Mother Time, I see you without fail
Face like crumpled newspaper
And body oh so frail!
Alone in the world without a care
Take another big, deep puff
And give us all fresh air.
When will husband Father Time greet you?
Surely those brown cigarettes
Will one day defeat you!
Friday, April 26, 2013
With the first day in the books, thirty-two new players have embarked on their NFL journey. Fortunately, I had the privilege of attending the draft this year. On a side note, it was definitely a worthwhile experience if you can spare two afternoons of waiting on lines. For the rabid NFL fan, I give it a ringing endorsement.
Before we look back at Round 1, it is imperative to note three disclaimers:
DISCLAIMER 1: I will be the first to admit I am no expert on this. I watch more NFL games than college. That being said, when my post Super Bowl hangover sets in (not literally, figuratively!), I turn 90% of my football focus to the draft. I do my best to watch cut-ups of some of the first round prospects my team might want. Furthermore, I religiously follow and read tons of the most respective draft analysts out there (Greg Cosell of NFL Films and Tony Pauline of DraftInsider.net being two of them). Instead of merely mimicking what they say in their evaluations, I try to look at certain traits certain players possess that I believe fits in best with the ever-changing style of pro football.
DISCLAIMER 2: I am not going to talk about "biggest reach" or "best value." Why? Because for the past few months, fans have gotten so accustomed to mock drafts put out there by armchair GMs across the internet in TV. While some analysts are very plugged in with league sources (Cosell and Pauline being two), the vast majority are not. So while some of the picks last night were not popular first rounders in internet mocks, it does not mean these players will not be good. This is certainly the case with very intelligent front offices. For example, while not many predicted Justin Pugh or Eric Reid to be top 20 picks, I am more than willing to sign off on that simply because of their savvy moves in the past.
DISCLAIMER 3: Just because a pick might not make a whole bunch of sense this year, it does not mean it is a bad or silly pick. Remember, you're drafting a player in the hopes that he will be an impact player for a number of years. Rosters change dramatically in a very short period of time, so while a player might not look like an immediate fit, walking away with pure talent is paramount.
Now, on to the reactions from last night:
Best Trade Up
Miami Dolphins -- acquired the #3 overall pick in exchange for the #12 and #42 picks in order to select DE/SLB Dion Jordan.
- While it is quite obvious that Dolphins GM Jeff Ireland has continually made moves this offseason as if he is GM'ing to save his job (spending like a drunken sailor in free agency comes to mind), this bold move was a wise one. Often times when a GM feels he is on the hot seat, he will make moves that help in the immediate but could sabotage the team in the long term, whether it be by overpaying for players or simply disregarding the future.
I do not believe that to be the case here because Jordan is well worth the trade up. To have the movement skills he has at that size (6'6" 240+ lbs.) is just unfathomable. Sure, his sack numbers were not impressive last year, but he was not simply asked to pin his ears back and go get the QB. He was tasked with numerous responsibilities in coverage, even at times lining up against slot receivers. With his type of versatility, size, athleticism, and pass rushing potential, could this be the answer to juggernaut spread or no huddle offenses? Time will only tell, but I like the move. The Dolphins have a talented defense, but they were in need of some youth.
Lastly, this was a great move in terms of what they had to give up which was minimal. While the draft trade value chart is a bit antiquated these days, we can still use it as a reference tool. The #3 overall pick carries a trade value number of 2200, while the #12 and #42 picks combine for a trade value of 1680. The numbers back up exactly what I thought when the trade was made last night -- Oakland had zero leverage. It was well known that they were very eager to trade down last night simply because they possess the least talented team in the NFL and need as many picks as possible. In the bargaining game, you are not going to get full value back if you are the Raiders. Miami ultimately gave up peanuts to what could be the most dynamic defensive player in the whole draft.
Worst Trade Up
St. Louis Rams -- acquired the #8 overall pick in exchange for their #16 overall pick, 2nd rounder, 3rd rounder, and 7th rounder in order to select WR Tavon Austin.
- Three things: 1) I love Tavon Austin as a player, and was one of my favorite players in the draft; 2) St. Louis has a boatload of picks thanks to their trade with Washington this year, so they were able to withstand the loss of lots of picks; and 3) This is in no way an egregious move.
That being said, it certainly cranks up the pressure for St. Louis, and I am critical of this move in a couple of ways. First and foremost, the Rams sorely lost the leverage game here. While there are smokescreens upon smokescreens leading up to the draft, the truth gets leaked more often than not in the 24-48 hours before Round 1. Based on the reports, it was quite obvious that the Rams desperately wanted Tavon Austin and were doing whatever it takes to get him. The draft value chart does not scream lopsided trade (Buffalo's acquired picks adds up to 1642.6 while St. Louis's #8 pick adds up to 1400), but the Rams tipped their hand too early. Then again, if Tavon Austin ends up as the next Percy Harvin, you can beat me over the head with a sledgehammer because the draft value chart will be worth as much as a Bitcoin at that point.
Lastly, this move is the ultimate "put up or shut up" moment for Sam Bradford. Let me be clear: I do not buy this guy as a legitimate long term starting NFL QB. He has no officially run out of excuses. First it was he had no weapons. Then he had no line. He is in year three now. If you want to live up to the #1 pick you were (on top of being touted as the best QB prospect in years), it is do or die time. Austin gives him an explosive movable chess piece on the field that is a threat to score from anywhere. On top of that, he now has six highly athletic skill position players all 26 years old or younger -- Austin, Brian Quick, Chris Givens, Jared Cook, Isaiah Pead, and Daryl Richardson. If Bradford fails to step up this year, they will be back at the drawing board in 2014 looking for a new franchise QB.
Most Shocking Pick
I would not say these are the worst picks tonight -- both are talented players -- but two selections last night made me question the scheme fit.
1) Jets select DT Sheldon Richardson at #13 -- This is the third year in a row where New York has spent a first rounder on a non-edge rushing defensive lineman. While Muhammad Wilkerson and Quinton Coples have turned out to be excellent picks, the Richardson selection, at first glance, screams overkill to me considering he is a similar style player to Wilkerson and Coples in that he does most of his damage against interior offensive linemen.
And this is not a knock on Richardson. Here is what draft guru Tony Pauline has to say about him:
Richardson is a tremendous combination of athleticism, intensity, and power. He offers possibilities as a conventional defensive tackle, 3-technique tackle, or even as a defensive end in the 3-4 alignment. He's a prospect who should only improve as he physically matures and learns the game.
After further thought, the move makes more sense if you consider two things: 1) The Jets are going to be throwing out more 4-3 looks in the past (and using Wilkerson/Coples as 4-3 ends more often than in the past); and 2) The Jets are so talent depleted right now that picking the best player available was essential. According to GM John Idzik, Richardson was a top 4 player on their draft board. As far as the first point goes, it can be corroborated by the fact that Muhammad Wilkerson has shed 20 lbs. from last year and is now at 295 lbs. Either way, the pick came as a surprise to me.
2) Colts select DE/OLB Bjoern Werner at #24 -- Werner was a coveted pick early in the draft process but was likely overrated by internet draftniks. It was clear as the process went along that NFL scouts did not view him as the top 10 pick the amateurs saw him as.
Having said that, I did not expect Werner to go to a 3-4 defense. Many of the people I respect question his ability to play in reverse and out in space.
While I was initially caught off guard, a few things came to mind after last night finished. Firstly, GM Ryan Grigson hit a home run in last year's draft. Sure, it is easy to pick someone like Andrew Luck at #1 overall, but he completely retooled that offense to immediately provide Luck with young weapons to build around. Coby Fleener, Dwayne Allen, Vick Ballard, T.Y. Hilton, and LaVon Brazzil all made an impact last year for Indy. That is absurd.
Secondly, the more and more I thought about how Chuck Pagano runs his defense, Werner will likely still be playing with his hand in the dirt more often than not. Pagano came over from Baltimore where they "ran" a 3-4, but they were not traditional looks. Terrell Suggs is a hybrid DE/OLB, but he sees most of his action with his hand in the dirt. Perhaps Grigson and Pagano envision Werner, who is very similar in size and build to Suggs (Werner is 6'3.5" and 266 lbs. while Suggs is 6'3" 260 lbs.), as their version of T-Suggs.
Lack of Skill (Positions)
We all knew this draft was lacking in those fantasy football type of impact players, but last night was bare on offensive skill position players. Only five skill position players were selected last night -- WR Tavon Austin, QB EJ Manuel, TE Tyler Efiert, WR DeAndre Hopkins, and WR Cordarrelle Patterson. Since 1998, or as I like to call it "The Peyton Manning Era," the lowest number of skill position players drafted in the first round was eight which occurred twice (2010, 2011).
We all knew the QB class was weak this year, but the other offensive skill positions were lacking with talent at the top as well. This was the first time in fifty years where a running back was not selected in the first round. In contrast, a whopping nine offensive linemen were selected last night on top of ten defensive linemen/edge rushers, giving credence to this draft being deemed a "meat and potatoes" one.
The draft is about as fun and unpredictable as Christmas morning for a child. We live in a society that wants an immediate answer, but we really will not know about the prospects of this draft until two or three years down the road.
I am off to see Rounds 2 & 3 tonight. Happy drafting, everyone.
Wednesday, March 27, 2013
Tuesday, March 5, 2013
It is no secret that the quarterback position is the most vital one in football. It can also be argued that with the various rule changes in the last decade designed to protect quarterbacks’ safety and promote the passing game, the quarterback is more important than ever. Consequently, QBs make more money than any other position. But with the meteoric rise in QB salaries compared to only modest increases in overall team salary caps in recent years, could we potentially see a bursting of the quarterback salary market bubble similar to that of the housing market or looming college tuition market?
|[DISCLAIMER: EVEN THOUGH THIS IS A PIECE ON BUBBLES, FORTUNATELY THIS WILL BE THE ONE AND ONLY REFERENCE TO THE HORRIBLE VH1 SHOW "POP-UP VIDEO."]|
Flacco Getting His Scrooge McDuck On
Let’s take a deeper look. The biggest NFL headline this week is Joe Flacco's historic contract which amounts to $120.6 million over six years with $52 million guaranteed, making him the highest paid player in the league. Upon signing the deal, Flacco will immediately get $29 million cash in his pocket plus another million in base salary during the 2013 season. Let’s be clear that this figure is different than the cap hit Baltimore will incur this season. Flacco will only count a modest $6.8 million towards Baltimore’s cap this year and a reasonable $14.8 and $14.55 million in 2014 and 2015, respectively. However, his cap charges through 2016-2018 will be a whopping $28.55, $31.15, and $24.75 million. To be fair, we won’t know the overall team salary cap limits in those years, especially with the influx of TV revenues that will ultimately boost team caps, but it will still represent an astronomical percentage of the team’s salary cap. In terms of average payout per year, Flacco’s $20.1 million alone accounts for over 16% of the Ravens cap.
Some will argue that this is an absolutely ridiculous contract for a player who has never finished higher than 7th in QB rating, never passed for 4,000 yards, never threw more than 25 touchdowns, and has never made a Pro Bowl. Others will argue that he just carried his team to a Super Bowl to the tune of a sizzling 117.2 playoff QB rating and could not have any more leverage than he does now. But does either point really matter? Salary cap gurus such as Jason Fitzgerald at overthecap.com believe that this is really no different than Eli Manning’s 2009 then record-setting contract which paid him an average of $16.25 million per year, thus making him the league's highest paid player at the time. Neither Manning nor Flacco has ever been confused with Tom Brady or Peyton Manning, but what they are doing is resetting the market for future free agent QBs looking to cash in themselves. Eli’s contract set the tone for his brother’s contract as well as Drew Brees’s (which we will get to later). Flacco’s contract will now set the tone for Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan, two quarterbacks with a better track record who will almost certainly ask for more than Flacco. In other words, while Flacco is the highest paid player today, things will quickly change. Consider him the trendsetter, not the king.
“Show Me The Money”
So how does this compare to recent years? Albert Breer of NFL Network wrote an interesting article last week that investigated the top average QB salaries in 2007 versus those in 2013. In 2007, each team’s salary cap was set at $109 million. The average cap hit of the top five QBs was $10.73 million, representing roughly 9.8% of a team’s salary cap. In 2013, each team’s salary cap has risen to $123 million; however, the average cap hit of the top five QBs is $19.14 million, representing a staggering 15.6% of a team’s cap.
Consider it like this: While the overall team salary caps have risen by just under 14% in the last six years, top quarterback salaries have risen by a whopping 78%. Sooner or later, something is going to have to give or certain teams might pay the price. Even crazier is that at the time of the Eli Manning extension in 2009, the last salary capped year in the old Collective Bargaining Agreement, allotted team salary caps were actually $5 million higher than today. So while Eli Manning’s $16.25 million per year seemed wacky at the time, his deal only represented 12.7% of the Giants salary cap, still a much lower proportion than Flacco’s current deal. If Manning’s deal is akin to Cosmo Kramer, Flacco’s is like"Crazy" Joe Davola.
Peyton Manning and Drew Brees – Guinea Pigs?
Peyton Manning and Drew Brees, two quarterbacks with far superior résumés than Flacco, both signed hefty deals last offseason. Manning’s average payout per year is $19.2 million while Brees’s is $20 million. While both future Hall of Famers are on the back ends of their careers unlike Flacco, we can still use their average yearly payouts to compare to Flacco; however, as we delve deeper, Manning’s contract starkly differs from Brees’s, so each deal will have a differing effect on its team’s salary cap structure.
Considering Manning’s age (he enters his age-37 year in 2013) and his risky medical history, the Broncos took a cautious pay-as-you-go measure to his five year contract. His second and third year salaries are only guaranteed if he passes a physical on March 13th, and his fourth and fifth seasons are only guaranteed if he is still on the roster at the end of each previous season. Even if Manning passes the physical next week, the Broncos can easily cut bait after year three with zero financial repercussions.
On the other hand, the Saints deal with Drew Brees, who enters his age-34 year, involved a prodigious $37 million signing bonus that gets prorated over the life of the contract. In other words, cutting Brees before the contract ends is virtually impossible from a cap perspective. Brees has volunteered to restructure his contract to create more space this year for the fiscally precarious Saints, but pushing money to later years is the ultimate “cutting off the nose to spite the face” move. His three cap hits after 2013 are $18.4, $26.4, and $27.4 million. There is simply no room to budge.
While the Saints current and future financial situation is dire compared to the Broncos, the underlying commonality is that the large salaries doled out to each player will have an impact on which core players each team can retain. As a result, both teams could find themselves in “all-in” situations for 2013, but in fairness to the Broncos, they could conceivably make one more push in 2014.
In Denver’s case, they have a slew of key players who are due up for a new contract soon. Ryan Clady, Eric Decker, and Wesley Woodyard are all entering the last year of their deals, while Von Miller and Demaryius Thomas have only two years remaining. The latter two players will command mega paydays above $10 million per year. Older players like DJ Williams and Champ Bailey can come off the books soon to alleviate some of the burden, but Denver is going to have to let some high quality players walk unless they want to stretch themselves thin at other spots. Trying to pay everyone is a calculated risk that can easily backfire, especially if the team suffers a significant injury or two. It’s basically the equivalent of trying to ford the river in Oregon Trail.
Don't worry, Broncos fans. Nobody will drown or die of dysentery as a result, but your team could be taking a major risk by trying to retain all of these key impending free agents.
New Orleans is in a much trickier place. The Saints are still $5 million over the 2013 salary cap despite restructuring the contracts of Curtis Lofton, David Hawthorne, Jahri Evans, Ben Grubbs, and Marques Colston, all players who just signed last year. Those moves might create cap space now, but it causes future cap pains. While restructuring appears to be an immediate help, all it does is procrastinate and exacerbate your problems. Evans, Grubbs, and Colston will all be in their 30s next year and guaranteed to be on the roster (thanks to the restructures) simply because of their large dead money totals if cut. Furthermore, their 2014 cap situation is even worse than 2013, and that’s before even worrying about re-signing impending free agent Jimmy Graham, the team’s best young commodity. And this isn’t even taking into account the glaring holes and ineptitude on the defensive side of the ball.
Jump to Conclusions Mat
It is still too early to truly tell if the growing bubble will eventually burst for certain teams or if the market will adjust accordingly, thus pinching pennies out of the lesser heralded positions and players. The point remains, however, that front offices across the NFL are going to have to perform extra due diligence when pondering these pricy quarterback investments, especially if quarterback salaries continue grow at a rate superior to team salary caps.
For the handful of top franchise quarterbacks, teams likely do not have a choice. For Green Bay, an organization known for never overpaying free agents, they will be forced into giving Aaron Rodgers a king’s ransom simply because the opportunity cost of letting him walk is too high, even if he wants close to $25 million per year.
But what about the starting caliber quarterbacks who are not at a Pro Bowl or All-Pro level? Will they make $15-16 million per year? Or more appropriately, will they deserve that? Will teams be virtually powerless and not have a choice but to pay them? This is especially relevant for average QBs such as Josh Freeman (free agent in 2014), Andy Dalton (2015), Christian Ponder (2015), and Sam Bradford (2016). That might actually be the true litmus test, especially if one team shells out closer to the $18 million range if one of those quarterbacks happens to post a career year right before free agency a la Flacco. Personally, I do not think those players are worth anywhere from 1/8 to 1/7 of a team’s cap, but with the high level of difficulty in finding and developing legitimate starting quarterbacks, some franchises will naturally disagree.
The domino effect of this will be the extra added emphasis on sound drafting, something a wisely run franchise like Green Bay already does because rookie contracts are far cheaper than free agent contracts. For front offices, one of the many positives of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement is the rookie wage scale which pays higher picks at a much lower rate than in the past. Another caveat is that rookies cannot restructure or get extensions until after year three. For a team like Seattle, that means Russell Wilson will be making less than $1 million for the next two years. For San Francisco and Houston, it means elite pass rushers Aldon Smith and JJ Watt will be making under $4 million this season, a third of what QB bust Mark Sanchez makes and a quarter of what fellow pass rusher Mario Williams will make. Meanwhile teams like the Saints, which have not had great success drafting cost-efficient players the last few years, are finding themselves as a giant bubble waiting to burst in Rev. Run’s bathtub because of bloated contracts. Then again, the Saints did win a Super Bowl in the process. For that, I will leave Saints fans a Rev. Run quote in case they are perturbed at their grim future: “When you’re grateful, you have no time to be mad or hateful.”