Friday, March 19, 2010

The Jets and Tomlinson

A few weeks ago, the New York Jets cut Thomas Jones. Something about wanting to get younger and thinking he would quickly run out of gas. Yes, the contract was the likely big thing...they were set to pay him in the range of $5MM for the year. A 32 yo back on a team with a breaking-out young player probably shouldn't be getting $5MM in a single season ever.

But then, the Jets went and did something very strange. They signed LaDainian Tomlinson. He got $5.1MM for two years. This was done days after Thomas Jones signed with the Chiefs for $5.0MM for two years.

In a vacuum, either move makes sense on its face. The Jets want to get younger and save some money at the position, so cutting Jones loose is fine. The Jets want to add some experience and quality to give Shonn Green a blow, so signing Tomlinson is fine.

But look at the two together, and it just doesn't add up; particularly given Jones' deal in Kansas City. It would be impossible to convince me that the Jets could NOT have re-signed Thomas Jones for money equivalent to what both players are making now. For $5MM, would Jones have really said "No thanks" to a team he played on for three years and went to the Conference Championship game last season in order to go to a team picking in the top five of this coming draft?

And so what did the Jets get with their "trade" of Jones for Tomlinson? Well, Tomlinson is one year younger, sure. But he also has 600 more career rushes than Jones, so technically he's "older" in that sense. Those 600 carries is basically an extra two years of work. And the numbers over the last two years of each player's seasons is strikingly different.

Jones: 621 rushes, 2,714 yds, 4.4/carry, 27 rush TDs, 46 rec, 265 yds, 2 rec TDs (2,979 tot yds, 29 tot TDs) - this on the #20 and #16 offense in the NFL
Tomlinson: 515 rushes, 1,840 yds, 3.6/carry, 23 rush TDs, 72 rec, 580 yds, 1 rec TD (2,420 tot yds, 24 tot TDs) - this on the #10 and #11 offense in the NFL

Tomlinson clearly comes off as a RB out of gas, while Jones looks like he may legitimately have a year or two left before that happens to him. The overall production difference is there, but the yards per carry delta is pretty striking.

One argument I've heard is that Tomlinson is a better pass catcher, and should be better on third downs. That's not hard to deduce, but when you look a bit closer, in particular at the advanced stats from Football Outsiders, you'll note there's actually not much difference in their pass catching abilities. Both players have a significantly negative DVOA, and Tomlinson was actually rated last of all running backs with 25+ receptions in '09. While Tomlinson has a better catch rate than Jones, the delta there can almost be explained away by the delta in each team's completion rate. And even if you take the stats at face value with no advanced analysis, the increase in Tomlinson's receiving productivity simply doesn't come close to off-setting the decrease in rushing productivity.

Some other arguments some friends and I came up with, in no particular order:
- It's done to sell seats and merchandise, particularly with a new stadium. Okay, I could see this, but I also think Tomlinson's star power has worn off significantly over the last few years. Admittedly, they'll probably sell more Tomlinson jerseys this year than they would have Jones jerseys. But ticket selling? No, I find it tough to believe they won't sell out that stadium with either guy.
- Jones is a locker room cancer, Tomlinson a leader. Maybe. Last year, Jones took some heat for criticizing Favre. But is this enough to warrant such a move down in production? Maybe he shouldn't have said anything. But it's not like we're dealing with TO here. And it's not like he wasn't right that Favre folded like a cheap suit at the end of the '08 season.
- The Jets have the better OL and Tomlinson will produce better with it. Could be. But 0.8 YPC better for a RB after age 30?

Bottom line, the move just doesn't make much sense to me, so I figured it was worth calling out.


  1. Friend of mine shared this link with me:

    Quote from this:
    "Tannenbaum has too much respect for Thomas Jones to list the reasons why they released him, but here is the thought process that went into the Tomlinson-for-Jones swap:

    They were alarmed by Jones' dramatic decline at the end of last season, when he averaged only 2.7 ypc over the final four games. They believe Tomlinson is a better pass catcher and Jones, and they feel Tomlinson will handle a complementary role better than Jones. Although the numbers don't back it up, the Jets quite simply felt Tomlinson has more in his tank than Jones. Plus, they're saving a few bucks."

  2. I agree with your whole premise, and with the caveat. Almost every time that a team lets a 30-something veteran go his tank is empty. The disinterest that the Jets have in Jones is a strong signal that Jones is all but done. Likewise, the same with the Chargers and Tomlinson.

    Either way, all-in-all I am guessing that there is little difference between the two that can't be explained by specific skills that the Jets might want in a back.


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