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Thoughts on the Jets Implosion

Every time you think the Jets hit the lowest point they prove everyone wrong and sink even lower, this week hitting what seems like rock bottom in a loss against a Dolphins team that has actively tried to lose games all season long. Life as a Jets fan is just brutal right now. We have not been to the playoffs in 9 years now. The last time the Jets were in the middle of a drought this long the Empire Strikes Back was a new release. The team will not have a winning record for 4 straight seasons, the second time this decade that this has happened. It’s basically the same type of run that the team experienced in the late 80s and early 90s when the team churned through head coaches and fans showed up to games with brown bags over their heads.

There is no way to sugarcoat this mess. It’s a complete and utter sh*tshow. Ownership should be embarrassed. The front office should be embarrassed. The players should be embarrassed. The fans should be embarrassed. Any sponsor of the team should be embarrassed. Hell anyone even trying to scalp a ticked on route 17 before a game should be embarrassed to charge someone a penny to watch this team play a game.

The blame for this mess needs to fall squarely on ownership for not having any vision of how to run a franchise. The problems date all the way back to the day they fired general manager Mike Tannenbaum in early 2013.  Tannenbaum had built the Jets best teams since the late 1990’s under Bill Parcells, but was also a victim of his own success, getting far too aggressive with trades and signings that blew up in his face and saw his team fall from contenders to an 8 and 6 win team. Letting Mike go was understandable but you need a plan when you make such a move and ownership had none.

Whether ownership was simply looking for a fall guy or identified the contracts on the team as a reason to let Tannenbaum go they stuck with a head coach, Rex Ryan, who they wanted to be the face of the franchise. Thus started this strange cycle that the Jets owners would hire, with the input of consulting agencies and old NFL executives, a coach and a GM independent of one another, assume they would all hold hands with each other, execute the same vision, and deliver the Jets back to relevance.

It was a disaster from day one. No candidate of note wanted to work with the Jets power structure featuring Ryan as top dog and pushing agendas on the team. That led to the team hiring Seattle’s salary cap guy, John Idzik, who was probably the team’s 4th or 5th choice at the start to replace Tannenbaum. Idzik wasn’t Tannenbaum though and didn’t have the personality to handle New York or anything else about the situation.

He and Ryan more or less actively worked to undermine each other hoping one would outlast the other. Idzik pretty much alienated everyone in the Jets front office, micromanaging every aspect of the team, and firing good people within the organization. His plan, which was not that dis-similar from the Dolphins current strategy- of tearing down the old and bring in new talent was derailed when Ryan somehow got the team to 8 wins with rookie Geno Smith.

When things fell apart the following year all attention turned to Ryan and he would be the guy fired except Idzik didn’t know how to let things work out on their own. Rather than finding ways to privately kill Ryan he continued to be non-accessible to most and then gave a bizarre statement on the state of the Jets that transferred all the ire of the fanbase from Ryan to him. Both were fired after that season.

You would think the Jets would have learned from that mistake but they went into round two of the independent coach/GM search this time hiring Todd Bowles and Mike Maccagnan within days of each other with each reporting to ownership on their own. While they may have had different visions they at least did not publically snipe at one another. Both, however, were in way over their heads.

Maccagnan in part got the position because of his scouting background and the fact that he seemingly agreed with the ownerships idea that fixing the team meant bringing back some old faces like Darrelle Revis to make people forget that the Idzik years ever happened. For one year it worked as the Jets nearly made the playoffs before midnight struck and the organization turned into a pumpkin.

Maccagnan was arguably the worst general manager to get so many years to fix the Jets since at least the early 90s. He constantly missed on draft picks. He constantly fell back on his “best player available” philosophy rather than taking high valued players at positions you simply don’t find in free agency. His run in free agency was terrible. The team was unprepared and either missed out on players or paid through the nose because they had no feel for the marketplace. Maccagnan was good, however, at working the media and selling his side of the story, a trait that completely escaped Idzik. That saved him for some time even as he and the organization fired coaches and front office staff.

Ownership was apparently blind to all of it when they made the biggest blunder of all- retaining Maccagnan in 2019. While the Jets were a disaster in 2018 there were bright spots. They had another top draft pick. They had a salary cap war chest at their disposal in free agency. They drafted a young quarterback with the third pick. It was the perfect time for a new beginning except ownership made the decision that Bowles would be the fall guy and this Mike would stick it out.

This was just another Jets mess. They began a coaching search that identified Matt Rhule as their top candidate. All things sounded great except Mike and ownership had visions of building a coaching staff independent of Rhule. Rhule backed out and pretty much called out the Jets for blowing it. The Jets and Maccagnan, who was involved with the coaching search, then turned to Adam Gase.

There was no logical reason in the world to hire Gase, whose resume was being the offensive coordinator for Peyton Manning in Denver and then being a one time playoff coach in Miami. The truth was if Gase never matched up against Bowles, who he often beat, and had a fluke win against the Patriots the Jets likely never even considered him. Gase got the job because Manning gave him a ringing endorsement and Manning, like other “consultants” ownership loves, like Charley Casserly and Bill Polian, have their own personal attachments to guys they like. Jets ownership seems blind to it despite every hire being a failure.

That began what was the biggest case of mismanagement if not in NFL history than certainly Jets history. The Jets allowed Maccagnan to spend more money on free agents than anyone else in the NFL and to select a player at the top of the NFL draft. During this time Gase reportedly quietly worked to undermine Maccagnan since the team had the same independent structure. In free agency they signed Maccagnan guys like Henry Anderson and Le’veon Bell while getting Gase guys in CJ Mosley and Jamison Crowder. Still it was an unhappy marriage and they fired Maccagnan letting it officially become Gase’s team. It was quite a rise for Gase, one that probably matched that of formed Jets coach Eric Mangini who went from being fired to running an organization before getting fired again.

Gase has run the organization into the ground. There is nobody on this planet that can watch any Jets game this season and say that Sam Darnold has progressed under Gase. He looks worse than he did as a rookie with Bowles and quite frankly looks like the second worst quarterback in the first round of that draft, ahead of only Josh Rosen. He makes awful decisions with the football and just seems overwhelmed. Maybe Darnold simply doesn’t have it but Gase has done him no favors with his coaching and putting Darnold in a position to succeed. It’s far worse than Ryan’s attempts to develop Mark Sanchez, the Jets last “franchise QB”. Darnold, like Sanchez, doesn’t have a ton of college experience and is incredibly young. Mentally this can be draining and they are breaking him.

Gase had an opportunity with a young QB in Miami and flopped. That was Ryan Tannehill where injury excuses became the norm. Of course he then brought in his guy- Jay Cutler- and shocker of all shockers, he flopped. They brought in players he wanted like Kenny Stills and amazingly the team went nowhere. More often then not they got blown out and were not competitive. He alienated players along the way which seems to be the same thing happening in New York. Yet the Jets hired him anyway.

Injury excuses have crept up everywhere. The Jets injury report this week had like 25 guys on it. The same phrase came out in so many places describing the injuries that it was clearly a leak by the Jets to get sympathy for their plight. The fact is the Jets were not even in the top 10 in salary on injured reserve. The Steelers lost Ben Roethlisberger and are 4-4. The Chiefs won a game without Patrick Mahomes and have missed offensive linemen and receivers at times. The 49ers are undefeated with numerous guys on the shelf. How often do the Patriots do it with guys down?

Yes the Jets are missing a bunch of linebackers. Yes they are down one of their wide receivers. But the facts are so are most teams in the NFL. You learn to deal with these injuries. Is anyone giving the Falcons a pass for injuries?  Are the Redskins getting a pass because Alex Smith suffered a gruesome injury in 2019?  Those coaches were or are going to get fired because they cant work with what they have on the field.

The Jets just have a bad team. They have a bad team because ownership elected to let a guy set the table who had no business being on the team in January and because they hired a coach that needed to go back to being a coordinator to re-assess how to be a head coach in this NFL.

There is no bright spot for the Jets team. The QB looks blah. The high priced running back looks blah because they have no offensive line. They cant cover anyone in the secondary. They have nobody that can rush a passer. They need an entirely new offensive line. Yes all five guys. Its one of the worst rosters in the NFL featuring a few overpriced players and a QB on an affordable contract for two more years.

Older fans like myself often reference the Kotite era when talking about the Jets. Kotite was an inept coach who was a bizarre hire coming off a failure with the Eagles. It was only a two year run in New York but it left such a lasting impact people to this day still talk about it. For younger fans who could not really grasp 1995 and 1996 or were simply not alive then you are now getting your Kotite. Adam Gase is Rich Kotite. It’s playing itself out on the field before your eyes. You have earned your green badge of honor suffering through this kind of season. If you were not here before welcome to Jets hell. You officially get what it means now to be a Jets fan.

It is a near impossible spot for new general manager, Joe Douglas, who got the job in early June. Douglas is the only person within the organization that should be free of most of the blame for this mainly because he had little to do with it. He made a bad decision to sign Ryan Kalil to be the team’s center and may have had a role in the Osemele mess, but otherwise this is on ownership for keeping Maccagnan.

Everything I have heard about Douglas from people I know has been pretty glowing. Would it be nice to have seen him in front of some of this mess the last few weeks?  Yes it would have been, but at the same time I’m not sure what he could say that doesn’t come across as bashing the last GM for the team that he inherited.

Douglas’ biggest challenge is what to do with Gase. Gase and Douglas share the same representation and that was supposedly a big reason why Douglas got the job. This would be an opportunity to have two guys on a similar page for the first time in a decade. Except Gase stinks and has to go. You can’t let Gase go full on Kotite and hit 96. That won’t help Douglas either and hell get a really short least with the fanbase if Gase is here next year and doesn’t start at least 4-3. If he fires Gase ownership has to let him pick his guy not another arranged marriage by the Johnsons.

Challenge number two is going to be what to do in the draft. Douglas did not pick Darnold, though those two also share the same agent. Right now the Jets are slotted for the second overall pick and will have every opportunity to earn the number 1 pick. Do you encourage competition and take a QB if you are bad enough to finish with the top overall pick?  That is probably a fair question. If you are set on Darnold can you turn that high pick into multiple firsts to fix the team?

The team has cap room next year at $62 million and change which will rank 12th in the NFL, but that wont go so far with so many holes on the roster. They also have backed themselves into a corner with the way they have handled this Kelechi Osemele situation when it comes to free agency. Between that and how bad the team is they are going to have to continue to overpay pretty significantly to get people to come to the organization. They have a bad reputation and that doesn’t work in the NFL.

They let their trade talks become public and now have an issue with Jamal Adams that is going to have to be addressed next year. Most likely he will be traded. Adams shares his thoughts on social media and clearly is unhappy with the team. My guess is it will reach a point where they simply have to move him. They reportedly asked for a lot- two first rounder’s was the initial report and now it’s grown into first rounder’s plus established offensive linemen. I don’t think they will get either next year if he begins to ask for a trade.

The Jets have to find a way to fix this mess and fast. You can’t keep selling the fans on no playoffs somehow being a success simply because you stunk so bad the year before that incremental improvement is fine. Going from 4 to 6 wins is not improvement. Douglas is inheriting a mess but by 2021 this has to be a contender. If you stick with Gase it better be in 2020 because what else is he bringing to the team otherwise?

The quickest way for this team to be relevant is to get a new coach who hires his own staff and answers to Douglas that can maybe catch the NFL by surprise. Turn the high draft picks, unless you are taking a QB, into multiple assets and build a real core not of safeties, linebackers, and run stuffing tackles, but of offensive linemen, pass rushers, and cornerbacks. Use whatever cap room you have to put some short term solutions on the field and then be ready to fly by 2021.

The goals for ownership has to be the playoffs sooner rather than later and they have to communicate this with the fans. If they cant get there by 2021 they need a new front office. It doesn’t take that long anymore to be competitive. Whether he sticks with Gase or not or sticks with Darnold or not these are now his decisions. He’s locked into Mosley, Crowder, Bell, Enunwa, and maybe one or two others. Everyone else is on him. But he has to show major improvements to the team in the next two years and ownership has to stay out of his way. Nothing else is acceptable.

It’s a nightmare and it stinks to say that most likely we have to wait to 2021 to see a quality team put on the field but the Jets cant just keep their fingers crossed about 2020 and continue to do more of the same. Its failed all of us for 8 or 9 years now. Nobody deserves another 8 or 9 years of this.  

OTC Valuation: The Best and Worst Signings of 2019

With the NFL at the halfway point I thought it might be fun to look back on some free agent acquisitions and look at the best and worst signings using our valuation model. You can read about that model here but the gist of it is we use a number of measures to translate a players performance into a salary within the current market. To qualify for inclusion you had to be a player who signed a new contract after the conclusion of the 2018 regular season, had a prior contract that was set to, or did, expire, and played at least a snap this year for the team you signed with.

The Top 10 Signings

Name Team Position APY OTC Value Gain
Brandon Graham Eagles Edge $13,333,333 $18,541,000 $5,207,667
Shaquil Barrett Buccaneers Edge $4,000,000 $18,354,000 $14,354,000
Dante Fowler, Jr. Rams Edge $12,000,000 $17,731,000 $5,731,000
Za’Darius Smith Packers Edge $16,500,000 $17,570,000 $1,070,000
Preston Smith Packers Edge $13,000,000 $14,007,000 $1,007,000
Brian Poole Jets Cornerback $3,000,000 $13,501,000 $10,501,000
John Brown Bills Wide Receiver $9,000,000 $13,370,000 $4,370,000
Justin Houston Colts Edge $11,500,000 $13,174,000 $1,674,000
Teddy Bridgewater Saints Quarterback $7,250,000 $13,016,000 $5,766,000
Jamie Collins Patriots Linebacker $2,000,000 $12,660,000 $10,660,000

2019 was a big year for pass rusher movement and the teams that invested in that position certainly have seen payoffs this year. Pass rushers are high priced players so anytime you get a good performance from the position you have a chance to recapture that value. Brandon Graham clocked in as the top performer with an $18.5M value on the season. He’s on pace for double digit sacks this year…. Barrett has been the best free agent find this offseason. He already has 10 sacks on the year and is set to cash in next season. Every team in the NFL should be kicking themselves for not taking a flier….The Rams continued to gamble on Fowler and he is repaying their faith with his performance. The two Smith’s were two of the most questionable offseason signings at the prices, but they have lived up to it and certainly justified the Packers projections for them within their defensive scheme.

Brian Poole was not tendered by the Falcons, I guess due to cap constraints, and he has been a find for the Jets. Poole is one of their most consistent defenders….Brown doesn’t have much of a quarterback to work with in Buffalo, but he has made the most of his situation…Houston has looked like a different player after being let go by the Chiefs…Bridgewater made the most of his chances when Drew Brees was hurt. He should be looked at as starting option somewhere next year…Collins return to New England led to improvement in play.   

The Top 10 Bargains

Name Team Position APY OTC Value Gain
Shaquil Barrett Buccaneers Edge $4,000,000 $18,354,000 $14,354,000
Jamie Collins Patriots Linebacker $2,000,000 $12,660,000 $10,660,000
Brian Poole Jets Cornerback $3,000,000 $13,501,000 $10,501,000
Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix Bears Safety $3,000,000 $10,272,000 $7,272,000
Tyeler Davison Falcons D-Line $895,000 $7,278,000 $6,383,000
Darren Fells Texans Tight End $1,500,000 $7,809,000 $6,309,000
Chris Conley Jaguars Wide Receiver $2,297,500 $8,604,000 $6,306,500
Jason McCourty Patriots Cornerback $5,000,000 $11,041,000 $6,041,000
Markus Golden Giants Edge $3,750,000 $9,683,000 $5,933,000
Teddy Bridgewater Saints Quarterback $7,250,000 $13,016,000 $5,766,000

We spoke about Barrett above. He has been one of the best free agent signings in recent memory giving the Bucs an incredible $14.3 million in value over his base contract per year. About the only negative for them is that he will be a free agent again at the end of the year….Collins re-found his NFL life following his move back to New England and is one of the top linebackers on the year, providing the Patriots with nearly $11 million in value…Poole has been a nice find for the Jets on a one year, $3 million contract after the Falcons surprisingly allowed him to walk. He has been one of the best performers at the position. Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix is looking to revive a career with the Bears and has made the most of his opportunity playing at a $10M+ level. Finally unheralded Tyeler Davison finishes up the top 5 providing the Falcons with close to $6.4 million in value.

Expect many of these names to cash in next season and most players here are on one year contracts and will get another opportunity next season. For Barrett, Poole, Clinton-Dix, Davison, Golden, and Bridgewater there should be far more lucrative opportunities that present themselves next March.

The Bottom 10

Name Team Position APY OTC Value Gain
Nick Foles Jaguars Quarterback $22,000,000 $1,067,000 ($20,933,000)
Antonio Brown Patriots Wide Receiver $15,250,000 $506,000 ($14,744,000)
C.J. Mosley Jets Linebacker $17,000,000 $2,472,000 ($14,528,000)
Ja’Wuan James Broncos Right tackle $12,750,000 $1,879,000 ($10,871,000)
Malik Jackson Eagles D-Line $10,000,000 $26,000 ($9,974,000)
Devin Funchess Colts Wide Receiver $10,000,000 $325,000 ($9,675,000)
Anthony Barr Vikings Linebacker $13,500,000 $4,358,000 ($9,142,000)
Landon Collins Redskins Safety $14,000,000 $5,178,000 ($8,822,000)
Tyrann Mathieu Chiefs Safety $14,000,000 $5,322,000 ($8,678,000)
Trent Brown Raiders Right Tackle $16,500,000 $7,952,000 ($8,548,000)

Most of these names are all injured players. Foles has been hurt most of the year so its hard to provide value to a team when you are on IR. Foles should be returning shortly though it remains to be seen what the Jaguars will do at QB….Antonio Brown’s off the field issues ended his chances pretty early with him only playing in one game this year, but being paid handsomely to do so….Mosley has a strong opening to the year but got hurt late in the first game and the Jets have pretty much mishandled the injury since then, rushing him back for a game they had no chance of winning only to see him land again on the sidelines….Ja’Wuan James has also spent most of the year on the sidelines. The Broncos need him to be healthy next year to get a return on the contract….I was a little surprised at the Jackson signing when it happened and at the amount it was for but he had almost no opportunity to justify it this year. The final four players are players are participating and need to improve their play over the course of the season and contract. It’s not that they are necessarily playing poorly, its just that they had very lofty expectations to play at All Pro levels.

If you want to learn more about our valuations on the season you can look at last week’s results on our valuation page or subscribe to the OTC premium section to see each weeks and overall season values.

The Patriots, CBA Loopholes, and Josh Gordon

The Patriots placed Josh Gordon on Injured Reserve today a move that was more or less signaled by a trade for receiver Mohamed Sanu the day before. Normally there would be no need to talk about this but I have gotten a number of questions on it due to a few comments I made on Twitter about Gordon’s status and why they may be doing this so I thought it made some sense to write about it here rather than answer them directly. Again as always answers are my interpretation of the CBA and I am always open to correction.

Almost immediately after being place on IR there were numerous media reports saying Gordon is more or less good to go and plans on picking up with another team. That would seem like an odd statement since he in on IR for the Patriots, which would indicate to me that Gordon has a very minor injury. The NFL does not allow you to stash players on IR so as soon as he is healthy he would have to be released.

How hurt Gordon is may be a pretty subjective. He did not play in this week’s game against the Jets and was declared inactive. He could have been placed on IR then though it is not uncommon to carry a player for a few weeks as he works through an injury and then you use IR when it isn’t getting better. Based on the reports that he is ready to play leads me to think that they moved him to IR because they needed a roster spot for Sanu and are looking to bide their time with Gordon for a reason Ill get to in a moment.

Gordon falls in a really weird area in terms of contract protection because of his time in the NFL. Gordon has been in the NFL on and off since 2012, missing multiple games and entire seasons for substance abuse problems. Because of that Gordon was just a restricted free agent in 2019 and signed a one year tender with the Patriots for $2.025 million.

In most cases RFA’s have no contractual guarantees via the NFL’s termination pay policy (the policy that says a veterans salary is guaranteed if he is on the week 1 roster), but the criteria to reach the threshold to qualify for termination pay is much lower than  the threshold for free agency. Free agency requires six games in a season. Termination pay is tied to the NFL’s retirement plan which only requires three games on a roster (or one year with 8 games as a Practice Squad member). So Gordon should have his contracted protected via termination pay and the Patriots are pretty much starved for salary cap space.

Waivers are also tied to the looser retirement plan qualification so Gordon is not eligible. That would mean that if Gordon was released today he would be a free agent that was free to sign with any of the 31 other teams in the NFL and also collect the balance of his salary, about $1.08 million, from New England.  However, if Gordon was eligible for waivers it would mean that if his contract was claimed the responsibility for the $1.08 million would go to the team that claims him. That solves some cap issues for New England.

The catch here is that the rules for who is and is not eligible for waivers changes next week. Once the trade deadline passes all players are subject to waivers beginning on October 30. So by probably taking an approach to IR that probably fits the proper criteria even if most other teams would just release the player, the Patriots will have their chance to get $952,000 in cap relief by holding onto him an extra week and keeping their fingers crossed that someone claims him.

Gordon is not expensive and it would make sense that someone takes a shot on him for that amount of money. While someone may not look at a bad team as a likely destination I think for a “tanking” team it makes sense. Gordon will be a UFA next year so the $952K investment could lead to something like a 6th round draft pick or at least some kind of protection for some other compensatory picks. So I don’t think you can discount a team like the Bengals who rarely spend in free agency and could gain draft capital or even the cap starved Falcons with the move. Who know maybe the Jets would do it if they trade Robby Anderson. So it is probably a good move by New England in that regard as it could block them from sending Gordon to a contender that they could meet in the playoffs.

Now you can also trade players off IR but I believe that is only players with a major injury and it does not sound like Gordon would fit that bill. So I would think this is all about creating a roster spot for one week and hoping they can get cap relief from another team, preferably a non-playoff one, rather than also opening a trade market. It’s a pretty shrewd move if that is the gameplan, though if I was Gordon Im not sure how thrilled I would be with it.

Week 7 Valuation: Kirk Cousins Leads the Way

Week 7 is in the books and we have updated all of our valuations for the week. If you aren’t familiar with our valuations we recently introduced you can read about it here. The short version though is that we look at player’s snap counts, PFF grades and statistics and re-value everyone’s contract based on their performance while maintaining the general structure of the market for each position. Here is the breakdown for this week.

Team of the Week: Minnesota Vikings, $272.1M

The Vikings fielded the most expensive team in the NFL this week (they totaled about $212M for everyone taking a snap), but they lived up to it this week with a $272M value. Kirk Cousins was the highest valued player of the week while Everson Griffen, Danielle Hunter, Stefon Diggs, and Riley Reiff all came in over $15M. The NFC North is certainly competitive but you could make a case that the Vikings for the last few weeks have been the most complete team in the division.

Best Value Team of the Week: Jacksonville Jaguars, +$126.8M

The Jaguars generally have one of the more expensive units in the NFL but with Nick Foles on IR and a few other notables on the sidelines they have dropped to the bottom third of the NFL in terms of talent taking the field on a weekly basis. Overall they finished 2nd in the NFL this week with a $268.5M roster value which produced $126.8 million in value over their salary of $143 million.

Worst Team of the Week: Washington Redskins, $143.3M

For the most part this just wasn’t a fair game for Washington or their opponents who came in 2nd worst in value this week. They played their game in a monsoon which pretty much rendered everyone on offense inept and offensive gameplan’s that were not exactly going to make the defense stick out either. Washington only posted two players worth $10M on Sunday, but it almost doesn’t feel fair to put them here.

Worst Value Team of the Week: Atlanta Falcons, -$25.9M

The Falcons get the nod for the worst value of the week and were the worst team to not play in a monsoon to boot. Atlanta got blasted this week and the only thing that saved them from being even worse were a few injuries that kept their roster payroll down this week because they wouldn’t have changed the outcome. The Falcons look to be going into selling mode after this week’s game.

Top Players of the Week

Here is our list of the top players this week. The top player is the top valued player at the position while the top value player is the player who provided the most value over his current contract. You can view all of the players values for week 7 at our valuation page and subscribers to our Premium can view each week of the season as well as the current full season value for each player.

OFFENSE

Position Top Player Week 7 Valuation Top Value Player Week 7 Value over APY
Quarterback Kirk Cousins $33,687,000 Gardner Minshew $26,664,096
Running Back Dalvin Cook $13,727,000 Dalvin Cook $12,138,672
Wide Receiver Michael Thomas $20,174,000 Dede Westbrook $15,991,959
Wide Receiver DeAndre Hopkins $20,027,000 Alex Erickson $15,880,000
Tight End Hunter Henry $10,796,000 Hunter Henry $9,200,923
Left Tackle Terron Armstead $17,959,000 Marshall Newhouse $12,920,000
Center Brian Allen $10,203,000 Brian Allen $9,416,266
Guard Joe Thuney $13,293,000 Joe Thuney $12,489,643
Guard Kevin Zeitler $11,843,000 Austin Blythe $11,153,503
Right Tackle Ryan Ramczyk $14,618,000 David Edwards $13,830,870

DEFENSE

Position Top Player Week 7 Valuation Top Value Player Week 7 Value over APY
Edge Rusher JJ Watt $21,774,000 Andrew Brown $13,719,000
Edge Rusher Chandler Jones $21,180,000 Joey Bosa $13,622,582
Int. D-Line Calais Campbell $14,687,000 Kevin Strong $10,436,000
Int. D-Line Geno Atkins $13,697,000 John Jenkins $10,031,000
Linebacker Eric Kendricks $14,120,000 Nick Vigil $11,884,093
Linebacker Benardrick McKinney $13,532,000 LJ Fort $11,674,000
Cornerback Tre’Davious White $17,379,000 Tre’Davious White $14,856,152
Cornerback Marcus Peters $15,187,000 Marcus Peters $12,790,960
Safety Ronnie Harrison $13,217,000 Ronnie Harrison $12,441,095
Safety Xavier Woods $13,081,000 Xavier Woods $12,369,992

SPECIAL TEAMS

Position Top Player Week 7 Valuation Top Value Player Week 7 Value over APY
Punter Jake Bailey $3,074,000 Jake Bailey $2,371,300
Kicker Brett Maher $4,038,000 Brett Maher $3,513,000
Long Snapper Zach Wood $1,669,000 Zach Wood $1,024,000
Specialist Byron Pringle $2,440,000 Byron Pringle $1,900,000

Multiple First Round Pick for Player Trades

First round picks are rarely traded in the NFL for existing players. The first round pick has generally been classified as gold by NFL teams and for good reason- first round players have the best chance to be standout players and for the first four years of their career are dirt cheap. Normally it requires a pretty special player and a pretty special circumstance to do the first round for player trade, but we do get maybe one a year or every other year. Two first rounders has generally been crazy talk, which is one reason why franchise players never switch teams, but in the last two years we have three trades where teams have agreed to move two first round picks as part of a trade.  Why?

When the Bears traded for Khalil Mack and included two first rounders as part of the deal I just chalked that up Mack being an ultra special player and also that the Bears did get a 2nd round pick as part of the deal which isn’t that much less valuable than a 1.  The Texans then traded two first round picks for left tackle Laremy Tunsil which was just shocking on every level. Tunsil is a good player. Im not sure he is what would be considered a generational talent. Still it was the Texans who had no GM and were just doing things with no consideration for the long term.

Now we had a trade for cornerback Jalen Ramsey and that to me is the real eye opener. The Rams have a legit front office and are making a football move not really a desperation one. Sure they have been aggressive with some deals in the past but you can find justifications in much of what was done and many trades were more reasonable. Ramsey is a good football player. I don’t think he’s Khalil Mack nor am I certain that one player can make that kind of difference in today’s passing game even if he was Darrelle Revis in his prime. So is this a sign of things to come or not?

There have been many changes in the NFL post the 2011 CBA but one of them may be the lack of top tier talent every available in free agency. There was a time when legit great players hit free agency for a number of reasons relating to lack of cap space, cheap owners, and basic contract structures and/or rules that eliminated the franchise tag from consideration. The last of those players to hit free agency was probably Ndamukong Suh in 2015.

Using the new money annual contract value as the baseline for the ability to find a top player in free agency here is the breakdown of the amount of players that rank in the top 5 or top 10 at the position that were legitimately available in free agency.

Position Top 5 UFA Signings Top 10 UFA Signings
Quarterback 0 1
Running Back 1 3
Wide Receiver 0 1
Tight End 1 3
Left Tackle 1 2
Guard 3 4
Center 2 3
Right Tackle 2 5
Int. D-Line 0 1
Edge Rusher 1 3
Linebacker 2 4
Cornerback 2 5
Safety 3 7

From looking at those numbers it tells me that the places I can find help in free agency are in the interior offensive line, right tackle, safety, linebacker, and cornerback. At the other positions basically nobody shakes loose.

While the annual value of the contract does give up some idea of the type of contract that is being paid in free agency it doesn’t tell us the quality of the player. To get a better idea of where to players are coming from I turned to our valuation metric which basically readjusts everyone’s salary based on their performance this year. Here is the breakdown of the top 10 players at each position and the type of contract they signed (I did not include tight end because it was brought to my attention I may be missing some players).

Position Extension Drafted Free Agent Other Top FA rank
Quarterback 5 5 0 0 24
Running Back 1 7 1 1 10
Wide Receiver 3 6 1 0 9
Left Tackle 6 3 1 0 3
Guard 4 4 2 0 1
Center 4 2 3 1 2
Right Tackle 4 3 2 1 8
Int. D-Line 7 3 0 0 14
Edge Rusher 4 2 4 0 3
Cornerback 1 3 6 0 1
Safety 2 3 4 1 4
Linebacker 4 3 3 0 3

As you look through the list you will see the majority of top performers are either players on contract extensions or draft picks with the exception of (perhaps ironically since we are discussing the Rams) cornerback where the top players were signed as free agents. Safety and edge rusher also have quality players there too.

As I looked through the list for corners I noticed that not many of those free agents were highly regarded players- Brian Poole, Steven Nelson, Jason McCourty, and even the released Richard Sherman. Essentially this is more about finding a needle in the haystack (and since we are just doing a limited 5 or 6 game sample look here Id also imagine year over year not very consistent) and not doing the easy thing of signing a player to a big contract.

So rather than just say that there are players out there what if we averaged the performance of the top 10 salaried players who were signed as free agents at each position (again not including TE).

Position Valuation Max Value Avg. Contract $Cost/$Value
Quarterback $6,099,700 $21,079,000 $15,325,000 2.51
Running Back $3,436,800 $10,130,000 $5,642,500 1.64
Wide Receiver $6,592,100 $14,532,000 $10,747,500 1.63
Left Tackle $5,272,400 $15,756,000 $8,778,000 1.66
Guard $5,953,600 $11,779,000 $9,675,500 1.63
Center $5,113,300 $9,725,000 $7,399,333 1.45
Right Tackle $4,017,600 $8,066,000 $8,155,833 2.03
Int. D-Line $3,738,100 $10,433,000 $9,509,167 2.54
Edge Rusher $11,102,000 $19,951,000 $13,000,000 1.17
Cornerback $5,121,900 $11,278,000 $12,075,000 2.36
Safety $5,790,400 $11,950,000 $10,385,000 1.79
Linebacker $6,108,100 $11,556,000 $10,437,500 1.71

How does that compare with contract extensions? Here is the chart for extensions.

Position Valuation Max Value Avg. Contract $Cost/$Value
Quarterback $22,484,900 $32,809,000 $30,011,333 1.33
Running Back $5,166,400 $11,388,000 $7,252,833 1.40
Wide Receiver $10,648,900 $18,509,000 $17,245,000 1.62
Left Tackle $6,552,500 $14,648,000 $13,040,000 1.99
Guard $6,209,000 $10,651,000 $9,995,390 1.61
Center $6,421,400 $8,949,000 $9,599,060 1.49
Right Tackle $5,077,300 $12,175,000 $7,639,667 1.50
Int. D-Line $10,776,400 $21,144,000 $15,726,667 1.46
Edge Rusher $9,958,500 $21,140,000 $18,141,667 1.82
Cornerback $4,540,400 $10,885,000 $12,412,217 2.73
Safety $5,453,700 $11,230,000 $8,540,000 1.57
Linebacker $7,055,200 $13,946,000 $12,165,906 1.72

Looking at the chart it would tell me that you are probably better off going out of your way to extend top players at QB, RB, WR, DT, LT, C, RT, and LB as long as the price is not outrageous than signing a top player in free agency at the same position. Edge, corner, and safety however are actually showing better performance in free agency. For corner and safety that makes some sense since we already pointed out that some of the top players were free agent signings. For the pass rushers I was generally surprised. Its still early in the year so this may just balance out by years end.

Now what if we look at the top performing draft picks?  Here are the top 10 drafted players currently still under a rookie contract at each position.

Position Valuation Max Value Avg. Contract $Cost/$Value
Quarterback $24,283,200 $31,417,000 $4,594,426 0.19
Running Back $10,769,200 $16,000,000 $2,173,146 0.20
Wide Receiver $15,022,300 $20,367,000 $1,808,321 0.12
Left Tackle $9,003,500 $18,238,000 $2,394,330 0.27
Guard $8,574,100 $10,836,000 $2,264,811 0.26
Center $4,410,500 $8,710,000 $1,244,637 0.28
Right Tackle $6,080,500 $10,507,000 $2,103,099 0.35
Int. D-Line $9,333,400 $12,219,000 $2,266,313 0.24
Edge Rusher $13,105,300 $17,510,000 $4,033,415 0.31
Cornerback $10,511,800 $13,505,000 $1,908,236 0.18
Safety $8,882,700 $12,731,000 $1,920,564 0.22
Linebacker $9,740,500 $14,280,000 $1,756,904 0.18

There is really no comparison here for any position except center and to some extent the interior D-line, unless just interested in hitting the max value where the truly special players perform beyond their rookie deals. The young talent are the best performers in the NFL and the cost benefit is just ridiculous compared to that of a veteran contract.

The chart really identifies why draft picks are so valuable and are usually safeguarded, but draft picks also take time to develop and take skill and/or luck to hit on. In some draft research I am working on with Brad we have identified that the general range of player expectation in the second half of the first round to between 40 and 53% of the average salary of a top 5 paid player at the position. For cornerback that would equate to a player who signs a contract worth between $5.8 and $7.7 million.

Those values are usually indicative of a player’s performance as a rookie so the class of players that a team like the Rams would expect to draft are Pierre Desir, Robert Alford, Bryce Callahan, Jonathan Jones, Ronald Darby, DJ Hayden, Brandon Carr, Darryl Roberts, and Johnathan Joseph. Might some of those players hit?  They might. Our research of past drafts at the position would indicate in the ballpark of a 20% chance of a major hit and 30% chance of a solid player (which is probably similar to the veteran market where we have 2 of those player performing at a $10M+ level and a few duds mixed in).

What is that 70-80% probability that the draft pick is not a top tier player worth to the team?  By making the trade the acquiring team does get the best of both worlds. They get a draft pick that they believe is already worth the top tier salary with no questions asked. They get the player for multiple years under the rookie contract timeframe which should mean the prime years of the player without the initial cost associated with the player’s development. When you factor in the age of someone like Ramsey (he just 24 right now) you may believe that the performance will extend further into those extension years than it would for other players. That should all be valuable to a team.

Of course the Rams will be paying Ramsey a new salary since he will likely hold out if they do not renegotiate his contract but for an acquiring team that cost is definitely looked at differently than trading for say a franchise player. Lets just say for the sake of argument the Rams sign Ramsey to a four year, $70 million extension. For the Rams that works out to somewhere around $85.5 million over six years, or $14.5 million a year, or about what the Jets paid for Trumaine Johnson.  There is far more value in getting a Ramsey at 24 with two rookie years remaining than no rookie years and signing him as a free agent.

Basically what we have in the trade is a 1st round pick for the player and then a 1st round pick for the premium of acquiring a rookie contract with multiple years remaining, maintaining the exclusive negotiating rights with the franchise tag, and getting the player in his prime rather than likely getting ready to come out of his prime. I can at least buy that logic.

Is Ramsey the best player to go with this strategy on?  I’m not sure on that. Ramsey has a great reputation but Im not sure that has played out the last year and a half. He was upset about his contract this year and was likely more in self-preservation mode while trying to get off the Jaguars. Marcus Peters, who he replaced, was more of a boom or bust type that also did things that would normally get someone paid in free agency especially if they had the cache of a Ramsey. Ideally, even with his age, the way to approach Ramsey is not to extend but to tag and maybe after the first tag see if you can recover some draft capital down the line, but I would think that Ramsey would blow up if they did not extend him in 2020 and that makes this a worthless trade.

So the question I have is whether or not this is the future of the NFL.  Teams have short windows of opportunity and the best chance to find immediate talent is not going to be through free agency or the draft but with aggressive trades like this one, unless the free agent pool gets larger and younger. Let another team absorb the cost of the draft pick and keep him for a few years and if the team is still struggling entice them with more draft picks to rebuild while you take their better pieces. It is a high cost to pay but if these teams start to be successful I would expect more teams to consider doing similar things in the future.  

Introducing the OTC Valuation Metric

I’d like to introduce to everyone the newest feature we have added to OTC and that is a weekly player and team valuation metric that is, I believe, the first mass attempt to better merge contract values with actual on field performance.

To develop our valuation metric we are primarily using four signals to re-assign salaries in the NFL that I think can best explain the players true on field worth. While the formulas that we use are proprietary they are based on player participation, Pro Football Focus grades, raw statistical performance, and proprietary statistics developed by PFF.

So why these main categories?  I’ll explain my logic here.

While snap counts do not tell us much about a player’s performance they are telling us that the coaching staff must see something in that player to keep trotting him out there week after week. Even if the coach is simply forced by circumstance to play someone (such as the Jets most recent need to play a third string QB as a starter) there is value to just taking a snap. This is a prime reason why so many NFL incentives, in particular the rookie proven performance escalator, is tied to just playtime.

Statistical performances are big drivers of NFL salaries. While there are always exceptions to every rule, players who sack the quarterback more often than not get paid more than a rusher who hasn’t had much luck bringing a QB down. While we can argue over the efficiency of an Ezekiel Elliot the fact is he produces a ton of yards, first downs, touchdowns, etc…(well before this year at least he did) and clearly the NFL sees value in just production.

The second way we look at production is more through efficiency measures and trying to identify how much of that raw production is being produced by a player’s level of play versus just having an abundance of opportunities. Going back to Elliot you may be able to look at his yards per target in the receiving game, percentage of yards after contact, etc… and realize that when compared to league averages his efficiency is not that high. Mike Evans produced a ton more yards last year than would be expected of a player given his amount of times targeted in an offense while Jarvis Landry produced less. Using many PFF statistics give us the ability to better identify efficient production vs volume based production.

Finally the PFF grade gives an overview of how a player is performing on a play by play basis and gives more context to the quality of snaps being played and the quality of those stats, some of which may still be misleading due to other things that impact a play. I look at this as essentially having a seasoned scout telling me what level they really see a player at.

We take all of these numbers and use them to calculate how contracts should be attributed to players at each position based on how they are playing on a week by week basis as well as over the course of the entire season. 

It is important to note that this is NOT a free agent valuation. A free agent valuation is something very different as the baseline for those salaries is the veteran marketplace rather than the entire NFL market. Those numbers would likely be much higher for many players. This valuation we have is a way of distributing salaries in an equitable manner so that rookies and veterans would be valued on the same scale within the current market at that position.  This allows us to cap the market close to where salaries are currently slotted and is why a Patrick Mahomes isn’t valued at something like $40 million as we are working, more or less, within the constraints of the salary structure in 2019.

With that out of the way let’s look at what the valuation page will have.

At the top right of the page you will see the team by team view. Simply click on the expand button to see all 32 teams. This sums up the overall value of each team for the season or a given week. The second column shows you what the team is currently paying on an annual basis for their team. The final column shows you just how much more value a team is getting from their roster. For a majority of teams this will be positive because rookies provide so much value relative to their contract that teams have to either have an awful group of draft picks over the past few years and either bad injury luck or lots of overvalued veterans to not be getting value from their roster this early in the year. Veteran contracts also grow smaller relative to the cap each year and can quickly move to undervalued assets for a team if they continue to perform at a level close to their pre-free agent/extension status. Clicking on the headers of the table will sort the teams.

As you scroll down you will see a listing of all players that we have a record of this year. The first column tells you the player’s value that he receives for playing his primary position on offense, defense, or special teams. The total value column adds in, for offensive and defensive players, value for special team’s performance, if applicable. The next two columns will identify the player’s current average per year on his contract and the value he is providing the team this year. Finally we have a column looking at the salary for the player in 2020 and how that corresponds to where he is playing at this year as a rough guide for maybe seeing what players could be in danger of release next year. Again these columns are all sortable.

Above the table you will see filters so you can quickly filter by position and/or team the same way you can on our free agency page. At the top of the page you will also see a selection for the week so you can select which week you would like to view.

The valuation pages will be updated each week on either Tuesday or Wednesday to reflect the prior week’s action. For the first week or two we will have the entire page open, but will then be moving the season totals and ability to view the prior game data to the Premium section of OTC, which you can read about here. We will, however, add to our player’s page the valuation number so if you are just interested in one player you can see that without subscribing and Ill also try do a weekly post going over some of the better players of the week.

I think this will be a neat and interesting add to OTC and hopefully you will find it interesting as well. I’d also like to thank PFF for the great services they provide and remind everyone that if you really want to see a thorough week by week breakdown of every player in the league you should be subscribing to their PFF Elite plan and give it a look.

We will get a link up on the main page shortly but to view the current week valuation (and preview the full featured version) you can go to this page. You can also think about subscribing to the Premium for the ability to view everything once we move the full featured version to the Premium section after the next slate of games. I’ll post a new link to the preview version then as well.

Feel free to email any comments or suggestions on this or anything else OTC related and as always thanks for the support.

Age vs Cost: NFL Rosters in 2019

Normally I like to do things like this at the start of the NFL but with the mad rush of extensions right before the regular season began I decided to hold off until we were more current with all the contacts, but now that we are here we can do more roster cutups. The one I wanted to look at today was how old teams skew, relative to their average annual salary, at the top of the roster.

For this I looked at each team’s top 15 players annual salaries and then calculated the average age for each group. The graph is broken up into four quadrants. The top left quadrant represents the teams that trend more expensive and older. The bottom left are teams that are both young and cheap. The top right quadrant is where we get the older and expensive teams and the bottom right are those that are older but they don’t spend as much on those players. My feeling is the further off you are to the top right the more you have riding on this season. Those in the bottom left likely have the least riding on this year.

Age vs cost of top 15 NFL players

So a few takeaways. I think its safe to say that this is the Vikings year they have to win. They have more money invested in their top players and it is by a pretty significant margin- $10 million more than the next closest team. At an average age of 28.9 years they have moved slightly past the NFL average of 28.5 so in many ways its now or likely never for them, especially since the team is looking to be cap strapped next year without changes. I think you could argue similar things about the Rams as well but they don’t have the cap baggage next year.

The Patriots are the only team in the NFL with a top 15 that averages over 30 years of age. Even if you pull Brady out of the mix they average over 30. They are more or less the lone team in the NFL that seems to be following the older path of the NFL that solid veterans are better than unproven rookies even if the upside is not there. One of the key differences here though is that the Patriots group is cheap. The cost of $123 million per year is 6th lowest in the NFL. In the “old days” one of the flops using this strategy was signing players towards their 30+ years to large contract extensions that killed the teams. This is a more economical use of resources.

The Eagles may wind up representing that older philosophy by next year. They are the second oldest team in the NFL at 29.9 years and they are locked into some expensive contracts with void years to limit the cap costs. 12 of their top 15 will be 29 years old by years end.

The other teams in the older side of the bracket that I found a little surprising are the Titans, Cardinals, and Bills. Tennessee did really begin to go all in on more veterans the last few years in hopes of getting something out of Mariota and they need to make the playoffs this year. Arizona Im surprised has not purged more of their team. They have really relied on older player signings to round out this roster. The Bills are another team that I knew signed some cheap veterans to fill the roster but I didn’t realize that they still had so many that were also in their highest paid category.

On the younger end I was surprised by Atlanta. I look at the Falcons as an older team (they do have the oldest overall roster in the NFL) and one that has probably had their window close, but they wound up slightly under the NFL average with a top 15 of just 28.3 years old. They do have the third most expensive group behind the Vikings and Rams so clearly anything but the playoffs would be disappointing, but they are not as over invested in older talent at the top of their roster as I thought.

Once Dallas gets their extensions done they will skyrocket into a similar spot as the Falcons, but probably a year behind where Atlanta is now. Dallas is going to be in a win now mode starting in 2020 if they don’t win it all this year.

Houston stands out like a sore thumb. This is a team with huge amounts of cap room but also a reputation of being one of the cheapest teams in the NFL and it shows. They have a good team but I think you can argue they are wasting the peak of Watson’s years by not at least being closer to the league average in spending. They have the 5th least amount of money invested in their top 15 players. They will be an interesting team to watch next year in free agency. They could open the wallet and go after some good talent or they could pull a Grigson era Colts deal and look for cheap veterans with name value.  With no expensive draft picks they should be spending next year.

Oakland being the youngest team surprised me only because I associate Gruden with looking at the older talent, but for the most part they have kept those contract numbers low so they don’t land in their top 15. They have a number of prime years free agent signings but those are balanced out by first round type contracts on the back end of their top 15 paid players.