I ran across this great video of Wayne Chrebet today and it sparked this thought that I’ll talk about here, but be elaborating on further in an article that I’m writing that will also be one of the final chapters of Caponomics. Belichick has his own formula for his dynasty and that article/chapter will be explaining that formula, but for now, let’s focus on the Chris Hogan deal that went down in New England…
Art Weiss represented the 5’10”, 188-pound Wayne Chrebet, who Bill Belichick saw first-hand every single day in practice as the Defensive Coordinator of the New York Jets. Then, Belichick brought that to New England to win championships with small, quick receivers like Troy Brown, Deion Branch, Wes Welker, Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola. In a way, Art Weiss gave Belichick the prototype receiver in Wayne Chrebet, which resulted in this offense built on short, quick, and inexpensive receivers that has helped the Patriots immensely in the amount of cap space they’ve saved over the last 16 years in a really expensive receiver market.
As that video above points out, critics believed Chrebet was too small and too slow, which was always one of the knocks for players like Welker, Edelman and Amendola, but Chrebet’s quickness was not properly valued at the time. I’m won’t avoid the elephant in the room with this conversation as the Patriots now have three white receivers, but Belichick has been able to exploit going back to Welker.
I think that having seen what Chrebet did in New York, Belichick had a first hand example of the prototype for his position, so he was more open to the possibility of Welker than other coaches probably were at the time. Back in 2006, although Chrebet had already happened and the Patriots were winning with their short receivers, I’d imagine that very few people were concerned with what a 5’9”, 190-pounds receiver with 67 catches for 687 yards (10.3 ypc) and one touchdown. Even fewer would be willing to trade the Dolphins a second- and a seventh-round pick for him, then sign him to a five-year, $18.1 million contract with a $9 million signing bonus.
While I think there’s a little bit of a bias about white athletes, it’s less a race thing than it is a prototype thing as I think that Christian McCaffrey will not only inspire a generation of white running backs, but he’ll give coaches a prototype. Even though Chris Hogan isn’t similar in size to Welker, he’s compared to him because he’s a white slot receiver. As McCaffrey continues to have success, that barrier will break down like Warren Moon and Doug Williams broke down the barriers at quarterback.
A lot of people refer to Welker as an average athlete because he looks like the average guy, Chrebet faced the same thing and I think that people in the NFL are affected by this bias as well, but to call Welker and average athlete is insane. He had eight punt returns for touchdowns in college, which is still tied for the NCAA record and he’s only the second player in NFL history to return a kickoff and a punt, kick an extra point and a field goal and make a tackle in a single game. I even saw the same things being said by some Patriots fans who questioned why the team was interested in an average athlete. Our society likes crying racism too much, but this is just lazy thinking, just like the way people thought Geno Smith and Teddy Bridgewater were more mobile than they are when they came into the league. People have a idea in their head of a prototype at a position and it affects how they perceive things, that’s all and Chrebet opened Belichick up to the Welker prototype, which has become a fixture since.
Hogan breaks all molds though, he’s a modern-day Jim Thorpe, I don’t think there is any sport he’s ever picked up that he hasn’t been good at and he has the size too that these other players haven’t had for New England at 6’1”, 220-pounds. He started playing lacrosse as a freshman after tearing his rotator cuff as a pitcher and he was All-State as a junior and State Player of the Year as a senior in one of the best lacrosse states in the country, then went on to play at Penn State. Vic Carucci tweeted that Belichick likes Hogan because he was the Bills back-up punter, Tyler Dunne wrote that Hogan was the Bills best ping-pong player and I remembered that Hogan won the LeSean McCoy Charity Softball Home Run Derby with seven home runs, which you can watch here.
Hogan’s college recruiting process was always very strange to me as colleges somehow weren’t lining up to offer the player who was clearly best receiver and athlete in the state of New Jersey. Hogan burst on the scene with 5 catches for 213 yards and a touchdown in a 2003 State Championship win as a Ramapo High School sophomore, then had 114 catches for 1876 yards (16.5 ypc/85.3 ypg) and 25 touchdowns over the next two seasons, which were both All-State seasons for him, but his best offers were from New Hampshire, Temple, Western Michigan, Connecticut, Kansas and Rutgers. Maybe the fact that he had his pick of lacrosse schools scared some teams off and I know he had to commit to lacrosse in the fall, before the football season even ended, but he had shown enough up to that point to merit a football scholarship, yet very few teams bit.
We’ve seen the Welker, Edelman and Amendola mismatches, but this last week, Mr. Weiss sold Belichick on a different kind of mismatch creator in Chris Hogan with that size at 6’1″, 220-pounds, 4.39 speed and the strength to bench press 225 for 28 reps at the Fordham Pro Day in 2011. He’s a bigger, stronger, quicker and faster version of Anquan Boldin, so prepare for an incredible mismatch creator, special teams stud and athlete in New England this season and beyond. Let’s not forget that the Patriots wanted Boldin in 2010 to pair with Randy Moss and Wes Welker, but his price tag was just too high, so they’re getting a similar guy now and at a huge value for what he can produce for them. That size, strength, speed and athleticism come with a competitive drive that pushed Hogan to stick with this dream after four years of lacrosse and one season at Monmouth where he played both ways, but didn’t have stats that jumped off the page and he dealt with being cut by the 49ers, Giants, and Dolphins before making it with the Bills late in 2012. I’ve known Hogan since we were both in middle school and he’s always had a competitive fire that was obvious from a young age, which is a trait that must be noted. I’ve said it before, Dr. Kevin Elko wrote in Touchdown that, when he was with the Steelers, they used to look for players who had overcome adversity as they knew that they’d know how to deal with adversity when it hit them in the NFL and Hogan’s overcome his fair share of adversity.
Mr. Weiss and the Patriots constructed a 3-year, $12 million contract with a cap hit of $5.5 million in year one and $7.5 million in guarantees that ensured the Bills could not match it due to their limited cap space and gave Hogan an opportunity to become a legend in New England. I don’t have the final numbers on the last two years, but I have to believe this contract will have a low year three figure that’ll pave the way for an extension in his 30-year old season. They did a fantastic job replicating what the Browns did with the Andrew Hawkins deal to pry him away from the Bengals two offseasons ago with a heavily front-loaded contract, which the Bengals were unable to match.
Buffalo tendered Hogan at $1.671 million with no draft pick compensation and Doug Whaley had also snubbed mentioning Hogan in their WR2 conversation during a press conference, while he did mention Leonard Hankerson, Greg Salas and even Greg Little who have all been trending down for awhile now. With Sammy Watkins as the #1 and Charles Clay as an expensive #2 option in an offense that ranked second in rushing attempts and first in rushing yards, Hogan was never going to get the opportunities to show his full potential or earn a big contract as his value would continue to be suppressed by the offense.
The Bills were 31st in the NFL in passing attempts with only 29 per game and with 59 targets over the course of the season, Hogan averaged only 3.7 targets per game. He had a less than ideal 61.0% catch rate, but he was playing with a wrist that required post-season surgery for torn-ligaments and, according to Rotoworld, made it so that “he could barely sleep at night the final month of the season and he felt shooting pain up his arm every time a pass would hit his hands” and that “his late-season drops can probably be attributed to the injury.” His time in that offense helped him improve his run-blocking skills, which is a trait the Patriots value highly. He had a PFF rating of 75.4 run blocking, which is just below Brandon Lafell’s 77.7 rating.
Like Lafell, Hogan is coming from an offense that ran the ball a lot and where he saw limited touches that the Patriots see as an opportunity to expand into a bigger role with slightly better production due to the offense. In 2014 with the Panthers, Lafell had 49 catches on 85 targets (57.7% catch rate) for 627 yards (12.8 ypc/7.4 yards per target) and five touchdowns. In 2015 with the Bills, Hogan had 36 catches on 59 targets for that 61.0% catch rate and 450 yards (12.5 ypc/7.6) and two touchdowns. In 2013 with the Rams, Amendola played in 11 games with 63 catches on 101 targets (62.4% catch rate) for 666 yards (10.6 ypc/6.6 ypt).
Lafell saw his roles expand with the Patriots, while Amendola’s actually seen a decrease in targets, but an increase in efficiency as his 74.7% catch rate and 7.4 yards per target in 2015 are much better than in 2013. I’m outlining right now in preparation for the Belichick chapter I’m writing, this offense at it’s foundation is about creating mismatches, while the defense is about being able to handle any mismatches your throw at it. I feel that’s Belichick’s main, core philosophy and that philosophy is why when a player like Chrebet tears up his defense in practice every day, he takes note. With Gronkowski, Edelman, Hogan and Amendola if he stays on, they have four different and elite mismatch creators and they all cost between 2.85-4.38% of the cap each. The Patriots don’t draft receivers in the first round because the kinds of receivers you draft there are guys that you hope will play like Demaryius Thomas or Julio Jones, but that comes with a price tag on the second contract that doesn’t fit into the Patriots formula as they’ll cost 9.79% and 10.24% of the cap respectively, while the Patriots Top 3 receivers now cost 10.77% altogether, plus Gronk at a cheap 4.26%.
Belichick isn’t looking for one guy who can go off for 100 yards in any given game, he’s looking for 3-4 pass catchers who can all have between 60-100 yards each in a game with the ability to go off for 150 yards if there’s a match-up to exploit. Like we see every day on Sunday, but even more so in the UFC, the goal seems to be to build a well-rounded skill set and then find the ways to exploit your opponent’s weakness. I’ve said this often on Over The Cap, but you look at Georges St-Pierre who many consider the greatest UFC fighter of all time and he was great because he was great at everything. He had no weakness to exploit and he had every tool at his disposal to exploit yours. That’s what Bill Belichick creates on offense and he builds a defense that you can’t exploit, a defense prepared for as many match-ups as possible.
We see these defensive prototypes across the league, big safeties to cover tight ends like Rob Gronkowski type, taller cornerbacks in response to the Calvin Johnson type, shorter slot cornerbacks in response to the Julian Edelman type, and many others. With Chris Hogan, you’re getting a 6’1”, 220-pound receiver with 4.39 speed, 28 reps of 225 on the bench and athletic ability that’s unmatched, so who on defense is going to cover this guy?
If you add Hogan’s $5.5 million for 2016 to the Patriots current Top 51 of $140.2 million, then we’re at $145.7 million of a $155.27 million cap, which is 93.83% of the cap. That’s enough space for a draft class with 10 picks, but no first rounder, and maybe one or two more of the lower cost free agents they have always used as short-term solutions to continue this dynasty.
With Hogan taking up about 3.54% of the cap in 2016, the Patriots will likely be trying to restructure Amendola as his 4.38% cap hit would be out of line with how they typically spend money on their pass game with Hogan around 3-4%, which is where their highest paid receiver has resided on their Super Bowl teams.
They did just release Brandon Lafell and Scott Chandler, which opened up 3.07% of the cap, plus another $1 million from the Brady restructure. Lafell was a good receiver for the Patriots, but he didn’t run the entire route tree and he’s nowhere near as versatile as Hogan. With Gronkowski as a deep threat and Brady throwing deep less as the offense adjusts to his age, the Patriots no longer need the Lafell type receiver, but Hogan will still provide the ability to stretch the field with his elite speed.
With the current contracts, Amendola’s at 4.38% as the WR1, Hogan’s at 3.54% as the WR2, Edelman’s at 2.85% to total 10.77% of the cap, while Gronkowski’s at 4.26%, which comes to 15.03% of the cap, which is clearly higher than the Patriots would want to be at. If they were to release Amendola, he would cost 1.76% against the cap.
I’m sure these conversations are already happening as understanding your value and accepting it that seems to be the Patriot Way with Tom Brady setting the example at the top. Not to get into the Texans right now because I really don’t know how I feel about it, but to put Tom Brady’s team friendly contracts into perspective, he has averaged 10.44% of the cap from 2005, which is when his money earning really began with a May extension of six-years, $60 million, through 2015. Meanwhile, Brock Osweiler’s contract will average 10.36% against my projected salary caps from 2016 to 2019. Like I said, I don’t know how I feel about the move because, since I own a television, I understand how much of a need it was for Houston to get a quarterback and especially considering the pieces that are around Osweiler in Houston, he has as real of a chance of winning a Super Bowl there as he had in Denver, but I do think his cap hits are high according to the articles I’ve written lately about the value of the position. The other part of me cannot blame the Texans for doing it. I also understand why the Broncos let him go as I really like what they’ve said about the level of QB play and their formula. They just traded for Mark Sanchez who will cost 2.90% of the cap with a $4.5 million cap hit, so they have the same formula as the 2000 Ravens or 2013 Seahawks teams that spent 5.81% and 4.49% of the cap on their quarterback groups respectively. (I’ll address it more in Podcast #7 of The Zack Moore Show and Jason addressed it here.)
From 2005 to 2015, Peyton Manning set the top of the quarterback market at 12.90%, so Brady was taking considerably less. It wasn’t just that Brady was taking less though, the Patriots and Brady exploited the uncapped 2010 season with a $17.42 million cap hit, which is still the highest of his career, but they signed him to a contract that year with a $16 million signing bonus to give him $23.5 million in cash that year according to Spotrac.com.
Also from Spotrac.com, we look at the career earnings for Peyton Manning and Tom Brady and zero in on 2005 to 2015 as those are the overlapping prime earning years for both players. While Manning has career earnings of about $248.7 million to Brady’s $162.8 million up to this point, but during those 11 prime earnings years from 2005 to 2015, Manning earned $166,365,000 to Brady’s $143,750,000. So if you’re the Patriots, you show players who are complaining about a justified restructure based on performance how Brady’s earned $22,615,000 less than Manning over these last 11 seasons when he could have easily asked for the same money. So for Brady, that’s $2,055,909 less per season than Manning.
Of course, if the Patriots do ask Amendola to restructure, he and his representatives are well within their rights to refuse to do so, but we know how that usually turns out in New England. Amendola and his representatives have every right to argue that Amendola is worth 4.38% of the cap as it’s still not very expensive for a receiver. Mohamed Sanu just signed on as the WR2 in Atlanta with a contract that will give him projected cap hits of 4.47% and 4.16% in 2017 and 2018 and he’s a fairly comparable player in terms of production and realistic expectations to Amendola, although they’re different styles of players. While 4.38% of the cap would have been considered insane when Art signed Cherbet to a seven-year, $17.5 million contract with a $6 million signing bonus in August 2002 that gave Cherbet a 2002 cap hit of $1,557,143 (2.19% of the 2002 cap), but the league has at least slightly acknowledged that short, quick receivers who move the chains are as valuable as a projected WR2 like 6’2”, 215-pounds Sanu.
For Amendola, there are tons of teams who could use someone who had 65 catches on 87 targets (74.7% catch rate) for 648 yards (10.0 ypc) and three touchdowns. Amendola’s 7.45 yards per target are exactly what a team like the Jacksonville Jaguars could be looking for as I pointed out in my Yards Per Target article that they could certainly use one. Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns stretched the field for them at over 9 yards per target each, but they didn’t have someone providing them with the chain moving 7-8.5 yards per target with a 65-75% catch rate that guys like Amendola, Edelman and Hogan provide with their ability to succeed on short and intermediate routes. These kinds of yard per target totals are what make the Patriots offense click.
They could keep Amendola at 4.38% as he provides them with more security, which they saw the need for firsthand in 2015, but they just locked in Keshawn Martin (5’10”, 190-pounds) into a two-year deal worth only $1.5 million per year after he gave them 24 catches on 37 targets (64.9% catch rate) for 269 yards (11.9 ypc/7.3 ypt) and two touchdowns. They also have the tandem of Dion Lewis (5’8”, 195) and James White (5’9”, 204) signed through 2017 at less than 1% of the cap each as their pass catching backs. Last year, people wondered what they would do to replace Shane Vereen when he left for the Giants on a three-year deal worth $12.35 million ($4,116,667/year), but I knew James White was the likely successor as we’ve saw them do the exact same thing drafted Vereen the year before Danny Woodhead was to become too expensive for the Patriot formula. They then found Dion Lewis after he bounced from Philadelphia to Cleveland to Indianapolis and together White and Lewis blew away Vereen’s 2014 production.
Lewis of course went down with that ACL tear and then White took over, but in seven games prior to the injury, Lewis was playing the Kevin Faulk role better than anyone had ever done it. I actually think the role goes back to Eric Metcalf from Belichick’s time as the head coach of the Cleveland Browns. Lewis had 36 catches on 50 targets (72.0% catch rate) for 388 yards (10.8 ypc/7.8 ypt) and two touchdowns, while adding 234 yards on 49 carries (4.8 ypc) and two touchdowns in seven games. He averaged 33.4 rushing yards per game and 55.4 receiving yards per game, which is better in both categories than all of the Patriots in the role before him.
Then when he went down, Lewis stepped up with 40 catches on 54 targets (74.1% catch rate) for 410 yards (10.3 ypc/7.6 ypt) and four touchdowns, but he only had 56 rushing yards on 22 carries (2.5 ypc) with two touchdowns on the ground. Together, they had 798 receiving yards on 76 catches (104 targets/73.1% catch rate), which gave them 10.5 yards per catch and 7.7 yards per target, an astounding number for a running back as 5.5 to 7 yards per target is the range running backs seem to fall in.
As we saw in Super Bowl 49 against the Seahawks, they used Vereen as a receiver to create a mismatch similar to what we see out of Welker (5’9”, 185), Amendola (5’11”, 190) or Edelman (5’10”, 200), but with a running back body around 5’9”, 200-pounds. That’s one thing the Eagles liked about Josh Huff under Chip Kelly as he’s 5’11”, 205-pounds, so he becomes like a running back in space as the average running back is 5’11”, 215-pounds. Add in the fact that there’s less practice time and more concern about contact and injuries in that practice time, tackling is becoming sloppier and teams are trying to exploit that a bit by getting strong players in one-on-one in space against players who can’t tackle them one-on-one. This is especially so with cornerbacks, which is likely one of the reasons why Belichick has been using running backs out there as they’re a slightly stockier version of his short, quick receivers.
Considering that James White and Dion Lewis both showed they can line up as receivers in 2015 and create that mismatch, plus the re-signing of Martin, combined with Amendola’s 4.38% cap hit, plus the addition of solid slot cornerbacks in New York (Buster Skrine; 5’9”, 185), Miami (Brice McCain; 5’9”, 190), and Buffalo (Nickell Robey; 5’8”, 165) could all be factors in the Amendola decision. The Patriots may be trying to figure out the correct valuation for Amendola for them and come to him with something in the neighborhood of 2.50-3.25% of the cap. While Amendola wouldn’t like to take a paycut, they’ll probbaly make up for it a little bit with an extension through 2018 and a signing bonus to make up some of the difference.
Either way, Patriots fans, as Mr. Weiss texted me, “7/11 is now open in Foxboro.”
I should probably thank Mr. Weiss myself as not only did he create the prototype in Chrebet that led to Welker, which led to coaches being interested in me for my own college career as my senior year of high school lined up with Welker’s breakout season with the Patriots, but his son, Andrew, was my high school quarterback. I was also the wide receiver who had to fill Chris Hogan’s shoes two seasons after he graduated from Ramapo High School. I’ve known since 2004 that Chris Hogan was an NFL caliber receiver; it’s about time Hogan got recognized as such.
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