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.


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