Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Vegas, Baby

My wife and I went on our semi-annual trip to Las Vegas last week. It wound up being a great sports week, much of it football related. I'll pass on the football stuff here.

On Thursday we originally had reservations at Nine, which is my favorite restaurant on the planet (the steak is melt-in-your-mouth delicious). After pestering my wife endlessly about this snaffoo, she agreed to cancel a reservation at a different restaurant on Weds, and moved the Nine reservations to that day to be free to spend the draft in the Wynn's (where we were staying) sports book.

We wound up looking around for other places to go, and saw Lagasse's Stadium actually residing right next door. I called to ask what they were doing for the draft, and they said they were going to have a bunch of ex-NFL players there for a panel discussion prior to the draft, and then watch the draft on the big screen. For those that have never seen it, the main seating area looks like this. We took a reservation, and wound up on one of those couches, which surprised us. The only "hook" was a minimum of $100 spent on food and drink. Between the two of us, over a four or five hour period, that would be no problem, even with me on a diet.

The couches were plush and we arrived at 3:30 to hang before the draft started at 4:30 (PT remember, not EST). The NFL players were a little disappointing. Seth Joyner was the "big name" and he didn't get there till 4:00. AJ Feely and Jerry Porter were the only other two I knew. Melanie and I wound up enjoying each other's company and watching the Pens game on another TV (there is one at every table outside the main seating area) more than listening to what those guys had to say.

Watching the draft in this setting was perfect. You can see there's the big screen in the center, but also a bunch of other screens along the side. I had them stick the Pens game on one of them, so I could listen to what was happening during the draft, while watching the action in the Pens game. Talk about a perfect way to spend an evening. Around pick #20, Chris "Jesus" Ferguson took the booth behind us. I was tempted to say hi, but I hate bothering people like that as I imagine many of them hate random people they don't know saying hi just to say hi.

The experience had a major damper put on it right as the Pats were on the clock and I was hoping the Ravens might move up a spot to get Dez Bryant. Suddenly, they switch the main board over to the Lakers game, which also switched the sound over. So I could see what was happening, but this isn't really satisfactory, especially since it's not on a big screen that's easy to see. This, as I'm sure you can imagine, infuriated more than just me. I talked to a manager, who said they can't do anything about it cause the Palazzo sports book runs the tv and has the final say. To appease us, the mgr told us we wouldn't have to spend the $100 limit (thanks...I'd already spent $97 of it), and took us to a private viewing room to watch the rest of the draft. A moderate solution and a damper on an otherwise pretty awesome experience. Still, certainly beat watching it on my couch at home, even though that would have been $97 cheaper.

On Saturday we had to fly home at 7:30 AM, which meant getting up at 4:30 AM. I am a night owl, and I play poker, so clearly the correct decision was simply to stay up and play all night. After hopping a few tables, around 3 AM I landed on a NL $1/$3 table with an extremely large guy that looked like he could play linebacker half way across the table from me. The guy on my right - seeing me decked out in my Joe Flacco jersey and fitted Ravens cap - asked who we got in the draft. I told him Kindle and Cody and some TE from Oregon, and he says "Dickson? Oh you'll love him!" Turns out the guy's from Oregon. After a few minutes of chatter, the big LB-lookin' dude says "So how long you lived in Baltimore?"

I told him it wasn't me, but most of my family lived or lives there, and told him where my dad went to high school and where my uncle currently lives. He said he grew up on the south-east side of the city. So then the conversation proceeds:

Me: "So, you follow the Ravens?"

Him: "Yeah, you could say that."

"Cause you look like you might play for them."

"You know all the players?"

"... I mean...I know the names. I don't know all the faces that go with them."

"You ever heard of [x]?"

"Yeah... Wait, is that you?"

"No no, but I'm his cousin. Lived with him, just recently moved out here though."

I won't say who the player is cause I didn't tell him I'd be sharing the conversation specifics at all, but the player is a pass rusher (LB or DE) with the Ravens. I asked him something that may not really be PC, but has really been burning a hole in my brain for years.

"So, the Ravens get Kindle with their first pick, which a lot of people are pretty excited about cause he's such a good prospect. I'm curious if your cousin - and players in general in those spots - get excited about those picks though, or if they don't like them. Cause while it seems to be a great pick, that could be his job."

He said that's something that's always in the back of the family's mind, but they don't really talk about it with the player. He doesn't really know what his cousin's reaction is specifically...when he talks to him, he just asks how things are going and lets him say something if he wants to and not if he doesn't. I think that answered the question as much as could be expected.

For my final hour and a half we chatted here and there about Ravens football, and I told him good luck to his cousin as I left, which he said he'd relay to him. Not that I expect it to happen, but it was cool to get to chat with someone with some inside scoop on things.

All in all a great sports/football week, considering we weren't going out there to do anything sports related specifically.


Saturday, April 24, 2010

Delayed Gratification

Something that I find curious is that most years a team will be willing to trade a round X pick for this year's round X+1 pick. In other words, a team might add a third round pick in exchange for their trade partner's 2nd rounder in the subsequent season. I can't imagine a worse value for a trade.

It doesn't take a math genius to realize that if this is actually the going rate then a team that trades away its 7th round picks every year and then cashes each pick it receives in a ladder-like method will have 2 first round picks every single season starting in only 7 years - effectively the trade would be, I'll give you a 7th rounder today for your 1st rounder in 2017. No one in their right mind would take that deal, but effectively this is the trade we see every year.

So on the principle that any team that is able to execute this kind of deal is effectively acquiring future first round picks in perpetuity, and since this is an instantly gradable and indisputable "win", the 2010 NFL draft winners are as follows:

New England: they keep their well loaded. Acquired a 2011 2nd rounder from Carolina so the Panthers could draft one of the three quarterbacks they selected.

Jacksonville: Get the Saints' 2011 4th rounder for their 5th.

Detroit: Acquired a 2011 6th for a 7th.

Tampa Bay: swapped their two 7th rounders to move up to the 5th next year.


Another interesting relative value question:

at the end of day one Detroit moved up 4 spots (from 34 - 30) and moved back 28 spots in the 4th in exchange, while throwing in a 7th rounder. Fine.

But then we see Tampa Bay giving up a 5th rounder to move up 3 spots in then 2nd (from 42 to 39), even worse, Minnesota gave up a 3rd rounder to move up 11 spots in the 2nd (from 62 to 51). And then Dallas gave up a 4th rounder to move from 59 to 55. Finally, Green Bay gave away their 4th to move up 15 spots in the 3rd.

So did Detroit get great value their or did those other teams all get raped?


What a great offseason this has been.


Thursday, April 22, 2010

NFL Draft

I hate this new 3-day format.

Remember the good ol' days when the draft would while away a weekend? Ryan Phillips does:

I love my one April day of pure nothingness. I usually don't even put pants on until well after 4 p.m. It is a perfect sports-centric day. It is nothing short of beautiful.
I never actually watched the whole thing: but I'd leave it on as background most of the weekend, and occasionally focus on it for an hour or so. This was back when ESPN actually covered sports: as opposed to the weird sports-themed entertainment they offer now. I'm old enough to remember the 12-rd draft: so when I say "all weekend", I mean it.
(The devolution of ESPN into an unwatchable mess over the past decade+ is a phenomenon worth talking about at some point.)
(How is it that teams don't miss those 5 extra draft picks each year? Clearly those players are today's undrafted free agents: did they get free agency as part of a collective bargaining concession?)
Does Anyone Like The New NFL Draft Format?
So now, instead of having a glorious Saturday and Sunday you could build your entire weekend around, we get a piecemeal bastardization of the NFL Draft that requires you to be in front of your television at 6:30 p.m. CST on Thursday, 5 p.m. CST on Friday (because, you see, you should have to leave work early), and 9 a.m. on Saturday.
The answer, as usual, is money. Roger Goodell & Co. are chasing the money in a short-sighted attempt to grow the NFL brand.
Well, I wouldn't be so quick to dismiss the NFL's efforts to "grow the brand". They are the biggest and the strongest, for a reason. But this move does seem not super-well planned out. Is Thursday night really the night you want to challenge the standard broadcast networks? Am I supposed to get my wife to turn off The Office and 30 Rock and Project Runway, so I can click over and see whether Dez Bryant is still on the board? If I want to keep tabs on the first round, I'll either need to go upstairs or (more likely) flip open my laptop and check online.

I suspect a lot of fans will be in the same boat. Seems to me the NFL is likely to get a smaller percentage of TV sets Thursday nights, than they were getting on the weekend. Maybe the pie is bigger on Thursday nights, so they get more eyeballs overall, but that remains to be seen.

Tactical changes

Of course it's not just my viewing experience that is rattled. This reschedule also has an impact on the teams who are drafting. You wouldn't think so immediately: if a guy's the 33rd-best player under the old format, you'd think he'd still be the 33rd-best player in the new format. But my sense is this extended time will penalize teams who typically do a good job of draft preparation – Indy, Pats, Pheagles, Giants, Steelers, Ravens – because it will neutralize their preparation advantage. Other teams will have time to stop and think and get organized.
New NFL draft format adds drama
There used to be three rounds on the first day, which made high fourth-round picks very valuable. When the league went to two rounds the first day, it made high third-round picks more attractive. Now, with just one round on the first day, everyone will have a chance to sit back, review their boards and then decide what they're going to do when it's their turn in the second round the next day.
"The first pick in each of the days are always valuable a little bit more because after the dust rises, there's normally a player where you say, 'Why is he still up there?' It becomes something of value," Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson said.
New NFL draft format adds value to second-round picks
Last year, the NFL held the first two rounds on one day, then Rounds 3 through 7 on the next day. That contributed to the third round being particularly active with trades. This year, Round 1 takes place on a Thursday night, with the second and third rounds on Friday and Round 4-7 on Saturday.
The Jets' aggressive move for Greene was the most notable swap, with New York sending a 2009 third-rounder, 2009 fourth-rounder and 2009 seventh-rounder to the Lions. In Detroit, the phones in the draft room started buzzing about an hour before the third round was to begin.
"At the last minute, all of a sudden it started heating up," Lions coach Jim Schwartz recalled Tuesday. "Any time you give 32 teams time to reconvene, to spend one hour, two hours, three hours plotting a strategy to make a deal and come to a group decision, you're going to get more action."
Of course, if you're dumb, you'll still have chances to be dumb under the new format. The Raiders have the 8th pick.


Monday, April 12, 2010

The trade heard round the world

The Santonio Holmes to NY Jets for a 5th round pick should probably be sending more shockwaves through the NFL than the McNabb deal. There are a lot of interesting aspects and potential ramifications to this trade, a lot of which will probably play out in what could make for some very interesting playoff dynamics.

First and foremost, the Jets now have to be considered a legitimate Superbowl contender, under a couple big caveats. Every year, the NFL is full of "ifs," so this is really nothing new. "If" Peyton Manning gets hurt, do the Colts make the Superbowl? "If" Tom Brady doesn't blow his ACL, do the Pats miss it two years ago? The Jets have two big "ifs" to make them Superbowl contenders. The first is "if" Mark Sanchez builds on what amounted to an impressive, Joe-Flacco-like rookie season.

The second is "if" all these newly acquired trouble-makers on their roster play to their on-field talent, and don't derail the team with their off-field problems. The Jets now look like the Raiders of old (and honestly, of today) in that they're willing to take a risk on any player with a little bit of talent in order to get better. Peter King noticed the same thing in his MMQB article today. This is pretty interesting, because it could give them a shot at a Superbowl, or it could blow up in their faces and have them picking in the top ten next year.

Now we need to turn our attention to the Steelers a bit. The media is billing this as a shot across Roethlisberger's bow; a clear warning sign for him to get his act straight or else he'll wind up shipped out. It's a pretty rampant rumor right now that the Steelers were likely to release Santonio if no one wanted to trade for him.

The trade itself is fairly shocking simply given the fact that they didn't try to get even reasonable compensation for him. A fifth round pick? I'm assuming it's the Jets' original fifth round pick, thus making it a pretty low one. For a guy that was the Superbowl MVP two years ago and had over 1,200 receiving yards last year? With no off-field troubles, the guy has low first / high second round talent.

In other news, Brian Xander is in an office somewhere cursing the Steelers for resetting the market on Brandon Marshall.

But we need to consider for a second that this isn't so much a warning shot at Big Ben as it is a preview of what's to come. Not that it's likely to happen, or that it's anything more than pure speculation on my part, mind you. But we need to consider the possibility that Roethlisberger is the next one on the block, and they may be aggressively shopping him right now.

This, of course, would be unprecedented. A two time Superbowl winning quarterback in his 20s with a career rating over 90 is not someone that any team in the NFL would ever think they might want to trade for any compensation. But let's take stock for a moment. This isn't the first time Ben's had some fairly major issues. And it's not just the initial sexual assault allegations. There was the infamous motorcycle incident four years back as well. As one of my friends noted, it's the third off-season he's created a major distraction / black eye for the organization, but the first time it hasn't happened after a Superbowl win.

And this isn't the Raiders we're talking about here. The Steelers are more in fact the anti-Raiders. They ditch trouble-makers at the first sign of it, and they don't look back. For all the lauding the Patriots get about not falling in love with players, let's remember how quick the Steelers were to dismiss Joey Porter, Plaxico and Randle-El. What's their tolerance level for Big Ben, given both his proclivity for distraction balanced against his impressive on-field talent?

And more interesting, what sort of compensation could they get for him? Last year, Jay Cutler fetched Denver a couple first round picks. Roethlisberger is clearly more talented, but if they're trying to off-load him, can they expect to get much even close to that level? With a potential suspension looming, the balance of an 8 year $102MM contract and a whole host of off-field distractions, how much would a team be willing to give for him?

The situation deserves some pretty intense scrutiny. It's been a really interesting off-season this year, and is only bound to get better.


Sunday, April 4, 2010

Why Do Teams Draft Quarterbacks?

Truly is there really any good reason to use a high pick on a quarterback?

Sure, I know some teams have to do it, but when you look at the quality quarterbacks that are available year in and out for cheap, and compare them to the quarterbacks who emerge from the first round it is hard to see the justification.

So today, we have a resolution of the Donovan McNabb saga. Or at least something of a resolution, as the Jason Campbell saga just descabbed. But anyway, Washington picked up McNabb for a bit more than the bargain basement price that the Eagles were demanding, trading #37 and a pick between #60 - #120 next year. They also have McNabb's $11M contract and probably are going to have to back up the truck to keep him.

This is a distinctly Redskinesque deal. Even with Bruce Allen and Mike Shanahan supposedly calling the shots now, this has the taint of Daniel Snyder's stinkfinger all over it. With Washington desperately needing to get younger and to add depth, they trade for a guy who will provide immediate dividends for about three weeks, until the most porous offensive line in the NFL gets him killed.

But of course, this isn't about that.

Getting back to the quarterback thing, in the last ten years now we have seen Kurt Warner, Drew Brees, Brett Favre, Chad Pennington and Matt Schaub change teams and excel. Only Schaub cost more than the price of his contract. We've seen a 6th round pick win 3 Super Bowls, a 10th rounder win another. Only the Mannings and Roethlisberger won Super Bowls as first rounders with their drafting organization (Eli, yeah I know. Don't be pedantic), I guess you could give Drew Bledsoe a half credit for the Pats first win, so call it 4 1/2 total wins.

Meanwhile, between 1993 and 2007 35 quarterbacks were drafted in the first round. So far, 31 have come up empty with 11 of those out of football altogether (and a bunch more on life support).

So given the choice, is it better to pay less and take a flyer on a guy with a bum arm like Brees, or is it better to commit $50M (or whatever) to a guy that - if history is a guide - has a 10% chance of taking his drafting team to a Super Bowl?

The thing that kills me - truly - is that every year or two there are quarterbacks like this available. Often more than one. They won't all succeed of course, but it is hard to imagine that their hit rate would be any worse than you get out of a first round quarterback. The added benefit is that you aren't tying an anvil to your neck with these guys.

The Jets traded a 3rd rounder for Favre. Was he worth it? Hard to say, but it was only a 3rd rounder. The Dolphins a 2nd rounder for Culpepper a few years ago. Definitely not worth it, but only a one year thing. These teams weren't tied to their bad decisions, and forced by politics and payroll to struggle and flounder with players who the team knew weren't prepared to help them win.

Do you think maybe Mike Nolan regrets chaining his career to Alex Smith? How about Matt Millen to Joey Harrington, and Steve Mariucci who got Harrington jammed down his throat? The list just goes on and on. Byron Leftwich, Kyle Boller, Brady Quinn, Jamarcus Russell. Coach killers all.

San Diego got a lot of credit for their deft maneuvering in 2004 to land Philip Rivers. What people appear to forget is that they were in that position after failing with Ryan Leaf (#2OA in '98) and then giving up on Brees (#32OA). So Rivers was really the equivalent of 3 first round picks. He's terrific. He might even be worth it, but the Chargers would have been ahelluvalot better off not drafting those other guys then.

So yeah, my fantasy NFL team only ever drafts linemen and corenerbacks in the first couple of rounds. They take flyers on 5th round quarterbacks or run with these freebies that are on the market every winter.


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