Saturday, April 27, 2013

Draft Pick Values

The NFL Draft features numerous trades, many of which seem to conform to the classic draft value chart. It's almost dogmatically accepted, but does it always make sense? My dad once told me to look at the extremes. He was referring to sanity checking if a proposed function made sense or not by testing it at variable=0 or infinity, but the same concept can apply here. Granted I'm backing the following up with little concrete data, but let's take a look at a few examples:

Trading from 2nd to 1st costs about a 2nd rounder. Getting to the top spot means you can guarantee picking that one blue-chip, can't-miss tackle or quarterback. If there's a dropoff after them, forfeiting a good shot at another starter makes sense. If you didn't, you'd be taking a bigger risk on the 1st rounder not working out. If it only cost an additional 3rd, this would be a clear win for the team trading up. If it cost an additional 1st, it would mean the team misses out on a premium pick. This passes the smell test.

The 20th pick is valued equally to the 33rd and 65th. At 20, there's unlikely to be a premium quarterback, tackle or pass rusher. While there may be an elite tight end, nose tackle or inside linebacker, these are positions of lesser impact. In other words, we're looking at players who either have limited impact no matter what, or have a red flag in either college production, measurables or character. The 33rd pick is a little more of the same, and may actually be more appropriate value-wise for the lesser impact positions. The 65th is skirting the territory where guys with clear NFL upside are disappearing, so finding a good role player is often the best outcome. This, again, feels like a reasonably fair trade. Another way to look at it is: the team with the top pick got their blue-chipper, and now they want to go all in for a particular player they want to take a chance on instead of waiting for the board to play out. Never underestimate the perceived value of getting to pick the particular player you want instead of taking who is left for you.

In general, the classic chart lets a team move up about half a round by trading their pick in the next round (ex: mid-2nd + 3rd = borderline 1st), and about a quarter round by throwing in their pick from 2 rounds later (ex: mid-2nd + 4th = higher pick by about 8 spots in the 2nd). What this expresses is that getting to pick the particular player they feel good about is worth not getting to take a chance on a lesser prospect later.

A very important thing to remember here is that the values assigned to each pick are generalized guidelines. Making a big trade up in some drafts has little to no reward. For example, 2013 and 2012 featured similarly graded blue-chip players at the same premium position. The Redskins had no reason to trade beyond the 2nd pick because both Luck and RG3 were franchise-changing quarterbacks (pending discovery of the indestructible ACL ... ). This year, the Jags had no reason to trade up to take the tackle of their choice because both Fisher and Joeckel are dominant, can't-miss players. In other words, the 1st and 2nd pick were worth about the same. Suppose RG3 wasn't there last year. Now suddenly, the benefit of trading to 1 is huge because no other quarterback in the draft compares to Luck. 2013 featured a glut of similarly graded players at a variety of positions. The Raiders traded their 3rd pick to the Dolphins for the 12th and 42nd. Per this chart, they gave the Dolphins a 50% discount. Why? Because they were desperate to add extra picks, and the quality of player they were likely to draft at 12 was not much lower than what they would have goten at 3. Getting 2 shots at the premium part of the prospect list was worth passing on Milliner or whoever they would have taken in their original spot. As such, we can't say that any trade value chart is inherently correct, there's too much contextual information missing without actual players plugged in.

We can, however, call out clearly degenerate cases. In the latter rounds, the gaps in relative values of picks get oddly large. Per the chart, the 211th pick is worth as much as 222, 223 and 224 combined. We're really looking at the scraps at this point, and picks are really a crapshoot here. We're essentially talking low-yield lottery tickets (keep in mind most 7th round picks won't even make the final roster). So why should 1 of these (at 211) be worth as much as 3 of these just a few spots later? This makes no sense at all. Similarly, the last 3 picks of the 6th round are worth as much as the last pick in the 4th. In the 4th, we're still looking at guys who have good physical skillsets and are expected to make the team and contribute. 6th rounders usually have significant physical shortcomings that most never make it past.

The classic chart uses an approximately exponentially decreasing point value model (about a factor of 2 per round) until the top of the 5th, when it changes over to an almost exactly linearly decreasing model. I guess it's trying to account for teams targeting specific crapshoot players, which again has perceived value to the team ... but really, would you elect to have more randomly given scratchers tickets, or hand-pick fewer of them?

Overall grade: B+. The top 4 rounds seems pretty reasonable, but the scale erodes in the later rounds.

To attempt to address the perceived arbitrariness of the classic model, a group created the Harvard model. Right off the bat we can tell that the later rounds are addressed: there's very little difference between 6th and 7th rounders, in fact it's not even possible (per the chart) to engineer a trade back in the 6th without the buyer grossly overspending (or getting into some crazy exotic pick swapping). Unfortunately the Harvard model completely faceplants in the earlier (aka: "important") rounds. For a 7th rounder, a team can move from the 32nd to the 20th, or from 16th to 10th, or from 10th to the 6th pick, or from 5th to 3rd, or 3rd to 2nd. This is lunacy. That 7th rounder is worthless, and you're telling me I can instead have my choice of blue-chip prospect, maybe align that with a need, or hop forward spot(s) to get the clearly better of 2 options? No no no no no. In the Harvard model, the 1st can be had from 7th with the addition of a 2nd rounder, or from the 3rd with the addition of a 4th rounder, or from 2nd with the addition of a 6th. Again, not a chance the seller would go for it. There's also a very oddly large discontinuity form the 32nd to the 33rd pick that should make any basic sanity checker scratch their head. And just to pile it on, the last few picks in the 7th are actually more valuable than those in the middle of the 7th (though this may be a copy/paste error, the sequence from 193 repeats starting at 215).

Overall grade: F. I appreciate their attempt at a statistical approach, but sometimes we don't use the right stats or put them together the right way and a simple smell test should say "no, this doesn't make sense". Anyone who reads KC Joyner's articles should be familiar with this reaction. The meat of the draft is in the top 2 rounds and getting values clearly wrong here makes the scale unusable.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Meanwhile in Jersey

Bottles of champagne are on ice, ready to pop.
The moment this Revis deal goes through, the Jets get:

1. A 2nd reasonably high pick. They can now go 49ers on us and take Cooper + Fluker, or  address needs with Fluker + Werner, or ... options abound, but having 3 of the top 45 picks is a great way to reload cheaply.
2. A ton of money off their books.
3. No more headaches with Revis's holdouts.

All it cost them is a player they proved they don't need.

Tampa Bay: the new Redskins

Holy crap, what a crazy pair of off-seasons we've seen in Tampa. Let's recap:

1. They've signed Carl Nicks to a 5 year deal worth up to 47.5M
2. They've signed Vincent Jackson to a 6 year deal worth up to 61M
3. They've signed Dashon Goldson to a 5 year deal worth up to 43M
4. Impending: they are about to sign Darrell Revis in the neighborhood of 15M a year. Oh yeah, and forfeit their #13 pick along with a couple later picks as well.

Let's see what they've accomplished here. They locked up 20M a year in a guard and wide reciever, after which their pass offense was #10 in the NFL and their running production was #15. They spent over 8M a year on a safety when other very good options are _still_ available and desperate for jobs. For example, Kerry Rhodes is a solid player, was available and could probably have been signed for 2-3M a year on a shorter deal. Unless you're the Steelers or Ravens, that elite safety does not change your defense considerably versus having a solid player there. Adding Revis to the mix means locking up 15M a year for a player to take away half the field, but the Bucs don't do a terribly good job of pressuring quarterbacks ... so ... yeah.

43M a year locked up in 4 players, none of whom play the real premium positions (quarterback, tackle, defensive tackle and defensive end).

And we haven't looked at the impact of the Bucs losing their draft pick in a year with really good quality depth at a lot of positions that they happen to need. I'm pretty sure they'd be better off taking a chance on Bjoern Werner or Star Lotulelei or any other defensive lineman available at 13 than trading it for Revis. Or, just reach a bit for one of the corners in the draft and pay them 20% of what Revis is making.

Oh yeah, don't forget Revis is in love with being the top-paid guy in the league. The moment he's not, you've got a contract holdout on your hands.

Well done.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Final 2013 Mock

Time to pit my predictive skills against the experts! All relevant scouting, trades and free agent moves have been made. There's nothing left before the draft except some time. According to Bill Polian, the 1st pick is finalized about 3 days before, at which point the team with that top pick sits tight waiting for a blockbuster trade. This year, there's no chance of that happening.

In general there's a reduced chance of trades because there are few clearly superior players at impact positions. Fisher or Joeckel? Lotulelei or Floyd? Warmack or Cooper? Austin, Allen, Patterson? There are no running backs valued in the top half of the 1st, and the entire pass rushing crop has eithe production or measurable red flags. Teams are less incentivized to trade up for one of these guys because the other one is just as good. The only exceptions are Geno Smith and Dee Milliner. Milliner is a clear blue chipper, and Smith becomes enticing due to positional value.

1. Kansas City - Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A/M (+1)
Kiper's pick: Eric Fisher (+2)
McShay's pick: Eric Fisher (+2)
Mayock's pick: Eric Fisher (+2)
Everyone is saying the pick will be Luke Joeckel, but I'm hung up on Andy Reid's history. He's drafted defensive line 6 times since 1999, and offensive line once. The Chiefs' defensive line received considerable investment between Dorsey and Jackson, but neither really panned out. Defensive end is a big need, and Lotulelei has all the production and measurables a team could want. However, the impending trade of Branden Albert may force the team's hand, and according to most experts Joeckel is the most can't-miss player in this draft.

2. Jacksonville - Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan (+1)
Kiper's pick: Luke Joeckel (+2)
McShay's pick: Dion Jordan (0)
Mayock's pick: Luke Joeckel (+2)
The Jaguars have a desperate need for a pass rusher, but none of them grade out. I just don't see them taking a chance on a raw prospect like Ansah this early. Their offense is also dismal and a great blocker should pay dividends in front of MJD and their iterating quarterback position. The should strongly consider Star Lotulelei to pair with Tyson Alualu. That tandem should improve their 30th ranked run defense and also provide some pass rush.

3. Oakland - Sharrif Floyd, DE, Florida (0)
Kiper's pick: Sharrif Floyd (0)
McShay's pick: Sharrif Floyd (0)
Mayock's pick: Sharrif Floyd (0)
The Raiders lost or are losing players along their defensive line, and need quality disruptive pieces. They'd love to finally get a quarterback, but Smith just won't go this high. I think Dion Jordan is an outside possibility, but the line takes precedence.

4. Philadelphia - Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma (+2)
Kiper's pick: Lane Johnson (+2)
McShay's pick: Lane Johnson (+2)
Mayock's pick: Lane Johnson (+2)
The Eagles went big to get Jason Peters, and his time has come. They have to know that no quarterback will succeed behind a patchwork offensive line that loses one-on-one battles. Many mocks are calling for Geno Smith here, but they still have Vick's upside. Sure he's old, but they also have Dennis Dixon in that option mold.

5. Detroit - Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama (0)
Kiper's pick: Ezekiel Ansah (+2)
McShay's pick: Ezekiel Ansah (+2)
Mayock's pick: Ezekiel Ansah (+2)
The Lions have been on a roll, drafting impact players in the 1st. Despite getting good sack production, they gave up 26 passing touchdowns last year. Remember, they made a pretty big offer to Arizona to swap spots and the rights to draft Patrick Peterson. It's finally time to take a blue chip cornerback. I think they would strongly consider Chance Warmack as well to help turn all their empty yards into points. Ansah could be in play here since the Lions lost both of their top ends and Jim Schwartz is defensive guy.

6. Cleveland - Dion Jordan, OLB, Oregon (+1)
Kiper's pick: Dee Milliner (0)
McShay's pick: Geno Smith (0)
Mayock's pick: Geno Smith (0)
The Browns have a great cornerback, but are still giving up lots of passing scores. They produce a pretty good number of sacks, but by committee. They need to invest in an impact pass rusher. Ray Horton is bringing a 3-4 defense with him, and Jordan is both the most proven prospect and the best fit for the scheme.
6. San Diego - Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma
The Chargers are desperate to solidify their line and let Philip Rivers actually pass from a pocket. AJ Smith was never afraid to make bold moves, ... though he's gone, I think that spirit will live on. The Browns would be happy to trade back. They should be targeting either a guard or pass rusher, and both figure to be available at 11. If any of the top 3 tackles is still on the board, this trade will happen.

7. Arizona - Chance Warmack, OG, Alabama (+1)
Kiper's pick: Dion Jordan (0)
McShay's pick: Jonathan Cooper (+2)
Mayock's pick: Jonathan Cooper (+2)
The new front office believe in best player available, and new coach Arians says the line is one player away from being really good. The weakest link just so happens to be RG Adam Snyder, so Warmack upgrades a weakness to a dominant position. The Cardinals would probably be happier to get Lane Johnson or Dion Jordan to provide consistent pressure instead of them having to scheme for sacks. However, both of those guys are off the board and Warmack is the pick.

8. Buffalo - Jonathan Cooper, OG, North Carolina (0)
Kiper's pick: Jonathan Cooper (0)
McShay's pick: Ryan Nassib (+1)
Mayock's pick: Tavon Austin (0)
Blocking is key for the Bills to keep Kevin Kolb comfortable, performing, and on the field. The Bills lost excellent guard Andy Levitre in the offseason, making this is a position of need. In past mocks I've said Buffalo should consider only the premium middle lineback prospect, but the value is no longer there. They have to focus on what they do well: run the ball. Between Te'o, Minter and Ogletree, they can pick up a quality middle linebacker in the 2nd.

9. New York Jets - DJ Fluker, OT, Alabama (0)
Kiper's pick: Barkevious Mingo (0)
McShay's pick: Tyler Eifert (0)
Mayock's pick: Dion Jordan (0)
The Jets gave up almost 3 sacks a game and need to get back to the ground and pound game that let them drag a clearly inept Mark Sanchez to the AFC championship game. The other option is Chance Warmack. The Jets have shown a consistent pattern of drafting for need, and this is what they need. Many mocks have them taking a pass rusher, but they took Coples last year and he came on towards the end of the year. Their pass defense was great as is, and their run defense probably needs an infusion in the linebacking layer.

10. Tennessee - Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah (0)
Kiper's pick: Sheldon Richardson (0)
McShay's pick: Dee Milliner (0)
Mayock's pick: Dee Milliner (0)
The Titans need to get CJ2K back on track, and the offseason acquisition of Andy Levitre should help. Jake Locker could use a down-field weapon, but we're too high to take a wide receiver in this draft. The Titans have numerous needs, and at this point Star represents too much value. Taking a risk on Ansah doesn't make a ton of sense because they already have two solid defensive ends and a linebacker who all collected 6 sacks last year.

11. San Diego - Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington (0)
Kiper's pick: DJ Fluker (+2)
McShay's pick: Luke Joeckel (+1)
Mayock's pick: Chance Warmack (0)
The Chargers missed all their chances to upgrade their line. They lost two good corners as well, so they elect to replenish that spot. The next best left tackle is Menelik Watson, and he's not even a 1st-round grade.
11. Cleveland - Barkevious Mingo, OLB, LSU
If the Browns traded back with San Diego, they get a player with the same upside they would have taken at 6.

12. Miami - Ezekiel Ansah, DE, BYU (+1)
Kiper's pick: Chance Warmack (0)
McShay's pick: DJ Fluker (0)
Mayock's pick: DJ Fluker (0)
The Dolphins got Mike Wallace and are about to get Branden Albert. They have a great pass rusher in Cameron Wake, but let's not forget he's 31 already and they have no one opposite him. Cornerback should be a consideration here too, but Ansah's upside is too much to pass up here.

13. New York Jets - Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri (+2)
Kiper's pick: Tavon Austin (0)
McShay's pick: Chance Warmack (0)
Mayock's pick: Tyler Eifert (0)
The Jets have been horrific against the run. After upgrading their offensive line in a move to get back to ground-and-pound, they can address their defense with a distruptive defensive tackle who should pay off in both facets of the defense. There's a glut of cornerbacks that they can pick from in the 2nd.

14. Carolina - Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia (0)
Kiper's pick: Star Lotulelei (+2)
McShay's pick: Star Lotulelei (+2)
Mayock's pick: Sheldon Richardson (+1)
The Panthers have a great run game, a franchise quarterback, a good pass rush, a solid run defense, and a single playmaking wide receiver entering his 13th year in the league. Steve Smith's shelf life is short and they'll need a replacement. In the meantime they can enjoy two dynamic threats.

15. New Orleans - Barkevious Mingo, OLB, LSU (0)
15. New Orleans - Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia
Kiper's pick: Jarvis Jones (0)
McShay's pick: Barkevious Mingo (0)
Mayock's pick: Barkevious Mingo (0)
The Saints' offense has no problems and their defense is awful. They have lots of playmakers in the secondary, but it's all predicated on getting pressure up front. Mingo is still on the board and has all the physical measurables needed for the job and excelled at making splash plays. If he's off the board, Jarvis Jones is the next best option.

16. St Louis - Keenan Allen, WR, California (+1)
Kiper's pick: Kenny Vaccaro (0)
McShay's pick: Tavon Austin (+2)
Mayock's pick: Kenny Vaccaro (0)
The Rams lost their best receiver and have no one even pushing for a strong #2 role. They also need to upgrade their offensive line, but have the 22nd pick to pick up Menelik Watson, and can target a guard in the 2nd or 3rd.

17. Pittsburgh - Sylvester Williams, DE, North Carolina (0)
Kiper's pick: Tyler Eifert (0)
McShay's pick: Jarvis Jones (+2)
Mayock's pick: Jarvis Jones (+2)
The Steelers suddenly have a lot of needs: James Harrison is the biggest name, but their defensive line is eroding. Jason Worilds will be thrust into the starting pass rusher role, and this spot is great for a value pick. Williams has all the upside to be a disruptive end and help keep the defense dominant.

18. Dallas - Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas (0)
Kiper's pick: Sylvester Williams (0)
McShay's pick: Sheldon Richardson (0)
Mayock's pick: Star Lotulelei (0)
The Cowboys need to shore up their defense so they can actually finish games. Their offensive line is also suspect, but it's not quite value time to go that route.  They'd love for Vaccaro to still be on the board to help glue their secondary together, and this works out well for them.

19. New York - Alec Ogletree, ILB, Georgia (0)
Kiper's pick: DJ Hayden (0)
McShay's pick: Bjoern Werner (0)
Mayock's pick: Justin Pugh (+2)
The Giants are a defensive mess. They weren't producing sacks at their usual rate, and everything suffered as a result. They do still have Justin Tuck and JPP coming off the edge, so they need support in the 2nd level. Ogletree edges out Te'o due to his athleticism.

20. Chicago - Tyler Eifert, TE, Notre Dame (0)
Kiper's pick: Manti Te'o (0)
McShay's pick: Manti Te'o (0)
Mayock's pick: Manti Te'o (0)
The Bears, despite aging, still have a great defense and a good running game .. but their passing game has been a mess despite the addition of Brandon Marshall because they still lack other legitimate threats. Scoring the top tight end in the draft gives Cutler more options. The knee-jerk reaction would be to find Brian Urlacher's replacement, but middle linebackers are easier to find in the 2nd or 3rd round.

21. Cincinnati - Cordarelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee (0)
Kiper's pick: Eddie Lacy (0)
McShay's pick: Eddie Lacy (0)
Mayock's pick: Eric Reid (0)
The Bengals are a team without real weaknesses. Their defense is better than their offense, and providing Andy Dalton with a true complement to AJ Green should help the passing game out.

22. St. Louis - Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia (x)
Kiper's pick: Cordarrelle Patterson (x)
McShay's pick: Kenny Vaccaro (x)
Mayock's pick: Alec Ogletree (x)
The Rams have a multitude of needs, mostly along the offensive line. I certainly think Menelik Watson is in play here (I don't buy that Kyle Long is a prospective tackle in the NFL and good guards can be found in the 2nd-4th rounds), but lining up Jones at the weakside linebacker spot like Denver does with Von Miller could elevate an evolving defense.

23. Minnesota - Robert Woods, WR, USC (0)
Kiper's pick: Robert Woods (0)
McShay's pick: Sylvester Williams (+1)
Mayock's pick: Cordarrelle Patterson (0)
The Vikings lost Percy Harvin and Kyle Rudolph is their only other credible receiving threat. Even with Harvin they were fairly one-dimensional and had the 2nd-worst passing offense in the league. Adrian Peterson is amazing, but he needs help. I think the Vikings take Woods over Hunter for the playmaking upside. I think Geno Smith is in play here as well; it's hard to believe Ponder is a franchise QB. The Vikings also need help in the secondary and will address that at 25.

24. Indianapolis - Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida St (+2)
Kiper's pick: Xavier Rhodes (0)
McShay's pick: DJ Hayden (0)
Mayock's pick: DJ Hayden (0)
The Colts have trouble keeping Andrew Luck upright and they have trouble running the ball. They need to invest in their line, primarily at guard. However, they also were one of the worst teams against the run and weren't great against the pass. Guards are easy to find outside the 1st and they picked up Ricky Jean Francois and Aubrayo Franklin, so they should looking for a 4-3 end to displace the disappointing Jerry Hughes.

25. Minnesota - DJ Hayden, CB, Houston (+1)
Kiper's pick: Alec Ogletree (0)
McShay's pick: Alec Ogletree (0)
Mayock's pick: Sylvester Williams (0)
The Vikings lost their only playmaking corner and need to reload. There's a glut of players ranked about equally, so look for the Vikings to try and trade back with this pick.

26. Green Bay - Eddie Lacy, RB, Alabama (0)
Kiper's pick: Datone Jones (+2)
McShay's pick: Justin Pugh (0)
Mayock's pick: Eddie Lacy (0)
Not only is Aaron Rodgers the best quarterback in the NFL, he's also the best runner on his team. That needs to change. The Packers have been less consistent since parting ways with Ryan Grant. Lacy brings true 3-down credibility to the position, though it isn't consistent with the way the team has drafted in the past. They could also look at improving their line, but the value likely isn't there.

27. Houston - Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee (+1)
Kiper's pick: DeAndre Hopkins (+2)
McShay's pick: Justin Hunter (+1)
Mayock's pick: Justin Hunter (+1)
The Texans have no glaring needs, which is common for a team that made a playoff run, though their passing game changes dramatically when Andre Johnson is out. They simply need additional threats, and Hunter fits that bill.

28. Denver - Manti Te'o, ILB, Notre Dame (0)
Kiper's pick: Tank Carradine (0)
McShay's pick: Datone Jones (+1)
Mayock's pick: Bjoern Werner (0)
After a slow start, the Broncos were the best team in the NFL, and were a small meltdown away from probably continuing to a Super Bowl championship. They can take the best player available, one of whom happens to be at a position that needs a reboot.

29. New England - Johnathan Hankins, NT, Ohio State (x)
Kiper's pick: Desmond Trufant (x)
McShay's pick: Xavier Rhodes (x)
Mayock's pick: Xavier Rhodes (x)
We're getting into tantalizing Geno Smith trade territory, and look for the Patriots to be eager partners. The Jaguars, Raiders, Eagles and Jets could all be interested parties. Absent a trade, the Pats will take the best player available at any position. It doesn't hurt that he should be a good replacement for Wilfork down the line.

30. Atlanta - Datone Jones, DE, UCLA (0)
Kiper's pick: Robert Alford (0)
McShay's pick: Desmond Trufant (+2)
Mayock's pick: Desmond Trufant (+2)
The Falcons have a surprising number of needs for a 13-win team. Their running game was unproductive, and get Steven Jackson in place of Michael Turner is a wash at best. I think they'd love to get Lacy, and there's a good chance the Packers don't pick him up. But, their defense is actually quite suspect, and a lack of strong line play has hurt them. Jones is a versatile player who can line up as either a 3-4 end or 4-3 tackle in the Falcons' shifting schemes.

31. San Francisco - Margus Hunt, DE, SMU (0)
Kiper's pick: Eric Reid (+2)
McShay's pick: Eric Reid (+2)
Mayock's pick: Zach Ertz (0)
The 49ers identity is around their defense, and Hunt has intriguing upside as a potential matchup nightmare after Justin Smith's brilliant career winds down.

32. Baltimore - Kevin Minter, ILB, LSU (0)
Kiper's pick: Kevin Minter (0)
McShay's pick: Matt Elam (+2)
Mayock's pick: Matt Elam (+2)
The Ravens lost so many impact players this offseason, and have a surprising number of needs for a Super Bowl champ. They could use help along the offensive line, in the secondary, in the pass rush and in the gaping hole left by Ray Lewis. Minter actually profiles similar to Lewis athletically, and I think the Ravens would prefer him to Te'o.

I expect to see a number of trades happen as teams target specific players. The rookie scale has made trading up less prohibitive because only draft capital is involved while salaries are kept reasonable.

Just for fun, I'll see how I do against the experts. Each correct pick for a team will be worth 2 points, 1 point credit for correct player position. Draft position is ignored-ish, for example if a team trades back 3 spots but still selects the predicted player, that's worth 2 points.

Edit, final tallies:
Me: 14 points.
Kiper: 18 points.
McShay: 25 points
Mayock: 20 points
Todd McShay is the winner, and I'm the loser. Guess I'm not ready to quit my day job just yet.

And now, we wait.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Matt Flynn, 90% off original price!

... or is he?

Let's look at the basic facts:
The Seahawks brought in Flynn as a free agent, signing him to a 3 year deal worth a max of about 26 million dollars. The Raiders acquired Flynn from the Seahawks for a 2014 5th rounder and a conditional pick in 2015. The details of the latter are undisclosed, but let's assume it's a mid- or late-round pick.

On the surface, the net result is that the Seahawks bought two minor future picks for about $10m that they have already paid Flynn. But, is it fair to assess the outcome like this?

At the time, Seattle was signing a guy they were pretty sure would be their starter. As starters go, the original deal worked in Seattle's favor (consider the Cardinals made twice the financial commitment to an equally unproven Kolb, one who had never, say, passed for 480 yards in a game). Let's assume (and this is a big assumption), that Seattle's full plan was always to both buy Flynn and draft Wilson. Wilson is on a tiny rookie deal paying him less than a million per year. He ended up beating out Flynn and the team now appears set at quarterback for the next decade. Net investment over 3 years is the $10m paid to Flynn and the couple million paid to Wilson before he gets an extension for real starter money. This is an incredible outcome. Basically, the team gave themselves two shots at guys with upsides, with a low combined cost. Critics can nitpick that "well, if only they had just drafted Wilson and never signed Flynn ... ", but no one could know which (if either) player would blossom. It's possible that Wilson succeeded because Flynn was also there as competition. We'll never know. Bottom line is that they got a franchise guy, amortized to around $4m per year over 3 years. Brilliant.

The Seahawks are already winners, even if they simply leave Flynn at a gas station after stopping for snacks. To understand trade value, we have to look at both the seller and the buyer. The seller is motivated by what they'd need to spend to replace the asset they are giving away. The buyer is motivated by what they'd need to spend elsewhere to get someone of similar quality.

Seattle's replacement value is the going rate for a backup quarterback. It doesn't matter of Flynn turns out to be a starter in the league, he's of basically zero value in Seattle because he'll ideally impact zero plays in 2013. To boot, he's an $8m cap hit this year and the next. A typical roster backup should be making less than half that. In other words, Seattle would benefit by simply dumping him and signing someone else for way less, or drafting a guy in the middle rounds to develop behind Wilson. The catch is that Flynn's cap hit is bigger if he's cut (and he may even impact the 2014 cap, though I'm not sure). If Seattle can trade him, his cap hit for 2013 is reduced to $4m, and his 2014 hit goes away. Thus, trading him for _anything_ saves the team $12m over 2 years, and gives them flexibility to address the backup spot in the draft or via free agency or trade. Right here, right now, Seattle should be happier with a 7th round pick than with Flynn.

The Raiders need a quarterback because Carson Palmer doesn't want to be there anymore. Flynn is probably as attractive as the top 2 quarterbacks in the draft, which would peg his value as high as a late 1st rounder, but realistically a high 2nd. However, Flynn is already 28 and therefore hitting on him has less long-term value than hitting on Smith or Barkley or one of the other college prospects. Additionally, having the flexibility to either take a quarterback in the 2nd or a player of great value filling a need who happens to be there is worth something to the Raiders as well. Thus, I don't see them inherently valuing Flynn higher than about a 3rd round pick. Add in that Flynn will make much more than rookie money, and that offer has to keep going down.

In principle, we've established that there's common benefit to the trade, and we've pegged the value between "less than a 3rd" and "at least a 7th". The Raiders maintain the leverage here because they can just as easily draft a prospect with upside. Thus, they can squeeze the Seahawks close to their acceptable selling point. The final deal seems like a compromise: a future 6th is about equal to this year's 7th (minimum selling point), and the conditional 2015 pick is there for "fairness", in case Flynn really pans out. If that 2015 is, say, a 3rd rounder (equals a 5th rounder today), then the Seahawks are getting pretty close to about the max the Raiders would have been willing to pay.