. Pretty solid value there...they have to be thrilled he fell to them I think. Very good blend of need and value.

5:42 - Great pick for the Saints. Another blend of need and value. Jenkins can just play football, regardless of his speed, and the Saints need help everywhere in that backfield.

5:47 - Cushing to the Texans. To me, that seemed kinda obvious, and really just to me it's a boring pick.

5:53 - Larry English off the board. Man, what a freakin' reach. Ridiculous. English just screams to me of a guy that one team likes, and so another looks again and likes him, and someone else and someone else and it all just piles on and suddenly the guy's taken a round higher than he prolly should be because a dozen teams want him.

That said, Patrick correctly has said that AJ Smith is a wizard talent evaluator, so I have to trust this pick.

6:03 - I know they only got a 6th round pick for the move down, but the Browns haven't even picked yet and they are just crushing this draft. Three players and two extra picks, and they don't have to pay top five money to a guy who isn't talented enough to go top ten last year (yeah, all of them).

Freeman sucks. Kyle Boller v2.0.

I have to think the NFL Network probably isn't thrilled with its decision to put Gruden in front of the camera. He sounds pretty clueless out there. They were just making fun of him on set for finally getting one call right.

6:08 - Ayers was such an obvious pick. It was either him or Brown, after taking Moreno with their #12.

6:15 - Third trade in the round for the Browns. What a great draft they're having. Maclin is a little surprising for the Eagles, but we knew they wanted a receiver. I'm a bit surprised they didn't take a RB. But Maclin is pretty good value here.

6:22 - Solid pick for Det. Pettigrew will both help protect as well as provide a good safety outlet for their new $42MM QB.

6:27 - So after all the movement, they take a guy who just looks like he's gonna be a very solid player.

6:29 - Harvin to the Vikes makes sense, but I hate rewarding a guy that clearly has discipline issues, smoking pot close enough to the combine to test positive at it. Plus, the Vikes have a terrible track record at helping troubled players, so this might be the worst spot for Harvin to have gone.

6:35 - Balt goes up and gets Oher. I was chatting with Patrick and saying he's a lock if he falls to 26, and they went up and got him. I love that pick. Terrific value, and fills a semi-need too at RT. Great pick IMO.

6:41 - Jerry to the Falcons is pretty good value. Tons of great value in this range.

6:46 - Davis is a big talent with tons of questions, but I trust Parcells to have filled his staff with guys that will keep troubled players in line the same way he would. This could be a great pick.

6:54 - Oh what a shock, NE trades down some more. GB goes up and gets Matthews, who I guess a lot of people are high on, but I'm really not at all. None of the USC LBs are overly impressive to me, at least without getting into a great spot. GB's D is horrible, I don't see him as a huge difference maker for them.

7:01 - Donald Brown to the Colts? They don't like Addai all of a sudden? I think this is the first pick that really shocks me. I don't think it's a bad pick, I think Brown is a beast. But I didn't expect that at all.

7:04 - An unsexy pick for the Bills, but not too bad.

7:09 - Hakeem Nicks to the Gints. No surprise there at all. Great pick.

7:18 - Britt to the Titans is as unsurprising as Nicks to the Gints.

7:28 - Beanie Wells falls to the Cards, another obvious selection.

7:31 - And we close the first round with Evander Hood, a very solid pickup for them. Not surprising they're picking in the trenches.

There's really a lot of value right now that's still around. Maualuga, Butler, Laurinitus, Unger, etc. A fun first round, but for me, the draft has only just begun...


Friday, April 24, 2009

The Emperor Has No Clothes

Ray Gustini is rapidly becoming one of my core 'must read' columnists. A regular at NFP he often has a good way of cutting to the core of things in enlightening ways. Enough with the superlatives. His column from today I find particularly embarrassing, because I am That Guy.

Premise No. 1: Nothing really happens at the NFL Draft — This is true. While the networks covering the draft increasingly view the event as an ideal place to unveil the latest designs in arbitrary, distracting on-screen graphics, the fact remains that this is essentially just two days of calling out the names of people you’ve never heard of.

Well now, the entire draft instantly denuded and my three month football raison d'être eviscerated.

Indeed, why do we care about the draft? Not that the draft isn't important or that football people shouldn't care about the draft, but does it really matter so much which guy who I've never heard of prior to a couple months ago - or maybe never - my team picks on Sunday? It's really just an entry in our voracious national appetite for All Things NFL, our country's 11 month professional sport. I can't imagine how pissed the NBA and NHL are that one of their prime playoff weekends has been stolen from them, so that middle-aged weekend warriors can ignore yardwork for 36 hours of Big Boards and highlights and instant (and instantly forgotten) analysis by Big Haired Television types. The NFL added insult to injury this year, pushing the Saturday start back to prime time, relegating basketball and hockey eyeballs to the early games that no one but the die-hards watch anyway.

Heck with it. I think I will leave my television off all weekend. Temps in the 80s all three days, I have plenty of winter clean-up and spring prep to do. The draft can just proceed without me.

Natch. Maybe it can't.


McShay's Mock

I'm not a big fan of mocks at all. They are usually accurate to about the third overall pick before they fall apart.

But this? Well, if nothing else it is an extremely impressive pointless exercise.


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Mock Draft

Everyone does ‘em, why shouldn’t I?!?!?

On a more serious tone, it’s taken me a while to really realize how useless mock drafts are. It was around Aaron Rodgers that I started to understand that NFL personnel as well as media pundits are who they are for a reason. Sometimes the media guys get it right. But mostly, the NFL team execs have their ratings, and how we rate the players is pretty much meaningless.

Which brings us to the curious case of Matthew Stafford. Not one person I’ve heard has said “This is the top prospect in the draft this year.” Not one. In fact, most people have said some version of “He may not even be the best QB in this draft. Detroit is going to take him. But if they don’t take him, I have no idea where he’ll be drafted.” Patrick said to me the other day something along the lines of “Where is he? Is he the best prospect? The 15th best?”

And yet pretty much everyone has Stafford going to Detroit with #1 overall. I remember there were a lot of questions about Alex Smith and Aaron Rodgers, and that both were thought about at #1 overall while everyone openly admitted they were not the top prospect. But they were both thought to be top five prospects by pretty much everyone. That’s the big difference that I see between this and Stafford. No one seems to be saying Stafford IS a top five prospect. They’re saying “If he is, Detroit should take him.”

And we remember how Smith and Rodgers turned out, right? Smith crippled the Niners, who are still digging out of that hole; Rodgers lasted into the 20s before going to a team that allowed him to sit a few years and develop under one of the best. So can anyone really argue Stafford should be the Lions pick?

I can’t. If it were me, I’d do one of two things. First choice, I’d take the best overall prospect, IMO Aaron Curry. The Lions are in the unenviable position of needing help everywhere. So they truly have the luxury of taking BPA, and then saying “It was a pick to address a major need!” However, if they truly have locked in on Stafford, then I think the “right” move for them is to say to Stafford “We want you. We also know very few other teams do. So we’ll pay you $25MM up front and $50MM total for six years. Or, we’ll take someone else. You could easily fall outside the top ten, which would result in your getting half that money. Your choice.” I’d also give serious consideration to simply sitting on the pick for five picks, and then turning in the card.

With that said, I can’t not give Detroit Stafford at #1, because Vegas says so. Maybe it’s stupid reasoning. But I’ve spent a great deal of time studying various forms of gambling, and if there’s one rule, it’s that Vegas will always come out on top. The bookie odds for Stafford going #1 overall are in the range of 75% to 80%. Maybe that’s not dead-on accurate. But there’s no chance the price is that high on a guy the Lions are less than 50% to take…

1 – Detroit Lions: Matt Stafford, QB, Georgia
I guess you could say it fills a need. They have needs everywhere though, and if I were them, I’d take Aaron Curry. There’s a far higher chance he turns into the next Ray Lewis than Stafford turns into the next Dan Marino. And more importantly, there’s far LESS chance he turns into the next Andy Katzenmoyer than Stafford turns into the next Ryan Leaf.

2 – St Louis Rams: Jason Smith, OT, Baylor
Bulger getting killed early and often last year was a big cause for their offensive struggles. Smith isn’t the cleanest prospect, but he’s probably the best at the safest position, and the Rams need to hit after having the #2 overall for the second straight year.

3 – Kansas City Chiefs: Aaron Curry, LB, Wake Forest
A lot of people have him here simply cause Pioli took Mayo last year and people think he just loves LBs. I personally think Pioli just loves BPA, and Curry is probably the second cleanest prospect this decade, behind Calvin Johnson. Low risk of busting, huge upside. I also think there’s a very reasonable chance the Chiefs move down from this spot. Specifically, trading with the Redskins and collecting their #1 overall next year along with some other picks this year.

4 – Seattle Seahawks: Mark Sanchez, QB, USC
So many people have the Hawks locked in on this guy. I used to think it was gonna be Crabtree, but after they signed Houshmandzadeh, it allows them to look elsewhere. Sanchez has huge up-side, but his lack of experience is a concern. The Hawks can have him sit behind Hasselbeck for a year or two and learn the ropes, which is probably the best thing for him.

5 – Cleveland Browns: BJ Raji, DT, Boston College
Lots of questions here. The Browns have a ton of needs, and if they trade Edwards, they are a threat to take Crabtree. But Mangini is a defensive guy, and in the division with two teams built around power-house defenses and strong running games, I suspect they’ll try to shore up the middle of their line before anything else.

6 – Cincinnati Bengals: Eugene Monroe, OT, Virginia
Last year, shockingly, the defense wasn’t the Bengals problem, the offense was. Palmer was a disaster and is coming off an injury, and the Bengals have to find a way to protect him better. Monroe has health questions, but otherwise fits the bill.

7 – Oakland Raiders: Michael Crabtree, WR, Texas Tech
I’m sorry, I’m not buying the Mel Kiper et al hype machine that says the Raiders will fall all over themselves for Maclin cause he’s a speed guy and they just love speed. Crabtree is IMO the second best prospect in this draft. Huge, fast, runs crisp routes, catches the ball clean, etc. His only flaw is his giant ego, and the Raiders probably consider that a positive anyway. This, IMO, is a no-brainer if he falls here.

8 – Jacksonville Jaguars: Jeremy Maclin, WR, Missouri
This team’s WRs have been so bad over the years I think it probably makes Del Rio cry at night. They just gave Torry Over-the-Hill Holt almost $7MM/year (yeah, I know it’s incentives, still…). There’s no QB here. The best prospects are DEs and the Jags just took two with their first couple picks last year. Maybe I’m just stupid putting him here, but given the board I’ve got above them, I don’t see who else they’d be that interested in.

9 – Green Bay Packers: Brian Orakpo, DE, Texas
They’ll probably fall all over themselves to turn this card in, but who knows. This team needs a ton of defensive help, and despite Orakpo’s terrible inconsistency, he’s absolutely dominant when he’s on his game.

10 – San Fransisco 49ers: Andre Smith, OT, Alabama
They’ll probably love it if he falls this far. LT has been a huge need of theirs for a while, and chalk me up as a guy that thinks Singletary can handle any attitude issues Smith might give. The team needs help at other spots so guys like Brown at DE are options, as well as going with Oher as a less risky prospect than Smith.

11 – Buffalo Bills: Michael Oher, OT, Ole Miss
I hate drafting for need. There are other, better prospects available here. But the margin isn’t huge, and the drop from Oher to the next best OT is pretty dramatic. They picked up the Eagles first rounder, they need a pass rusher, my guess is they’ll address that position later.

12 – Denver Broncos: Everette Brown, DE/OLB, Florida St
He’s probably BPA and he also fills a need. Perfect combo. The Broncos have a bunch of picks in the first couple rounds both this year and next. I would expect a vast majority of them to be spent on the defensive side of the ball. One interesting note, though. Does anyone else think McDaniels is running the show, and Xanders is basically a warm body to fill a title? It looked that way to me in the Cutler mess. And if that’s the case, McDaniels may want to beef up the offense, specifically the running game, which could make Moreno or Wells the pick.

13 – Washington Redskins: Robert Ayers, DE, Tennessee
The hype machine is on, and never assume Danny Snyder won’t fall for some great hype. They need a pass rusher badly, and lots of media pundits seem to be falling all over themselves about this guy flying up the board. Snyder is one of the few suckers out there that could fall for it, and don’t think Cerrato is anything but a yes-man.

14 – New Orleans Saints: Malcolm Jenkins, CB/S, Ohio St
“He’s not fast, he’s not fast!” They cry it from the roof-tops. “He’s too slow, he won’t succeed!” Blah. So what if he’s 0.1 seconds over 40 yards away from being considered a top five prospect? The guy can flat play football, and the Saints have needs all over their backfield so they’ll find a spot for him. I think this guy will turn out to be huge value falling this far.

15 – Houston Texans: Brian Cushing, LB, USC
Seriously, who the hell knows. There are lots of spots they could go for here on the defensive side of the ball. This team looks like it’s on the rise, so they can go BPA here. The problem is, who’s the BPA? Lotta guys look like they’re somewhere scattered between 15 and 30, and I would bet on the 32 NFL teams boards, if you looked at #15 overall, you would probably find no less than a dozen different names.

16 – San Diego Chargers: Rey Maualuga, LB, USC
Slotting a RB for the Chargers seems to be a sexy move on most mocks. But I’m not buying into that hype. Maualuga has some risk, but I would guess the Chargers would love to plug him into that defense. The Chargers usually just go BPA, but your guess is as good as mine on who that is.

17 – New York Jets: Josh Freeman, QB, Kansas St
Ugh. I love me some Rex Ryan and hope he succeeds, but I think this would be an awful pick. Pretty much no chance Freeman falls past Tampa Bay, and someone may move up to get him. But I don’t like the kid this high. Pop quiz: What’s the difference between Josh Freeman and Jamarcus Russell? Russell was a better prospect. Get the hint?

18 – Denver Broncos: Tyson Jackson, DE, LSU
I pretty much think the same thing here as I thought at #12 overall. They need a lot of pass rush help, he’s probably BPA, it’s a fit.

19 – Tampa Bay Bucs: Knowshon Moreno, RB, Georgia
I think I’m the only person on the planet with a RB in this spot. And maybe there’s a reason for that. But last year, Dunn led the team in rushing with under 800 yards and is 33 years old. Graham is 28 and in Gruden’s dog-house. With no QB worth looking at till the fourth round, how is this spot not a big need for them, that could be filled by a great prospect?

20 – Detroit Lions: Peria Jerry, DT, Ole Miss
Man these guys need so much help on defense it’s not funny. It starts here, solidifying the middle. Laurinaitus is another option here, as is Matthews. I could even see Vonte Davis. Whatever…point is, even if they go defense with #1 overall, defense is probably the pick here. With Stafford, it’s pretty much a lock.

21 – Philadelphia Eagles: Chris Beanie Wells, RB, Ohio St
Show me a mock (since the trade with Buffalo) that doesn’t have a RB in this slot.

22 – Minnesota Vikings: Darrius Heyward-Bey, WR, Maryland
Part of me sticks him here simply to get him off the board before the Ravens cause I really don’t like him. The other part of me says “The Vikes need help in the passing game, there’s no QB available, so WR is the next best thing.” All the WRs at this point have question marks.

23 – New England Patriots: Darius Butler, CB, UConn
I’m probably getting juked out of my jock strap here, but I’ll buy into the hype on this one. Everyone’s saying he’s locked up if he makes it to 23, so I’ll just say “Sir yes sir” and move on.

24 – Atlanta Falcons: Brandon Pettigrew, TE, Oklahoma St
Combo of almost BPA and need make this an easy pick. ‘Nuff said.

25 – Miami Dolphins: Hakeem Nicks, WR, North Carolina
I love this kid. Except that he tweaked a hammy and then got fat. Now suddenly he’s rocketing down draft boards. Let’s just say that I think Parcells is the kind of guy who will take this kid based on his talent, and has filled his coaching staff with guys he knows will whip his sorry butt into serious shape.

26 – Baltimore Ravens: Aaron Maybin, DE/OLB, Penn State
I combo loving and hating this pick here. I’m a Penn State guy. Ozzie seems to hate Penn State guys (frustrating!). And Maybin is really boom or bust. That’s why I hate it…I simply don’t buy this will be the pick. But then there’s the other side. The Ravens have made a career out of taking these pure pass rushing tweeners, and turning them into defensive monsters. Boulware, Adalius Thomas, Suggs…meet the next in that line. FWIW, I also think a trade down here (if not for Boldin) is a strong likelihood.

27 – Indianapolis Colts: Clay Matthews, LB, USC
I’m really not certain here, but I do think Polian will take whoever he thinks is the best player on the board.

28 – Buffalo Bills: Michael Johnson, DE, GA Tech
They need a pass rusher, they take a pass rusher.

29 – New York Giants: Percy Harvin, WR, Florida
This could also be traded for a WR. Huge, huge need with Plaxico gone, and they’d probably love getting Harvin who has so much raw talent. They also may balk at his troubles, given Plaxico’s recent problems, so I could see Britt here instead.

30 – Tennessee Titans: Evander Hood, DT, Missouri
Vonte Davis is a name I see here a lot. Let’s see…how’d it go the last time the Titans picked a really talented CB with lots of off-field issues? Oh yeah. I’m pretty sure their memories are more elephant-like than the media’s.

31 – Arizona Cardinals: Donald Brown, RB, UConn
He fits here, allowing the Cards to move away from Edge; but there could be guys on the defensive side that are attractive here instead.

32 – Pittsburgh Steelers: Max Unger, C, Oregon
A beast on the inside, he fills a need and probably fits the bill as BPA.


Monday, April 20, 2009

Inside a Draft War-Room

I'm not a big fan of acting like an update news anchor, but in this case I'll make an exception.

Here is an interesting article on what actually happens inside an NFL draft war room.


NFL Flexes Giant Muscles, Bullies NCAA

Apparently the NFL has caused a bit of a scheduling conflict with the NCAA and the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. They've scheduled the Packers @ Cardinals game one day prior to the Bowl game, where the NCAA reportedly has a contract in place with the stadium operator saying a game cannot be played less than two days before the event. The Cards deal apparently says the same thing.

So now the NFL front offices are leaving the Cards out to dry and let them apologize...for what, I'm not sure. But one way or the other, the NFL has said they have no intention of rescheduling the game.

"Oh, what, you have a game scheduled a day after ours? Oh, there's a contract saying our game isn't legal? Sorry, I don't know anything about that contract. If you'd like, I hear there's another stadium close by that you could play in..."

What's interesting to me about this is how the NFL has in the past always seemed to get out of the way when dealing with the NCAA. They never schedule games on Saturdays where there's NCAA action, just like they don't on Fridays for high school football. Classically they've seen it as protecting their own future. So why they're picking now to fire up such a confrontation, over something that's really so small as a regular season game, is beyond me. How tough is it really to just say "Oh man, sorry, we didn't realize it, we're taking actions immediately to rectify the situation?"

The NCAA "isn't threatening legal action" (not a direct quote) although they're pretty clearly threatening legal action, wink wink nudge nudge. Will be interesting to see who's got the muscle for this one.


Saturday, April 18, 2009


After sleeping on yesterday's article on where to find the most value in the draft I started wondering if the sweet spot for elite players/value is in the #6 - #15 spot. Easy enough to rearrange players to see where they fall. These players land contracts in the 5/$35M range:

1996 97 98 99 00 01 02 03 04 05 Overall

Elite 2 2 2 4 2 2 4 2 2 3 25
Solid 4 3 7 4 6 3 5 4 7 4 47
Bust 4 5 1 2 2 5 1 4 1 3 28

When we compare this to the prior totals:

1-10 11-20 21-30
Elite 27 24 9
Solid 39 44 47
Bust 34 31 43

Well ... not much difference. It still looks like the sweet spot of the draft but only by a little, and certainly not more than can be attributed to variance. Still, worth an eyeball.


Friday, April 17, 2009

Finding Value In The First Round

I thought it would be a little fun to take a look at the relative differences between value among top ten draft picks as compared to players taken in the second ten, 1-20 and third ten - from 21-30. It crossed my mind that the benefit of picking at the top of the draft might be entirely illusory, it might actually be simply an expensive dart game.

The goal was to look at a ten year period, a total of 300 players, to give us a large enough sample where we can begin to draw conclusions. I decided to end the process in 2005 since we can fairly confidently close the book on that draft now, and thus began in 1996. It is difficult to create an objective way to compare players across a period like this since the latter players still have nascent careers while the earlier players are mostly retired so I chose a subjective route instead, rating players as bust/disappointing (one category), solid long-term pro, or elite difference maker.

Using the 1996 top ten as an example we have:

Keyshawn Johnson Solid Pro
Kevin Hardy Solid Pro
Simeon Rice Elite
Jonathan Ogden Elite
Cedric Jones Bust
Lawrence Phillips Bust
Terry Glenn Solid
Tim Biakabatuka Bust
Rickey Dudley Bust
Willie Anderson Elite

so very good top ten in 1996. By comparison the 1996 21-30:

Pete Kendall Solid
Marcus Jones Bust
Jeff Hartings Solid
Eric Moulds Solid
Jermane Mayberry Solid
Ray Lewis Elite
John Michels Bust
Jerome Woods Solid
Jemain Stephens Bust
Andre Johnson Bust

As expected the top ten outperformed the third ten by a bit with 3 elite players and 3 solids as compared with 1 elite and 5 solids in the third ten. In fairness the "solid" top tenners this year were much better than the "solid" 21-30 players. Hopefully this balances out as we work our way through.

One final note: looking at 2008 rookie salaries, it looks like the annual average for top ten picks was $8.5M and for 21-30 picks ~ $2.5M. Arguably we would need to see three times the value from the top ten just to break even.


1-10 11-20 21-30
Elite 3 2 1
Solid 3 7 5
Bust 4 1 4

We discussed this draft a bit already. The second ten delivered a number of solid, productive pros along with elite players Marvin Harrison and Eddie George. I reluctantly included Reggie Brown in the solid category as he played very well before nearly dying on the field in a career-ending injury his second year.


1-10 11-20 21-30
Elite 3 2 1
Solid 4 4 3
Bust 3 4 6

1997 had a similar distribution of elite players throughout the first round. Orlando Pace, Peter Boulware and Walter Jones in the top ten, Tony Gonzales and Tarik Glenn in the second ten and Trevor Pryce a marginal elite in the third ten. James Farrior gets labeled as a top ten bust, although he managed to resurrect his career after leaving the Jets, making the Pro Bowl last year.


1-10 11-20 21-30
Elite 2 2 2
Solid 5 5 6
Bust 3 3 2

Unless you were Indianapolis (Peyton Manning), there was no real advantage to having any other high pick in the draft, as players were evenly distributed throughout. The top ten saw Manning and Charles Woodson, the second ten Tra Thomas and Keith Brooking, the third ten Randy Moss and Alan Faneca. Robert Edwards was rated "solid" on the basis of his rookie year, as he ruined his knee and career in his sophomore training camp.


1-10 11-20 21-30
Elite 5 2 1
Solid 3 4 3
Bust 2 4 6

On the other hand, '99 was a great year to pick at the top of the drafted, provided the team didn't fixate on one of the two overrated quarterbacks who went top three (Couch, Akili Smith). McNabb, Edgerrin James, Torry Holt, Champ Bailey and Chris McAlister were drafted top ten, making multiple Pro Bowls. Additionally, other than Bailey, each participated in at least one Super Bowl as well. The second ten produced Dante Culpepper and Jevon Kearse. The third ten was awful with only one marginally elite player, Patrick Kerney at #30, immediately following legendary bust Demetrious Underwood.


1-10 11-20 21-30
Elite 3 3 0
Solid 4 4 4
Bust 3 2 6

Picking anywhere in the top 20 was likely to provide relatively equal value in 2000. Note that I only counted 9 players from 11-20. Oakland selected Sebastian Janikowski. Other than calling the pick a bust for the stupidity of picking a kicker in the first round, he defies classification so I pass. The top ten produced Lavar Arrington, Chris Samuels and Brian Urlacher, the second ten John Abraham, Julian Peterson and Shaun Alexander. Note that several other very good players went in the top ten who were just shy of the elite category: Jamal Lewis, Cory Simon, Thomas Jones, and Plaxico Burress.


1-10 11-20 21-30
Elite 2 3 1
Solid 4 5 5
Bust 4 2 4

Not much advantage to picking top ten in 2001. Mike Vick (solid) went at the top of and the next two players disappointed. LaDainian Tomlinson and Richard Seymour went with consecutive picks at #5 and #6. Another all-time bust, Jamal Reynolds, went #10. The second ten produced three elite linemen with Marcus Stroud, Steve Hutchinson and Casey Hampton. The third ten had Reggie Wayne at #30.


1-10 11-20 21-30
Elite 2 3 1
Solid 4 2 6
Bust 4 5 2

In 2002 it was easier getting an elite outside of the top ten again. Julius Peppers may have been the best player in the draft at #2 but was sandwiched by three busts at #1, #3 and #4. Roy Williams (db) was the other marginal elite in the top ten. The second ten produced Albert Haynesworth along with Dwight Freeney and Jeremy Shockey (marginal). The third ten a number of solid players along with Ed Reed.


1-10 11-20 21-30
Elite 4 1 0
Solid 2 3 5
Bust 4 6 5

Not a good draft with 15/30 busts or disappointments in the first round. Note that the best or second best player in the round was Nnamdi Asomugha at #31 - outside of our sample. The top ten was relatively productive with Carson Palmer, Andre Johnson, Kevin Williams and Terrell Suggs. The only other elite player in the '03 first round was Troy Polamalu at #16. Larry Johnson was a near-elite at #27 but he is looking brittle and just not enough elite years.


1-10 11-20 21-30
Elite 3 3 1
Solid 6 6 4
Bust 1 1 5

2004 was a very productive draft with only two busts in the first twenty picks (Reggie Williams and the unfortunate Kenechi Udeze). The top ten produced Larry Fitzgerald, Philip Rivers and Sean Taylor as elites. There is good potential for Eli Manning, Roy Williams, Kellen Winslow and/or DeAngelo Hall to join them, depending on how their careers progress. The second ten Ben Roethlisberger, Tommie Harris and Shawn Andrews. Stephen Jackson was the lone elite from the third ten, and that contingent on him bouncing back and actually starting full-time for a couple of years.

It gets tougher to compile these as we get closer to the present, as it is much more dependent on projections and subjectivity. Even so, one more year:


1-10 11-20 21-30
Elite 0 3 1
Solid 4 4 6
Bust 6 3 3

The 2005 draft was probably the worst draft in recent memory, with very little value coming out of the top ten. With only 4 elite players, 2005 also rated the worst with only one other year producing as few as 5. Top ten busts included Alex Smith, Cedric "Tears" Benson, Cadillac Williams, Pacman Jones, Butterfingers Williamson and "Buffet" Mike Williams (I thought I would stick with the nickname theme once I got rolling. Alex Smith ... nothing comes to mind. Maybe "Boring".) The best value in the draft came just outside the top ten with DeMarcus Ware, Shawn Merriman and Jammal Brown going #11 - #13. The third ten produced Roddy White as the only elite skill position guy in the first round.

So putting the whole thing together:

1-10 11-20 21-30
Elite 27 24 9
Solid 39 44 47
Bust 34 31 43

What is probably most striking is the difference between the first ten and second ten. With an average of ~ $20M difference in contracts between these groups, there is virtually no difference in the quality of NFL player that they produce. To be fair, it could be argued that the elite top ten players are better than the elite players later in the first round. Manning, Bailey, Kevin Williams, Tomlinson and Urlacher have all been considered the best players at their respective positions at one time or another. Few outside of the top ten can make the same claim.

Even so, with the vast difference in investment at the top of the draft and even after pick #5 over all it is very hard to argue that there is any benefit, either in value or in absolute talent, to pick at the top of the draft.


Science vs Ray Lewis

And science loses!

"This is freakin incredible man, I'm gonna call my Momma in a minute."


Thursday, April 16, 2009

When the time comes to pick, I pick

Here's vid of the Ravens annual pre-draft press conference, with GM Ozzie Newsome and head coach John Harbaugh, and Director of Player Personnel Eric DaCosta, and the new director of college scouting, whose name I didn't catch. Ozzie says at the start, "I'd like to begin by thanking everyone for coming out to hear us talk basically about nothing, as we've done for the last 14 years..." And it's true they don't drop any bombs whatsoever. The occasional nice quote about a player, but mostly it's process-process-process.

Part 1, 24 mins
Part2, 20 mins

Very late in part 2, like around the 15-min mark, there's this:

Q: Ozzie, going into a draft, when you sit down the day of the draft, how much do you feel like you know how things will play out, and how much does the draft when it's all said and done deviate from what you had in your head?

A: Well, Eric knows everything about the draft. He knows who's going to get taken when, you know, what team is taking -- I mean, I got John Clayton calling me, I got Peter King calling me, I got everybody calling me. Gosselin. I get tons of information. But I was taught one thing when I was in high school: you can only catch a football when the ball gets there. So all I do is prepare myself. And when the time comes for me to pick, I pick.
I guess it's that simple.


Sunday, April 12, 2009

Team's Draft Boards

Chris Landry was a former NFL scout for two different teams before going independent. I don't know exactly what he does but I believe it's basically compiling research and scouting reports, and sell them to teams. He's also on Fox Sports Radio a good bit, and he calls into one of my local radio shows every Friday from 5 PM to 6 PM. I enjoy listening to it on the way home...starts the weekend right.

He had a great note this past show on team's drafting. Someone called in with a question about one of the OLs moving up team's draft boards, and Landy got somewhat irritated about the comment. The show's host asked him to explain to the listeners about that since most people don't really understand how a team's draft boards really work.

Landry said that most people think that teams have a board and move guys up and down as they gather information. That's what the media does, but it's not what teams do (despite that the media portrays it's what they do, which seemed to be what he was irritated by).

A team will simply gather information throughout the entire process, but will never actually rank players during that time. Once they've had all their meetings, they will get together (usually somewhere in the next week or so), and begin putting together their draft boards.

They will put each position out on a board, and begin ranking players in each position. Then, once they've got them all ranked, they'll decide which positions are most important, and decide among which guys they want in each of their spots according to their needs and how much they like certain prospects.

Thought that was interesting.


Saturday, April 11, 2009

Why Quarterbacks Should Never Be Drafted Top Five

This is part of an ongoing conversation elsewhere but I believe it stands alone.

I was asked:

about how teams come to their ratings on QBs, I think you are projecting what you think over what teams actually do. I seriously doubt that a team would make any QB higher on their board on a 50% chance they develop. The odds of whether they could develop IMO would already be considered, for example (just an example, have no idea exactly how they have them rated) Detroit may give Stafford a 70% chance of succeeding, maybe a 50% chance for Sanchez, perhaps a 40% on Freeman. The odds teams give a prospect on succeeding I believe are already factored in, otherwise their draft board has no value when it comes to QBs. It is possible you are right, but IMO probably not.

I actually think teams tend to vastly overvalue quarterbacks due to the importance of the position. I used 50% off the top of my head because that is the bust rate of first round quarterbacks. There are other factors that go into that, of course. Not all quarterbacks are equally likely to bust, but that isn't an unreasonable baseline for a calculus. I'm not referring to Stafford in particular but I don't like his odds. He has some things going for him for sure, he's no Akili Smith or Joey Harrington, but the Peyton Manning/Elway comparisons are pretty tiresome too. He's much more like Rex Grossman for a lot of reasons. That isn't an entirely ugly comparison, btw, Grossman easily could have turned out better than he did. It's just that their college similarities are striking.

It gets hard to say the same things in different ways. If you look at the first round quarterbacks who really became studs in the NFL they all tended to share criteria. Lots of college experience (typically 40+ starts, 4+ years in the program), high completion percentages.

I think where people, NFL people included, fail when evaluating quarterbacks is they don't consider the downside of being wrong. We have discussed it here but it's something you either accept or your don't.

Just like all successes aren't equal (quarterbacks >> OLB), all busts aren't equal either (QB >>> OLB). Bad quarterbacks can't be hidden and they can't be moved. They either play or they don't. The problem is that if they play and are even below average then they are contributing negatively to the team, the team would be better off with one of many veteran free agents who are available each year.

As an example, let's look at two players: Vernon Gholston and Alex Smith. Gholston looks like a bust by an measure. He will never justify his draft status and at this point looks like he should have been more like a 4th rounder. Even so, he can still be used in positive ways. While he might be useless for two-thirds of defensive downs he can still be substituted into spots where he can contribute. Even though the team will never recoup their investment, as long as they don't try to force him into situations where he contributes negatively they can still get a positive return, they can win more games with him on the roster than otherwise. On the other hand, Alex Smith is in no position to contribute positively to his team. If he starts then he is below a replacement-level player, and every down he is on the field the team suffers, relative to a Shaun Hill being under center instead. The team can't substitute him into situations where he specializes like they can with Gholston.

If we express this mathematically, if 100 is NFL average production then Gholston can be used in limited ways where he produces at 125 (or whatever) and otherwise does not play. If Smith playe he can only produce at 75. The problem is further magnified by quarterback being so much more important than OLB or DE or whatever they are calling Gholston these days.

Here's the other thing with quarterbacks: even if all picks in a given slot get the exact same contract, the quarterback costs the team more. Why? Because he isn't expected to contribute anything his first year, and he isn't supposed to be any better than average his second. So if you have a player sign a 6 year $72M contract at #1 OA, the OT or OLB plays all six years at $12M per. The quarterback sits for the first year, or only plays in low pressure spots, and is now effectively on a 5 year $72M contract at $14.4M per. His second year he plays but is no better than average. An average NFL QB gets $7M (I really don't know, just a number) so the rest of our rookie's contract gets thrown on to his back end for value purposes. So no we have a QB who effectively was worth $0 as a rookie, $7M as a sophomore and now has (effectively) a 4 year contract at $16.25M per. If he isn't among the top 5 quarterbacks in the league by his third year then he is still being overpaid.

But then we stumble into the bust rate. I agree that no team is going to draft a guy #1 OA expecting a 50% bust rate so let's say 25% instead. If our guy busts 25% of the time then we are out the entire $72M. So let's look at the 75% he doesn't bust. We have to account for the bust potential which is 25% of $72M so the effective contract is now 6/$90M but wait, our guy isn't going to play as a rookie so really 5/$90M. Now our young star has to be at the level of Peyton/Brady by his second year to make his contract justifiable, since those are the only guys who get paid at that rate on an annual basis.

Once again, this doesn't argue against the possibility of a QB being the best choice at #1 OA. What it argues is that if there are any questions, and concerns, if your bust rate is any higher than 25% then we'd better be extra cautious and lean away from that guy. Not because he might not otherwise be a good prospect, but rather because it is virtually impossible for him to ever justify the contract.


Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Ben Roethlisberger is Clutch

On a message board, the topic of Roethlisberger being a clutch player came up, and someone attempted to make the argument that there’s no such thing as a clutch player. Specifically this:
No such thing [as a clutch player], really. I thought [we were] above the notion that one player among the 22 starters suddenly waits until 4 minutes left to start playing really super-de-duper well and wills his team to victory - that's Around the Horn nonsense.

The first thing we have to do to be able to make an objective, quantifiable argument is to define what it means to be “clutch.” More specifically, what qualifies as a “clutch” situation, and what does not? As there isn’t much data to go on that can easily be sorted, I had to create my own. In this case, I defined “clutch” situations to be as follows:
Games which ended with one team within one score of the other’s.
Of those games, the final half of the fourth quarter.

Therefore, I would define a clutch player as one who plays well in those situations. I do NOT use the following anywhere in my definition of a clutch player:
Game winner – One player can play extremely well in a clutch time, and the team still lose the game. Example: Warner played clutch in the Superbowl, but the Steelers still won.
Plays better in clutch situations vs. other situations – If a QB plays very well in all situations, he can still be clutch. Clutch situations are situations where pressure is high on a player. Some players crumble under pressure. Others don’t. If you’re already a great player, and play just as well in clutch situations, I would argue that you are a clutch player. This point is debatable, but turns out not to matter in this argument.
Big game player – There is no standard for what defines a “big game.” There is also no real way to tell how great a player played in a big game. Example: Roethisberger played poorly in his first Superbowl, but still played well enough to win.

In addition, there is one disclosure that must be made for the sake of making an honest argument:
In clutch situations, defenses will often give a QB more opportunities to make plays. This relates closely to a QB playing better in clutch situations vs. other situations. Often times a QB just has to play well, and simply take advantage of what the defense is giving him. If a QB’s stats are better in clutch situations than they are everywhere else, does that mean he played better in the clutch, or that he played just as good but took advantage of the extra that the defense was giving him?
Unfortunately, we don’t have a base-line for this. To create a base-line, I would look at all NFL QBs play in clutch situations vs. their play in other situations. Given the effort I underwent here for just Roethlisberger, I’m not going to do this, simply because I think even taking the top 15 NFL QBs in ’08, such a base-line would take 25-30 hours of data mining to create. If someone else would like to undergo this process, please feel free.

Three categories are shown in the data below. First is his performance in my definition of clutch situations (titled “clutch”). Second is his performance during the first three and a half quarters of those same games (titled “games”). Third is his performance for the entire season, removing stats for the clutch situations (titled “season”). In the “season” categories, I included playoff game stats, since I included playoff games in his clutch situations.

Comparing the first with the second gives a look at how he performed in those clutch situations vs. how he was playing in that game. I think this provides a more apples-to-apples comparison, as theoretically if someone has a bad game, they should have it straight through, and vice versa for good games. If a player truly plays better in clutch situations, it will show here. Comparing the first with the third is also instructive, though because we’re looking at other games which had no bearing on clutch situations, can only tell us so much.

These are broken out year by year. In ’08, he had 9 games in which he threw a pass in the final 7:30 of the 4th quarter which had clutch situations. In ’07 he had 5, in ’06 he had 5, in ’05 he had 4, and in ’04 he had 3. For what it’s worth, the Steelers were 16-10 in those 26 games.

One caveat: In ’04, one of his three was the NYJ playoff game. The play-by-play data I looked up did not include the OT portion. Given the Steelers kicked a FG on their first possession in OT, his stats during the OT portion should be negligible…no TD, no INT, likely has minimal impact on completions and yards. My guess would be that including them would only improve his numbers, though marginally.

So then, on to the data.

CatAttCompComp %YdsYPATDINTTD:INTSackSpike
CatAttCompComp %YdsYPATDINTTD:INTSackSpike
CatAttCompComp %YdsYPATDINTTD:INTSackSpike
CatAttCompComp %YdsYPATDINTTD:INTSackSpike
CatAttCompComp %YdsYPATDINTTD:INTSackSpike
CatAttCompComp %YdsYPATDINTTD:INTSackSpike

Conclusion: This pretty clearly shows a deviation in how well he plays in clutch situations vs. the same game and vs. his all other times statistics. His QB ratings:
• Clutch – 99.6
• Games – 79.3
• Season – 88.1

This isn’t even accounting for the six spikes, which if you take out of the equation put his clutch completion % to 67.9%, and lifts his QB rating over 100. I don’t do that here cause I don’t remove spikes from the rest of his other stats.

Again, it’s difficult to compare this to a base-line for how NFL QBs perform in clutch situations vs. other situations. However, VERY clearly there is an improvement. He is better across every single category except sacks per attempt, and in many cases it isn’t by a small number.

So is Ben Roethlisberger what I would define as a clutch player? A player who, in tough, tight situations, performs very well and gives his team a great chance to win the game?

I think pretty clearly the answer is “yes.”


Friday, April 3, 2009

Waiting For Godot

Don't want to pile too much into the blog at once but I would be remiss if I didn't point out this post on the Scout Lions' message board. Probably the clearest, most succinct description of what it means to be a Lions fan. Sometimes the misery of the fan becomes the defining purpose of their existence. I don't know how I'd react if the Lions ever won a Super Bowl. I just don't know.

"Waiting for Godot" was a play by Samuel Becket produced in 1953. Its about 2 guys who are sitting on a park bench, trying to find ways to kill time, while waiting for a nysterious character nemed Godot, who never materializes. They both admit they wouldn't know him even if they saw him. So basically the whole experience is meaningless. Or is it??

Such is rooting for the Detroit Lions. Which for me began in 1962(11 YRS old) when they pulled a tremendous TG day upset 26-14 over GB. But GB finished the season a game better and won the Title game vs NYG 16-7. I swear we were better. And so it began. Hey we always won those "runner up games". That was 47 years ago.

The 2 characters in "Godot" only wasted 2 days. How much time to we spend waiting for events to occur that are beyond our control? Every so often I have been thrown a "bone". Circa 1970 many good draft picks had been stockpiled. Landry, Sanders, Farr, Barney, Walton, McCullough, Freitas, Hand, Naumoff, Weger, Vaughn, Taylor, Owens etc. It all culminated in a playoff loss to Dallas 5-0 when a pass to an open McCullogh bounced off his shoulder pad and was interecepted by Renfro with a minute to go. The only resulting playoff game for all that talent.


Now its brutal. 11 consecutive years of -40 degrees. What are we waiting for now? Sunshine? I'd say the Bear fans are probably feeling warm. Now I suppose Jay will become the new Brett. Maybe we won't beat him on the road for say....17 years!!! The Packers have Rodgers. The vikes Peterson. Who do you suppose we are going to beat on the road the next 10 years? Waiting for Godot. I'm not sure I would recognize him even if I saw him.


Bears, Oh My!

I think I gave a little short shrift to the Bears in our discussion yesterday. Partly because of my linear writing, partly because at first blush the Broncos have had a much more interesting off-season. With 9 picks in the first 90 the next two years Denver can go ahead and draft themselves an entire new defense to wrap around D.J. Williams and Champ Bailey if they wish, so yeah, interesting. But the Bears pose a much more interesting puzzle, one with missing pieces and a broken jigsaw. Let's take a look.

First the good: Cutler, Matt Forte, Greg Olsen. Tommie Harris is a fine DT. Lance Briggs is one of the best linebackers in football. Devin Hester is a plus player. Chris Williams (cross your fingers Bears fans) ready to step in at LT. They have two second round picks in the next two years and Angelo has a history of finding value in later rounds.

Now the not so good: 30, 31, 32, 28, 28, 28, 28. These are the ages of 7 of their starting defensive players. They have two 28 year old corners who are both pretty good, but 28 year old cornerbacks don't tend to have long lifespans in the NFL. Urlacher is 31. Alex Brown 30. The other guys are all no-longer-good-enoughs. Their projected starting safeties both are replaceable right now. Overall depth in the defensive secondary is lacking. Their offensive line will require a complete turnover. With the exception of Williams it is currently populated with the not-very-good (Josh Beekman), the-really-old (Pace, Kreutz), and the not-very-good-and-really-old (Roberto Garza). Their starting wide receivers are both below average. Neither would start as a #2 for most teams (I know, I'm not counting Devin Hester).

So it is an interesting conundrum for the Bears. How to fill all of these needs and rebuild without tearing the whole thing down and just restarting with Harris, Cutler, Forte and Williams? I don't pretend to know the answer nor am I prepared to offer a plan. Truth is, I'm not sure it can be done and this is a problem for Chicago. Yes, they filled the most important position in sport with a top-third player, and yes he is young and can be anticipated to fill the spot for many years. On the other hand though, Chicago almost certainly cannot win with this team. Injuries will take their toll on the older players and there will almost certainly be a deep talent gap between the starters and their reserves. Chicago will be significantly handicapped in their need to both get younger and meet needs. This year they have a 2nd round pick to fill one spot. I suppose it should come down to value, considering their many needs, but if they were to focus, where? Find a legitimate wide receiver? A legitimate safety? Draft one of the better interior linemen? Draft an OT to spell Pace after his inevitable injury? And forbid they whiff on the pick.

Even with an improving offense I think this is a team in decline. The trade will slow the decline - probably quite a bit - but that isn't necessarily good. It just means the bottom will come later and when it does it will probably be much uglier. Think a collapse of Seattlian proportion, when 70% of the team gets awful all at once.

Good luck Chicago, you'll need it.


Thursday, April 2, 2009

Shifting Power

With the completion of the Cutler deal I thought it would be fun to take a look at what it means for the AFC West and NFC North, the two divisions it effects the most, and particular the Broncos and Bears.

The AFC West was probably the weakest or second weakest division in football last year. With the trade of Cutler the dismantling of the Broncos appears to be complete. It is impossible to think that they have improved since December Since the end of the year Denver cut 14 players including several starters, most notably Dre Bly, while allowing 11 free agents to leave. They re-signed two of their own, along with the typical collection of NFL roster fillers. It is difficult to project their starters right now. They did sign Brian Dawkins, so there's one, but most of the rest of the team is a something of a mystery. With the impending suspension of Brandon Marshall and uncertainty surrounding Tony Scheffler's status we can only expect several Jabar Gafney and Correll Buckhalter sightings early in the year.

The upside for Denver is that they are returning all five offensive linemen and TE Daniel Graham, none of whom missed a game last year. Ryan Clady looks like a perrenial All-Pro. Eddie Royal, Marshall, Hillis, (potentially) Scheffler and a half dozen running backs provide the makings of an elite offense.

Orton is an outstanding solution for Denver, all things considered. We'll get to the Chicago offense momentarily, but if you blank a little on his targets that is perfectly understandable. What is overlooked is how efficient he was.

G   GS   QBrec   Cmp   Att   Cmp%   Yds   TD   TD%   Int

15 15 9-6-0 272 465 58.5 2972 18 3.9 12

Project that to Denver's many weapons and you have a guy whose production is ... a lot like Cutler's.

The Denver defense was the downfall of the team and that's where the new braintrust scorched the earth. Their current starting depth chart only has five holdovers from last year, along with a reserve (Elvis Dumervill) who is being slotted in at a new position. The team brought in four thirty-plus defenders to start. Along with the Bailey brothers and end Kenny Peterson the Broncos are currently projecting to start seven players who are 30 or older on defense.

The realy haul from the Cutler deal though wasn't Orton, of course, it was the three draft picks that Cutler netted. With five picks in the first 83 and two more first rounders next year, the Broncos have the capacity to get healthy quickly.

As for the rest of the West, well it seems to be San Diego's division to lose. Usually when something is that obvious it doesn't work out that way but in this case the Chargers really have to be the prohibitive favorite. They had their usual underwhelming free agency period. A couple of starters walked, they became the only team to ever make two different backup running backs Franchise Players. They were right about Michael Turner so we'll see about Sproles. The most signficant change in their team is that Shawne Merriman will (presumably) return healthy in the fall. Otherwise though, the team is very similar to the '08 team that hit the rocks early and rebounded. The Chiefs are restarting their rebuild which began last year and the Raiders are mired in their typical turmoil. The only realistic challenge to the Chargers would be the Broncos and an awful lot would have to go right for Denver to compete this year.


Moving to the NFC North the first look is at Chicago. When I first heard about the deal I was very impressed, it seemed like both teams really came out ahead. Now I'm not so sure. Chicago's offense is not built for a vertical passing attack, it is built for a grind-it-out run and short passing game that emphasizes the running backs and tight ends. 58% of Chicago's completions went to backs and ends. Their most prolific wide receiver - Devin Hester - was also more of a short game receiver, running screens, slants and curls; trying to get the ball in space. Their "true" wide recievers accounted for 75 of Chicago's 300 completions.

This isn't to argue that Cutler isn't an upgrade over Orton. Of course he is. The real question is 'is Cutler an upgrade over Orton and a 1st round DT and a 1st round corner and a 3d round guard (or something)?' I think the answer to that is much less clear. If Chicago was a young team, lacking a quarterback to put together their run then this trade would make a ton of sense. As it stands, this team is no longer young. They still have a talented defense, but it is also a very veteran defense and prone to many more injuries and depth issues than they were when they went to the Super Bowl. The offensive line is due to be retooled and the team still doesn't have a legitimate #1 wide receiver. Normally these are holes that can be filled on the fly, but now Chicago will have to have perfect drafts to find the guys they need. I think this trade moves Chicago to the head of the class in the division, but really not by much. I do think it improves their playoff chances a bit, but that only from none to slim.

The rest of the North can't be particularly happy with this deal though. Chicago is certainly more dangerous than they were. They were tough but relatively one dimensional and not constructed for quick strike comebacks. They still aren't, but with Cutler the potential is far greater than it was with Orton

It is hard to say whether this trade alters any draft plans for Minnesota, Green Bay or Detroit. While the deal changes the entire dynamic of the division, it really shouldn't alter the way any of these teams plan for the upcoming season. Detroit is still going to try to for an influx of talent and to establish a representative competitive team. Minnesota is still going to struggle to develop a passing attack while they dominate lines of scrimmage. Green Bay is interesting, but mainly because they were probably the unluckiest team in football last year and are primed for a significant comeback. Once again, they are much more likely to draft the same player they would have drafted anyway.


Overall it seems that the AFC West is rocked much more than the NFC North, but this because of the enormous turnover in Denver, not simply because of this culminating trade. As always, the big moves always seem big but when they surprise it is usually because they disappoint.


Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Paying full price for pre-season games

There's been a lot of discussion in the media recently about fans having to pay full price for pre-season tickets, specifically relating to the suggestion of moving to a 17 or 18 game schedule. That move warrants a separate discussion later, but I wanted to address the pre-season ticket issue here a moment.

I don't think fans are looking at this in the correct way at all. Let's say that a seat costs $100 per game at X stadium. Fans will pay $100 for eight regular season games, and another $100 for two preseason games, so $1,000 for the season tickets. Now let's say that the owners decide to only charge $25 per seat for the pre-season games. Does anyone really think they're going to simply cut that revenue out and keep the regular season tickets the same price?

No. They'll spread that $150 they lost among the 16 regular season games and charge $118.75 per seat. Or worse than that, they'll round it to $120.

I think it has to be thought of the same way on the back end. The problem is that on average, regular season ticket prices aren't meeting the demand for tickets. More fans can sell their seats at higher than face value than cannot. So there has to be an assumption that owners are baking in a discount on regular season ticket prices when you look at face value, and that's funded by paying full price for pre-season tickets.

No one gets hurt in this scenario. It's all optics. What's the big deal?


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