Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Projecting final standings

We're now 7 weeks into the season and can get a sense of how good teams really are. Using point differential, we can project final standings, so let's see how we'd expect teams to finish. Of course there are caveats: for example this won't account for remaining strength of schedule or significant injuries, but it's something. Let's see how close to reality we get!

The model uses the very strong correlation of every 2 points differential per game with 1 game away from 8-8. Due to rounding errors, the total wins and losses in the table might not quite add up.

AFC East
New England Patriots15-1
New York Jets12-4
Miami Dolphins9-7
Buffalo Bills8-8

AFC North
Cincinnati Bengals13-3
Pittsburgh Steelers10-6
Baltimore Ravens6-10
Cleveland Browns6-10

AFC South
Indianapolis Colts6-10
Tennessee Titans6-10
Houston Texans5-11
Jacksonville Jaguars4-12

AFC West
Denver Broncos11-5
Oakland Raiders7-9
Kansas City Chiefs6-10
San Diego Chargers6-10
NFC East
Philadelphia Eagles10-6
New York Giants9-7
Washington Redskins7-9
Dallas Cowboys5-11

NFC North
Green Bay Packers13-3
Minnesota Vikings10-6
Detroit Lions4-12
Chicago Bears3-13

NFC South
Carolina Panthers12-4
Atlanta Falcons11-5
New Orleans Saints6-10
Tampa Bay Buccaneers5-11

NFC West
Arizona Cardinals14-2
Seattle Seahawks10-6
St Louis Rams7-9
San Francisco 49ers3-13

The predictions generally feel sound, though it's unlikely that Arizona will go 9-0 the rest of the season, or that the Bears or 49ers will only win one more game. I'd also guess the Jags are trending upwards and will finish with more wins than the Texans, but the projections pass a gut check.

In the AFC playoffs we have division winners New England (bye), Cincinnati (bye), Indianapolis and Denver along with wildcards New York and Pittsburgh. The Colts would be the worst-ever division winner, but the AFC South looks to be really that bad. Looking at their schedule, their likely wins are in the last 6 weeks of the year when facing the Bucs, Jags, Texans and Titans.

In the NFC playoffs we have division winners Arizona (bye), Green Bay (bye), Carolina and Philadelphia and wildcards Atlanta and Seattle or Minnesota depending on tie-breaks. I personally feel better about Seattle's chances of getting to 10-6; the Vikings have tough games left against likely playoff teams Green Bay (twice), Atlanta, Seattle and Arizona, while St Louis and the Giants aren't easy outs either. Seattle's tough games are Arizona (twice), Minnesota, Pittsburgh and St Louis.

Tony Romo and Dez Bryant may return just in time to get the Cowboys a few wins and take them out of prime drafting territory. Early indications show 4 top-tier quarterbacks who could all go in the top 10; the rest of the top 10 is dominated by offensive tackles and defensive ends. Going from 5 wins to 7 would mean moving from picking around 3-5 to around 12-15. They'd miss out on either a blue chip player or the opportunity to wheel and deal.

San Francisco and Chicago would pick 1-2. Both have franchise quarterbacks who are underperforming. The top picks would be great opportunities to take a shot at the future. In our scenario, the Jags and Lions pick next. I think neither needs a QB so they get to make prime picks. Next come the Texans (need a qb), leaving the Cowboys to play host to a potential bidding war by quarterback-needy Cleveland and Kansas City, and maybe even New Orleans and/or San Diego if they're looking to the future. In other words, a lot rides on the draft order this year. It seems to be a rare year for quarterback talent and there's always more demand than supply. Then again, these draft player projections will change drastically by next March. They always do.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Matt Forte's trade value

Rumors have popped up that Chicago is looking to deal Matt Forte. Forte denies this, but it's not clear that he'd be in the know, nor would he publically admit it. That aside, suppose he is on the chopping block? What is he worth?

As usual, we have to try and find a lower and upper bound for the seller and the buyer to establish value. The major factors are Forte's quality as a player today, and his projected quality going forward, as well as his current contract.

Forte still appears to be a top player. In an offense without much else going on, he's still the 2nd leading rusher in the NFL after 4 games (367 yards) while maintaining a 4.4 yard per carry average. He's also on pace to exceed 50 catches for 500 yards and Forte has missed only 4 games in 7+ years. Forte's comparables are the highest bracket of the league (noted with round selected and games missed in seasons played):
Marshawn Lynch, 1st round, 25 in 10+
Adrian Peterson, 1st round, 24 in 9+,
LeSean McCoy, 2nd round, 7 in 7+
Le'Veon Bell, 2nd round, 5 in 3+
Eddie Lacy, 2nd round, 1 in 3+
Jamaal Charles, 3rd round, 17 in 8+
DeMarco Murray, 3rd round, 12 in 5+
Arian Foster, undrafted, 27 in 7+

So, we see a back who is consistently among the best not only in production, but also in availability. While most of the other elites miss 2-3 games a year, Forte has played in every game most seasons.

Forte is currently on the last year of his current contract, with a cap hit of $9.2M.

So what is Forte worth to another team? In the case of a team with a lot of pieces in place and aspirations of making a run now, they would get a proven, elite 3-down back, but only for this season. Since his contract is up, a team trading for him would either need to extend him or take the risk of him walking after the season. Forte is turning 30 this year, which has buyer beware written all over it in today's NFL. Based on purely his production, he could be worth up to a 1st rounder for a buyer. However, getting him for only 1/4th of the term of a draft pick means he should be worth no more than about 1/4th of that, or a late first to a 3rd rounder per the draft value chart. If the team can negotiate an extension for, say, 2 more years, that would up the value, however they should adjust for the projected loss of production as well, make about 1/2 a first-rounder the cap. That also translates to a late 1st to a 2nd rounder. So, depending on the details, he should be worth about a 2nd or a 3rd to a buyer, at most. I haven't factored in the relative value of getting someone not quite as good as Forte, nor the expectation adjustment of spending that 1st rounder on a back and what a team might get. The latter is in Forte's favor because most drafted backs don't go on to be as successful as him. However, he himself is a 2nd rounder and his peers include an even smear from 1st to 3rd (as well as an undrafted, proving that a team need not use a high pick for back), and in the next tier are later-round picks like Frank Gore, Lamar Miller, Chris Ivory, Justin Forsett, Alfred Morris. This works notably against him, to where a team should feel reasonably confident in getting a quality back with a 2nd or 3rd pick, and benefiting from the guaranteed cheap contract for 4 years. Using some fuzzy math, this drops Forte to no higher than a 3rd rounder in my book.

Chicago's incentive to part with Forte is to get draft capital to reload their team. They're sunk for the season, so aside from morale issues, Forte is not of much value to them anymore. Clearly he hasn't been able to get them victories; the Bears are 1-3 and have looked awful as a team. Unless the Bears can reload for a run next year, re-signing Forte doesn't make a ton of sense. It's probably time for them to take a chance on the next guy in the draft. I don't think the Bears will get there, so I think now is the perfect time for them to shop Forte around. Unfortunately they're in a position where pretty much anything would be value for them. Time and performance are not on their side.

Since the buyer's value is higher than the seller's, a deal could be made. But, since the values are probably far apart, it's essentially down to a bidding war (or preventing a bidding war). This begs the question of who would benefit from a year or two of Matt Forte? We've established that it only makes sense for a team with serious contender aspirations that needs a significant upgrade at running back. Who might that be?

Patriots - Already have Blount and Lewis. Not their style to make big trades.
Jets - Already featuring Chris Ivory. A franchise that wheels and deals a lot, but Forte wouldn't be the clear top back on the team. Maybe.
Bills - Already traded for McCoy and have Williams
Dolphins - Lamar Miller, not a contender

Bengals - Featuring Bernard and Jeremy Hill. Not their style to make big trade.
Steelers - Le'Veon Bell.
Ravens - Forsett. Losing wide receivers and defenders is their problem.
Browns - Not a contender.

Colts - Got Frank Gore. Franchise does make lots of moves and there's no one behind him. Maybe.
Titans - Not a contender.
Texans - Not a contender.
Jaguars - Not a contender.

Broncos - Anderson has been underwhelming and Hillman is carrying the load. Team is trying to depend less on Peyton's arm. Elway makes lots of moves. Maybe.
Raiders - Need to get younger. Not a contender.
Chargers - Drafted Melvin Gordon. Defense is their issue.
Chiefs - Jamaal Charles. Defense is their issue.

Cowboys - No feature back, but injured Romo and Bryant are the issue.
Giants - Running game is struggling, no big-name player. One-dimensional offense. Maybe.
Redskins - Alfred Morris. Not a contender.
Eagles - Picked up Murray and others. No reason to suspect Forte is a "Chip Kelly guy".

Packers - Eddie Lacy, they don't need help, and they rarely make deals.
Vikings - Adrian Peterson. They need help in the passing game.
Bears - N/A
Lions - Not a contender this year.

Panthers - Jonathan Stewart and Cam Newton account for one of the top rush offenses already. Defense is their calling card.
Falcons - Freeman and Coleman. Offense is not going to be their issue, even if their run-game isn't amazing. They just seem too dedicated to a pass-first offense, but they have brought in other late-career players. Maybe.
Bucs - Not a contender.
Saints - Not a contender.

Cardinals - CJ2K has had a resurgence, David Johnson is the future, and Ellington is almost back from injury. The Cards make opportunistic deals, but I don't see this one happening.
Seahawks - Lynch has been banged up, but Rawls has been running great. They have barely-used Fred Jackson too, as well as Wilson adding to the ground game. Seattle is a mover, but not here.
Rams - Gurley just had his breakout game, but there's no one viable behind him. Maybe.
49ers - Hyde. Not a contender.

So, all that to say we have the following potentially interested teams: Jets, Colts, Broncos, Giants and to a lesser extent, the Rams and Falcons. That's actually a pretty big suitor list; it only takes two to fall in love for a duel to occur! We can look at the transactions these teams have made.

Broncos - have acquired only one player in a trade since 2012 (FB Chris Gronkowski for DB Cassius Vaughn, 2012). They've traded away two other players (Tebow, 2012 and Heuerman, 2015) for draft picks.
Giants - have not been involved in a trade this decade.
Jets - Blockbuster trade (Revis, 2013) to get a 1st round pick and a conditional pick. In 2012 they traded Drew Stanton for a pick and traded T Wayne Hunter for T Jason Smith straight up.
Colts -  These guys have a laundry list of activity. 2015: Acquired Sio Moore for late-round pick. 2014: Acquired CB Marcus Burley for a 6th rounder. Acquired RB David Fluellen for K Cody Parker. 2013: Acquired FB Stanley Havili for DE Clifton Geathers. Acquired RB Trent Richardson for a 1st round pick.
Rams - Got a conditional pick for WR Chris Givens. Traded their #2 pick to Washington in 2012 for a king's ransom.
Falcons - have not been involved in a trade this decade.

Two of our six teams have not been involved in a trade and another was involved only in a minor trade to get draft capital. This leaves only the Broncos, Jets and Colts as teams with precedent for trading to acquire a player. However, only the Colts have traded draft capital for a player. This doesn't mean one of those other teams couldn't make a trade, but it does mean they're unlikely to increase the market value for a player. Of course, the market wouldn't have to be set in draft capital. The Broncos could, for example, offer Hillman straight up with the rationale that the Bears get a serviceable player they can sign to a longer-term, cheaper deal and the Broncos maximize their backfield for what must be Peyton Manning's last stand. Throw in the parallel with Terrell Davis helping an aging Elway go out on top, and it becomes believable.

So what do I think will happen?

The Broncos trade scenario involving Hillman is interesting, and realistic to me.
The Colts win with offense, and adding Forte gives them a different elite option next to Gore. However, their window for a championship is the next decade so they shouldn't bet the farm in a deal. A later pick, like a 5th or maybe a 4th could be interesting for them.
I don't expect that the Rams and Jets are thinking championship this year, so they really should be out anyways.
The Falcons have two young running backs and no reason to think they need a veteran at the position, now.
The Giants, I think, could benefit greatly from Forte's skills. They are going with a back-by-committee approach. Forte is a 3-down back who would make their offense less reliant on obvious passing plays, but they have no track record of making these deals. So while they should consider it, I don't think they'll be in play.

I think the Colts will have light interest and the Broncos should have serious interest. I've pegged the Colts at maybe a 4th or probably a 5th. Let's say a 5th. To beat that, the Broncos either need to give up a player worth more than that, or more draft capital than that. I don't think Hillman has that value, especially with an expiring contract. Denver doesn't have a 4th round pick in the upcoming draft, but has a 5th, 6th and a pair of 7ths. Teams can always figure out ways to dish up future picks and come to terms.

I think the Bears would want to get a meaningful pick for Forte, even if they might lose him otherwise. For example, they could ask for a 4th from Denver, but agree on a 2017 3rd instead (each year delay is roughly considered one round less valuable). Or to beat Indy's 5th, maybe an additional 6th, so like this year's 6th and a 2017 4th. Again, if Denver believes it can extend Forte for a couple years and get quality performance out of him and have him be a great supporting bridge for life after Elway, this price could go up ... maybe to that 3rd rounder this year. My bet is no higher than a current 4th (or a 2017 3rd) and a significantly non-zero chance of a trade with Denver happening.


Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Seahawk identity

I wrote recently about a potential decline for the Seahawks due to their eroded draft results. There's another noticeable shift this year, and probably has to do with Russell Wilson's big contract: they are throwing more.

PassesRunsRussell runsTotal runs
2013420 (45.2%)413 (44.5%)96 (10.3%)509 (54.8%)
2014454 (46.4%)407 (41.6%)118 (12.0%)525 (53.6%)
2015*101 (54.0%)62 (33.2%)24 (12.8%)86 (46.0%)

PassesRunsRussell runsRussell uses
2013420 (45.2%)413 (44.5%)96 (10.3%)516 (55.5%)
2014454 (46.4%)407 (41.6%)118 (12.0%)572 (58.4%)
2015*101 (54.0%)62 (33.2%)24 (12.8%)125 (66.8%)
* Stats through 3 games

The Seahawks' winning script has been completely flipped. Where they used to run the ball around 54% of the time, they are now passing it that often. The run-first feel of the offense has dissolved. Another way to look at this is the percentage of plays Wilson is directly involved in. It's grown from 55.5 and 58.4 to 66.8 so far this year. Wilson is being asked to carry more and more of the offense, and the results are not following. Compounding that is Marshawn Lynch's diminished output (he's averaging under 4 yards per carry, down from 4.2 and 4.7 the previous years). Or maybe Lynch's less effective running is leading to more pass plays being called. Regardless, Wilson is not as effective, scrambling even more often, and taking 4 sacks per game (he averaged under 3 in the previous 2 years).

It will be interesting to see if these trends revert or continue. The offensive coordinator has remained constant over this time, which should eliminate a wholesale "offensive system change" as a culprit. Can the Seahawks throw their way to victory? Will they go back to what worked? Or will they take a step back this year?

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Seahawks futures

The Seahawks have been getting a ton of positive press for their roster moves, but while casually browsing the 2011 draft and realizing just how much they extracted from it, I started to wonder what their drafting really netted them. For reference, here are their draft picks and notable undrafted rookie free agent signings since 2010. I've bolded names that played a significant role on the team, italicized are the subset still with the team, and placed an asterisk next to anyone who's made a Pro Bowl.

2010 (9 picks):
Russell Okung (1*), Earl Thomas (1*), Golden Tate (2*), Walter Thurmond (4), EJ Wilson (4), Kam Chancellor (5*), Anthony McCoy (6), Dexter Davis (7), Jameson Konz (7c)

2011 (9 picks):
James Carpenter (1), John Moffitt (3), KJ Wright (4), Kris Durham (4), Richard Sherman (5*), Mark LeGree (5), Byron Maxwell (6), Lazarious Levingston (7), Malcolm Smith (7c), Doug Baldwin (U)

2012 (10 picks):
Bruce Irvin (1), Bobby Wagner (2*), Russell Wilson (3*), Robert Turbin (4), Jaye Howard (4), Korey Toomer (5), Jeremy Lane (6), Winston Guy (6), JR Sweezy (7), Greg Scruggs (7), Jermaine Kearse (U)

2013 (11 picks):
Christine Michael (2), Jordan Hill (3), Chris Harper (4), Jesse Williams (5), Tharold Simon (5), Luke Willson (5), Spencer Ware (6), Ryan Seymour (7), Ty Powell (7), Jared Smith (7c), Michael Bowie (7c)

2014 (9 picks):
Paul Richardson (2), Justin Britt (2), Cassius Marsh (4), Kevin Norwood (4), Kevin Pierre-Louis (4), Jimmy Staten (5), Garrett Scott (6), Eric Pinkins (6), Kiero Small (7), Garry Gilliam (U)

2015 (8 picks):
Frank Clark (2), Tyler Lockett (3), Terry Poole (4), Mark Glowinski (4c), Tye Smith (5c), Obum Gwacham (6c), Kristjan Sokoli (6c), Ryan Murphy(7)

The first thing that pops out is the incredible success of their drafting from 2010-2012. Some teams go a decade without selecting 7 Pro Bowlers. I did a study spanning 2006-2010. That one focuses on just the 1st and 2nd round picks, but of those, no team had more than 3 such Pro Bowlers over 5 years (though the 2010 class were rookies still and hadn't had a chance to be selected). In this same vein, they have maximized their picks in the top rounds. All 7 such picks started, and 4 of them became Pro Bowlers. None of them was a bust.

The second thing that pops up is their quantity of picks. Teams average 8 picks per draft (with the added compensatories; there are 256 picks for 32 teams in each draft). The Seahawks have averaged 9.3. Once we get past the first couple rounds, there are way more misses than hits. The Seahawks seem to have embraced that and given themselves more chances to hit on players later in the draft.

The third thing that catches my eye is their huge decline in 2013 and 2014. I'll skip 2015 because there's no real data to judge players by, but they have virtually no production from the more recent drafts. When your entire draft boils down to a decent tight end or two mediocre offensive linemen, that's a wasted opportunity.

The fourth thing that catches my eye is how their picks have shifted to the later rounds. Part of that is a result of their success and the late picks that yields, mixed with their penchant for trading those picks to the Vikings. But ... it's hard to get serious impact players without 1st round picks, and they haven't had one of those in 3 years.

And finally, 4 of their 8 rookie picks this year were compensatories. This shows 2 things: that they've eroded their assigned picks and that they've lost a lot of free agents.

So where does this leave the Seahawks going forward? They've certainly picked many very good players. However, they've now had to sign many of those players to expensive new contracts and haven't been able to fill in the spots with cheap rookies well. There's a great core there, but I do wonder if they are due for some slightly rocky times ahead.


Wednesday, September 2, 2015

A path of destruction

Sometimes a player comes along who changes the fortunes of a team. Sometimes even two. Such is the story of Trent Richardson.

Richardson came into the league in 2012 as the top rated running back. He had been a beast at Alabama, finished 3rd in Heisman voting and had analysts making outrageous claims about being the next Jim Brown. Not everyone agreed. Notably, the original Jim Brown called him "ordinary", wondering what the big deal was if Richardson couldn't start ahead of Mark Ingram (another highly rated Alabama back), who was now middling with the Saints.

Cleveland was so enamored with him they traded up from 4th to 3rd to get him, swapping spots with a Vikings team already featuring Adrian Peterson. In other words, Minnesota wasn't taking Trent Richardson. It's possible someone else would have traded up for him but that's a long shot. The only other team close enough to pull the trigger was Jacksonville, and they already had Maurice Jones-Drew and problems everywhere else on their roster.

In the end, the Browns swapped spots with Minnesota at the cost of the 118th, 139th and 211th picks. For reference, those picks became:

Jarius Wright, WR, Arkansas (#2 receiver in catches, yards and TDs on team behind Greg Jennings)
Robert Blanton, S, Notre Dame (starting safety, tallied 106 tackles in 2014)
Scott Solomon, DE, Rice (struggling to make a roster)

The above is the opportunity cost of panicking. Richardson would have been there at 4, no doubt, and Cleveland could have netted 2 additional starters. That's a big miss. Playing the what-if card, Cleveland could have taken Alfred Morris at 139 and taken Ryan Tannehill, who has more upside and performance thus far than subsequent 1st-rounders Weeden and Manziel, combined, at 4 ... though given their track record, they probably would have taken Justin Blackmon and gotten even less in return.

To their credit, Cleveland recognized their mistake and jumped at a market opportunity when the Colts' retooling squad came calling. Jim Brown praised the move. How could anyone not? While Richardson played through injury in his rookie year and perhaps onlookers could be excused for giving him a pass on his 3.6 yards per carry, it became quickly evident to many that he was not the dynamic back we'd been promised. The Colts offered a 1st-round pick and the Browns took it. I don't know that the Browns expected that 1st rounder to only be the #26 pick, but it's better than Trent Richardson. They then promptly packaged the 83rd pick with it to move up for another headache: Johnny Manziel. Had they just taken Tannehill instead of Richardson, .... if only.

The Colts, in the meantime, got a running back they would dump by the end of the year and missed on opportunities to add Kelvin Benjamin or Bradley Roby. The Colts' pain was limited to one missed player.

The Browns kicked off a whole bad ripple by taking Richardson, one I could argue they still haven't recovered from.

The final chapter in this sad story is that Oakland signed Richardson to a deal with $600,000 guaranteed. He then became a first cut casualty. Oakland's mistake is a mere blip compared to the others ... and probably the last mistake an NFL team will make with Richardson.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Get your pass rush prospect here, hot off the presses!

The combine has brought us this year's crop of measurables, and they're pretty impressive! As a reminder, there is a remarkably simple subset of these numbers that almost all elite players share. Without further ado, here are this year's outside linebacker prospects:

NamePosition40 dash10yd splitBroad jumpVertical
Randy GregoryOLB4.641.6110'536
Vic BeasleyOLB4.521.5910'1041
Alvin DupreeOLB4.561.6011'642
Eli HaroldOLB4.601.6110'335
Shaq ThompsonOLB4.641.699'933.5
Paul DawsonOLB4.931.689'128
Hauoli Kikaha----------
Nate OrchardOLB4.801.659'731.5
Kwon AlexanderOLB4.551.5810'136
Lorenzo MauldinOLB4.851.689'432
Edmond RobinsonOLB4.611.6110'137
Shane RayDE4.681.6510'033
Dante FowlerDE4.601.599'432.5
Preston SmithDE4.741.6010'134
Owamagbe OdighizuwaDE4.621.6110'739
Mario EdwardsDE4.841.7610'032.5
Daniel HunterDE4.571.57----
Trey FlowersDE4.931.7310'136.5

As alluded to above, this year's set has a lot of upside. Starting with the consensus-ish top 10 outside linebacker prospects, both Beasley and Dupree hit every level shared by most elite pass rushers. Randy Gregory, Eli Harold and Kwon Alexander meet all except for being near-misses on vertical jump. That's the top four prospects who measure very favorably, and another guy with serious upside. The second tier doesn't look as good: Thompson isn't terrible, but Dawson, Orchard and Mauldin all show serious deficiencies and should fall into the later rounds of the draft. Teams looking to take a mid-round flyer could look at Edmond Robinson who is just 1" away in vertical from a completely green results line.

The story is similar in the projected 4-3 DE group. While none of the top prospects are all green lights, Ray, Fowler and Smith all have very good measurable as a whole. In the lower range of the top prospects, Edwards and Flowers should fall. Odighizuwa is the lone all-green and could be primed for a Justin Houston-esque rise to eliteness. Or a Corey Lemonier-esque wallowing in mediocrity. Reminder: green lights don't mean a sure thing. Lack of green lights mean a sure not thing.

This group overall is interesting (or boring) because the top prospects all tested well. In many years there are a mix of highly-ranked guys who produced or meet combine criteria, but not both.

Monday, March 9, 2015

San Francisco earthquake

The rumor/news just hit that Patrick Willis is going to retire after 8 seasons as a 49er. Justin Smith appears likely to hang it up too. Smith is 35 and therefore well into the likely-to-retire zone. However, he still played at a high level last year.

Willis is just 30. He had season-ending toe surgery in 2014 and by his own assessment at the time had another 5-6 good years left in him. Either the toe issue is a lot more serious than he or anyone else thought, or he's decided that despite being able to, he's done playing.

My thoughts immediately jumped to Jim Harbaugh's exit. Certainly for a guy like Smith, feeling like the team is no longer a serious contender could be a deal-breaker. I don't pretend to know all the psychology involved, but I wonder if Willis was demotivated by Harbaugh's exit to the point where he just didn't want to play anymore. Despite any of his personal abrasiveness, no one can deny that Harbaugh was a coach and winner of the highest caliber. People respond to results and are willing to overlook a lot in someone who leads them to victory. By all accounts, the hiring of Tomsula to replace Harbaugh was a curious choice, perhaps more aligned with getting someone willing to plug the company line, so to speak. I wonder if players, who would already have been familiar with him, were not duly impressed.

There are also reports that Frank Gore is on his way out to Philadelphia. He's a late-career running back with something still left in the tank ... does going to Philly mean he feels he has a better chance at a good season there? It could be just about the money too, of course.

By the time this off-season is done, how many iconic 49ers will be gone? And just how much of that is because Harbaugh was ousted?

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Eagles continue fleecing ways

Sources are reporting that the Eagles and Bills have agreed to trade LeSean McCoy and Kiko Alonso, seemingly straight up.

While on the surface the Bills are getting an electric running back, you've gotta figure the Eagles know when they have a depreciating or overvalued asset. Anecdotal evidence includes trading Kolb for a 2nd rounder and DRC a few years ago, and unloading Donovan McNabb, who was clearly a shell of his former self by that time. As fantasy owners no doubt noticed, McCoy had a down year last year (not just by TD numbers, but also in average rush; his receiving targets were way down as well). An optimist will simply say that he doesn't play the same role in Chip Kelly's offense, but let's not forget how dominant he was just a year before, in the same offense.

The Eagles get an inside linebacker who, at his best, is a perennial Pro Bowler. He's coming off ACL surgery so he's technically a risk, but the ACL recovery rate has improved. It's no longer a multi-year, career-threatening injury. Most guys are out one year, then return as before. Since Alonso should be ready for camps and preseason, he's not damaged per the Eagles point of view. However, trading for an injured player is a risk, no matter how much medicine has reduced that risk. This is further anecdotal evidence that McCoy is not the player he was in 2011-13.

Let's also consider that the Bills couldn't run the ball with anyone last year. The explanation is simple: no one respected their quarterbacks to beat them with the pass. That hasn't changed. In a league where unheralded backs make impact all over the place, it's implied that the environment (line quality, quarterback, playcalling) is as much of a factor as the back himself. McCoy is unlikely to singlehandedly reverse all those factors working against him.

Finally, McCoy is a rapidly depreciating asset. Conventional wisdom holds that he has just a couple more decent years left in him. The window of greatness could already be closed, or he could still be potentially effective for 3-4 years, but it's hard to know and the latter is the best-case scenario (and again, he won't be maximized by the Bills as they currently sit). Alonso, in the meantime, should give the Eagles 7-10 really good years.

If Buffalo has a plan to revamp their offense and maximize McCoy, great. However, that plan likely would have worked with a much cheaper back as well, without sending away an impact player, who as a bonus is still on his rookie deal. While letting him hit FA could be risky and if they didn't want to pony up cash in 2 years they would get nothing in return, I predict that McCoy and his salary will not have the positive impact the Bills are hoping for.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Remeber that thing I said?

About the playoffs not really working and still leading to too much contention?

This bowl season has already highlighted the problem with the new format (it's exactly just deferred it one step further): TCU's dominant win from the #6 spot (but not in the playoff) combined with FSU's faceplant (and the reluctance of voters all year to recognize them as the top team) should lead to questions about who should have been in the playoffs.

The inherent issue with a playoff system is that once teams are in, nothing else matters but winning going forwards. If we accept the premise that "every game counts" in college (which I'm willing to work with), then a short playoff completely counteracts it. Sure it matters that a team makes it in, but it allows a team that shouldn't really be in the "best team" conversation to get hot at just the right time.

Mixing subjective cutoffs with a short-list for the playoff doesn't work exactly because sometimes the 3rd or 4th best team shouldn't even be in the conversation, and other times it's murky beyond 4. For example, imagine if USC-Texas had been subjected to a playoff. Even if both teams emerge as winners of their semifinal game, there's a risk of injury, etc, for what amounts to a formality. And, if either of those teams had lost, few people would accept the other team as a legit candidate.

This year was murky beyond the 4. FSU was the only winless team but they kept wining in dramatic fashion. Some weren't even sure they belonged in the playoff. In retrospect, the highly competitive game between Ohio State and Alabama, mixed with the blowout of FSU by Oregon validates this thinking. And this is exactly the problem: the 3rd-6th spots often have murkiness in them (consider how to order the top teams from the BCS conferences, even) and by imposing a playoff on a subset we create an artificial barrier.

Since a 64-team playoff (where any reasonable contender is included) is not an option, let's embrace the murkiness in stages: play the BCS bowls, then vote on the top 2 teams to play in the championship. The top teams would be playing each other. We'd probably conclude that Oregon-Ohio State is the right pair this way as well, but it opens the door for a team like TCU to prove themselves against top-flight competition. Or, keep the bowl-conference affiliations. Suppose we'd have had:

#1 Alabama vs #5 Baylor in the Sugar Bowl
#2 Oregon vs #4 Ohio State in the Rose Bowl
#3 Florida State vs #6 TCU in the Orange Bowl
#7 Mississippi State vs #11 Kansas State in the Peach Bowl
#8 Michigan State vs #12 Georgia Tech in the Cotton Bowl
#9 Ole Miss vs #10 Arizona in the Fiesta Bowl

We can debate all we want how these games would have turned out, of course. Realistically, the Peach, Cotton and Fiesta Bowl will not show us anything about the national title conversation. Ideally TCU would be placed into the not-quite-aligned Orange Bowl and the winners from those 3 bowls end up in the national title game conversation. Style points still matter and everyone with any reasonable claim to the game is still alive. It's a game of murkiness, but a game we should embrace.