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.

How Much Does an NFL Player Sign for and Why?

On yesterday’s episode of The Zack Moore Show, I discussed the topic of how much an NFL player signs for in free agency and why. I expanded on the topic, but below is the outline of the list I have.

iTunes link

SoundCloud

  • How much does a player sign for and why?
    • Team leverage: if the player is under contract or how many franchise tags they have
    • Player leverage: is he a free agent? Is he holding out and the team NEEDS him?
    • Market (contract comparables) – position
    • Market forces like other available players in free agency and the draft
    • Production – past, plus future projected
    • Future Injury Risk – can be based on past injury history
    • Draft position
    • Optics: fan reaction
    • Team roster stage: are they a Super Bowl contender or are they on the rebuild?
    • Player reputation with coaches and teammates (leader/work ethic, etc.)
    • Scheme fit 
    • How does he play against top competition?
    • Age

Zack Moore is a certified NFL agent, a writer for OverTheCap.com and OnnitGymMMA.com, as well as the author of “Caponomics: Building Super Bowl Champions,” a book that breaks down how Super Bowl champions are built in the NFL’s salary cap era and discusses how NFL front offices can best allocate resources to create successful teams.

You can follow him on Twitter at @ZackMooreNFL. You can subscribe to The Zack Moore Show podcast here.

NFL 2019 Snap-shot: 2020 UFA usage through 4 Weeks

Follow me on Twitter @BradOTC

Through one quarter of the NFL season, I wanted to take a look at which teams are giving the most playing time to pending unrestricted free agents (I included players with a 2020 Void Year as UFAs).

All snaps are not created equal, and an injury may have thrust a particular player into a larger role, even though that is not necessarily a good thing for the team. Therefore, it is not automatically a red flag if a team has a lot of UFAs contributing significantly (especially if the team has performed poorly thus far). 

Nevertheless, teams must plan ahead. Certain position groups with several UFAs seeing a lot of snaps could raise eyebrows for a front office. Draft picks and/or free agency dollars could be earmarked based on early 2019 production. 

With that said, I broke down the team-specific positions to keep an eye on.

First, here are the league-wide numbers:

Overall Team Snaps for 2020 UFAs: 

Offensive Snaps for 2020 UFAs:

Defensive Team Snaps for 2020 UFAs:

The breakdown for each team with each player is below. I have also included the projected 2020 Cap Space for each team below:

Columns: Player | Position | Off. Snaps | % of Total | Def. Snaps | % of Total

AFC East

NYJ – $53.7M 2020 Cap Space (34 Players currently under Contract for 2020 – $45M Effective Cap Space)

NE – $45.7M 2020 Cap Space (46 Players currently under Contract for 2020 – $43.1M Effective Cap Space)

MIA – $115M 2020 Cap Space (41 Players currently under Contract for 2020 – $110M Effective Cap Space)

BUF – $86.7M 2020 Cap Space (44 Players currently under Contract for 2020 – $83.1M Effective Cap Space)

AFC North

PIT – $2.4M 2020 Cap Space (41 Players currently under Contract for 2020 – (-$2.66M) Effective Cap Space)

CLE – $61.2M 2020 Cap Space (47 Players currently under Contract for 2020 – $59.2M Effective Cap Space)

CIN – $60.6M 2020 Cap Space (41 Players currently under Contract for 2020 – $55.5M Effective Cap Space)

BAL – $68.9M 2020 Cap Space (39 Players currently under Contract for 2020 – $62.7M Effective Cap Space)

AFC South

TEN – $50.4M 2020 Cap Space (38 Players currently under Contract for 2020 – $43.8M Effective Cap Space)

JAX – (-$10.5M) 2020 Cap Space (46 Players currently under Contract for 2020 – (-$13M) Effective Cap Space)

IND – $108.9M 2020 Cap Space (42 Players currently under Contract for 2020 – $104.3M Effective Cap Space)

HOU – $88.8M 2020 Cap Space (39 Players currently under Contract for 2020 – $82.7M Effective Cap Space)

AFC West

OAK – $78.7M 2020 Cap Space (33 Players currently under Contract for 2020 – $69.5M Effective Cap Space)

LAC – $62.8M 2020 Cap Space (38 Players currently under Contract for 2020 – $56.1M Effective Cap Space)

KC – $23.6M 2020 Cap Space (40 Players currently under Contract for 2020 – $18M Effective Cap Space)

DEN – $67M 2020 Cap Space (37 Players currently under Contract for 2020 – $59.9M Effective Cap Space)

NFC East

WAS – $53.4M 2020 Cap Space (45 Players currently under Contract for 2020 – $50.3M Effective Cap Space)

PHI – $39.3M 2020 Cap Space (36 Players currently under Contract for 2020 – $31.7M Effective Cap Space)

NYG – $65.2M 2020 Cap Space (37 Players currently under Contract for 2020 – $58.1M Effective Cap Space)

DAL – $92.6M 2020 Cap Space (36 Players currently under Contract for 2020 – $85M Effective Cap Space)

NFC North 

MIN – (-$1.2M) 2020 Cap Space (37 Players currently under Contract for 2020 – (-$8.4M) Effective Cap Space)

GB – $25.1M 2020 Cap Space (41 Players currently under Contract for 2020 – $20.1M Effective Cap Space)

DET – $46.4M 2020 Cap Space (36 Players currently under Contract for 2020 – $38.8M Effective Cap Space)

CHI – $14.6M 2020 Cap Space (35 Players currently under Contract for 2020 – $6.5M Effective Cap Space)

NFC South

ATL – (-$8M) 2020 Cap Space (40 Players currently under Contract for 2020 – (-$13.6M) Effective Cap Space)

CAR – $51.6M 2020 Cap Space (37 Players currently under Contract for 2020 – $44.5M Effective Cap Space)

NO – $27.1M 2020 Cap Space (39 Players currently under Contract for 2020 – $20.1M Effective Cap Space)

TB – $82M 2020 Cap Space (37 Players currently under Contract for 2020 – $74.9M Effective Cap Space)

NFC West

SEA – $75.4M 2020 Cap Space (40 Players currently under Contract for 2020 – $69.8M Effective Cap Space)

SF – $26.4M 2020 Cap Space (42 Players currently under Contract for 2020 – $21.8M Effective Cap Space)

LAR – $37.2M 2020 Cap Space (39 Players currently under Contract for 2020 – $31.1M Effective Cap Space)

AZ – $83.3M 2020 Cap Space (32 Players currently under Contract for 2020 – $73.6M Effective Cap Space)

Each team has their own pressing needs, but they also have financial realities they have to deal with moving forward. The rest of the season will go a long way in determining priority extensions and which players teams will let walk. However, the lineup a team rolls out in Week 1 (again, excluding injuries) is the lineup they determined was optimal after Training Camp. We can certainly learn from these figures through four weeks.

As seen on Colin Cowherd’s The Herd

2020 Compensatory Picks Projection Update (9/25/2019)

With a few weeks of snap counts in the books for the 2019 regular season, let’s take a look at where the 2020 compensatory picks projection stands.

First, let’s start with identifying some changes from last May that I feel will be permanent.

  • The Cardinals cut Kevin White, which was bad for the Bears, as that caused the Bears to lose their one and only projected comp pick, a fourth rounder for Adrian Amos. The Bears’ league leading active drought of comp picks is likely to go from ten to eleven drafts.
  • The Cardinals caused two teams to fall completely off the 2020 comp pick list, by cutting Darius Philon after an arrest for threatening to shoot a woman outside a strip club. That was bad news for the Chargers, as this transaction caused them to lose their 4th round comp pick for Tyrell Williams.
  • The Chargers weren’t the only AFC West team to leave the list: after the Colts first placed Spencer Ware on reserve/PUP, then, at Ware’s request, released him from that list, the Chiefs lost their 4th round comp pick for Steven Nelson. Unlike with the Chargers, however, there’s a faint hope that the Chiefs’ pick could come back, as explained below.
  • The 49ers cut Jordan Matthews, and that caused the Eagles to lose their 4th round comp pick for Golden Tate.
  • The Lions cut CJ Anderson, resulting in the loss of a 4th round comp pick for Lamarcus Joyner.
  • However, there was one transaction that did cause a team to gain a comp pick. That was when Dallas cut George Iloka, opening up a 5th rounder to the Cowboys for losing Cole Beasley.

All of these losses of mid round comp picks have created a situation not seen since 2013: few, if any comp picks not being awarded due to missing the 32 pick limit. This is good news for teams like Denver, Minnesota, and the New York Giants who were previously at risk for missing out on 7th rounders due to that limit. As I’ll explain below, as it stands now there are 33 eligible comp picks, and as I see it, that number may fall to exactly 32, opening the way for Tampa Bay to be awarded with the rare net value 7th rounder for losing and gaining the same number of CFAs, but with the ones lost being valued significantly higher.

Meanwhile, this year there has been an unusual amount of movement on the compensatory picks board that I believe is largely caused to injuries to key players, most but not all of whom are compensatory free agents. Most of these changes I do not expect to linger as the players in question return to full health, but just in case they don’t, it’s at least worthwhile to study some of these changes that could stick.

For this update, I’ll do something different by displaying two tables. The first one is where the projections stand right now, after Week 3. The second one is an injury-adjusted table that attempts to take into account when some of those injured players might come back, by adjusting their snap counts accordingly.

Current Projection
TeamRoundCompensated Free AgentAPY
NE3Trent Brown$16,250,000
NYG3Landon Collins$14,000,000
HOU3Tyrann Mathieu$14,000,000
SEA3Earl Thomas$13,750,000
NE3Trey Flowers$18,000,000
PIT3Le’Veon Bell$13,125,000
LAR3Rodger Saffold$11,000,000
HOU3Kareem Jackson$11,000,000
PHI3Nick Foles$22,000,000
MIN3Sheldon Richardson$11,933,333
BAL4C.J. Mosley$17,000,000
WAS4Jamison Crowder$9,500,000
SEA4Justin Coleman$9,000,000
BAL4John Brown$9,000,000
KC4Steven Nelson$8,500,000
MIA4Ja’Wuan James$12,750,000
DEN5Billy Turner$7,000,000
DAL5Cole Beasley$7,250,000
MIA5Cameron Wake$7,666,667
NE6Malcom Brown$5,000,000
NE6Cordarrelle Patterson$5,000,000
SEA6Shamar Stephen$4,150,000
SEA7Mike Davis$2,975,000
NYG7Mario Edwards$2,500,000
MIN7Trevor Siemian$2,000,000
HOU7Christian Covington$1,687,500
DEN7Max Garcia$1,796,875
DEN7Tramaine Brock$1,325,000
MIN7Tom Compton$1,600,000
NYG7Josh Mauro$1,300,000
MIN7Andrew Sendejo$1,200,000
NYG7Kerry Wynn$1,300,000
Compensation over 32-pick limit; not awarded
TB7net value
Injury-Adjusted Projection
TeamRoundCompensated Free AgentAPY
NE3Trent Brown$16,250,000
NYG3Landon Collins$14,000,000
HOU3Tyrann Mathieu$14,000,000
SEA3Earl Thomas$13,750,000
NE3Trey Flowers$18,000,000
PHI3Nick Foles$22,000,000
PIT3Le’Veon Bell$13,125,000
BAL3C.J. Mosley$17,000,000
LAR3Rodger Saffold$11,000,000
MIA3Ja’Wuan James$12,750,000
HOU3Kareem Jackson$11,000,000
MIN3Sheldon Richardson$11,933,333
WAS4Jamison Crowder$9,500,000
SEA4Justin Coleman$9,000,000
BAL4John Brown$9,000,000
DAL5Cole Beasley$7,250,000
MIA5Cameron Wake$7,666,667
NE6Malcom Brown$5,000,000
DEN6Shaquil Barrett$4,000,000
NE6Cordarrelle Patterson$5,000,000
SEA6Shamar Stephen$4,150,000
SEA7Mike Davis$2,975,000
NYG7Mario Edwards$2,500,000
MIN7Trevor Siemian$2,000,000
HOU7Christian Covington$1,687,500
DEN7Max Garcia$1,796,875
DEN7Tramaine Brock$1,325,000
MIN7Tom Compton$1,600,000
NYG7Josh Mauro$1,300,000
MIN7Andrew Sendejo$1,200,000
NYG7Kerry Wynn$1,300,000
TB7net value

Here are the changes that I do not necessarily expect to stay, and why:

  • Philadelphia’s 3rd rounder for Nick Foles is now one of the lowest 3rd rounders instead of the highest due to his broken clavicle. However, his contract is of so high value that I do not forecast it leaving the 3rd round. If reports that Foles could return by Week 11 hold up, the pick for Foles should fall somewhere in the middle of the other 3rd round comp picks.
  • CJ Mosley’s groin injury from Week 1 has demoted his comp pick value to Baltimore from the 3rd to the 4th round. While it’s unclear when Mosley will return, I forecast that he would need to miss 13 games–an amount that feels unlikely–in order for that demotion to stick.
  • Similarly, Miami’s comp pick for Ja’Wuan James has been demoted to a 4th rounder due to a knee injury he suffered early in Week 1. Unlike with Mosley, there’s a higher change that this demotion could stick. My forecasting suggests that missing six games–of which James has done half of so far–could be enough to keep his contract valued in the 4th round.
  • Denver’s bad luck with injury doesn’t end with James: Bryce Callahan has also been indefinitely sidelined due to lingering recovery from his foot injury from the prior season. The only possible faint positive for the Broncos there is that if Callahan were to miss 10 or more games, his contract may fall in value to a 6th rounder, meaning that Denver would get a 5th for Billy Turner instead of a 6th for Shaq Barrett.
  • Although Trevor Siemian and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie have been placed on IR, it appears that even missing almost all of the season will not lower their contract values to the point that they would not qualify for the compensatory formula.
  • The biggest surprise has been Jordan Devey, on a minimum salary benefit contract, emerging as a starter with the Raiders. This has happened due to a combination of injuries suffered by Gabe Jackson and Denzelle Good, as well as a two game suspension of Richie Incognito. This is unexpected good news for the Chiefs, as if Devey’s qualification sticks, it would reopen their 4th round comp pick for Steven Nelson that they lost when the Colts cut Ware. However, I forecast that in order for that stick, Devey would need to start at least 13 games, something that strikes me as unlikely at this point.

There are a couple other observations to make. One is that Minnesota’s 3rd rounder for Sheldon Richardson is very much on the cusp of falling to a 4th rounder, as defensive linemen tend to not get as many snaps as other positions. Vikings fans should want Richardson to stay healthy and play as much as possible.

The other is that the Texans may pick up a second 3rd round comp pick that would be for Kareem Jackson, instead of a 7th rounder for Kendall Lamm. The reason for this is that Bradley Roby has barely fallen to the 4th round in value, thus avoiding his contract canceling out Jackson’s. However, it’s a very narrow needle being threaded between these two players, and should Roby’s contract inch back up to the 3rd round, the Texans would revert back to a 7th for Lamm instead of a 3rd Jackson. Texans fans should want Jackson to remain healthy and playing nearly all snaps in Denver, as he has done so thus far.

Finally, there are still some opportunities for teams to pick up comp picks if they cut certain players before Week 10:

  • The removal of Matthews from the Eagles’ CFAs lost column means that Philadelphia must now cut both Andrew Sendejo and LJ Fort to regain their 4th rounders for Tate and Jordan Hicks. However, with Sendejo logging a solid 41.6% of offensive snaps so far, and Fort being a leading special teams player, Howie Roseman may consider their contributions now greater than 4th round comp picks later.
  • Steelers fans were not happy with Donte Moncrief’s performance early in the season, and the team heard that loud and clear as he was benched last week. If Pittsburgh cuts Moncrief before Week 10, they open up a 7th rounder for Fort–and also further protect their 3rd rounder for Le’Veon Bell should the Eagles cut Fort for their own comp pick reasons as described above.
  • Lastly, the Bucs still have the ability to turn their net value 7th into a 3rd for Kwon Alexander if they cut one of their CFAs before Week 10. The most likely candidate would be Deone Bucannon, who has been strictly a special teamer in Tampa Bay thus far.

The Tanking Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins organization should be embarrassed by the start of their season which has seen the team outscored 102-10 in their first two games. Miami turned themselves by choice into an expansion team this offseason taking on over $50 million in dead money charges and doing their best to pretty much move any player with a pulse without a significant contractual guarantee to ensure they get the number one pick in the draft. The Dolphins could have gotten there anyway with a team that at least puts up a little fight rather than one that just rolls over and plays dead but Miami opted for the latter approach to make sure nothing could really get in their way. Is it worth it?

The concept of tanking isn’t necessarily new in the NFL though I’m not sure we have seen it happen under these circumstances. Indianapolis did it in 2011 in the “Suck for Luck” season but that occurred because of an injury to Peyton Manning and subsequent poor start with veteran Kerry Collins that ended with him landing on IR halfway through the year. They then kind of embraced being bad but it wasn’t by choice and the actual total roster teardown took place the following year.  The Raiders hit the reset on their roster in 2013 simply because they had mismanaged their roster and salary cap so badly that they had no other option but to rip themselves apart. The closest example would be the Browns in 2016 taking a cautious approach to their offseason but even they were out there attempting to win, they just didn’t and made the most of a bad situation.

In my mind Miami is going to be the real test case for the concept. They have amassed over $110 million in cap space for 2020 and multiple draft picks through their trades. Even the harshest critic of the Dolphins approach can’t complain about the haul they received for left tackle Laremy Tunsil in what may be the most lopsided trade in the NFL for a player since the Herschel Walker trade in 1989. In the process though they have fractured the organization and the locker room, making one wonder if they can attract free agents to Miami if there are similar financial offers elsewhere in a league that is going to be filled with teams with big cap surpluses.

The success of the strategy really hinges on being able to draft a spectacular quarterback to finally be the heir to Dan Marino’s legacy. That is of course no guarantee. The first question to ask is will a quarterback be available that is worth the number one pick. In the salary cap era of the NFL the following QBs were drafted number 1 overall: Peyton Manning (1998), Tim Couch (1999), Mike Vick (2001), David Carr (2002), Carson Palmer (2003), Eli Manning (2004), Alex Smith (2005), JaMarcus Russell (2007), Matt Stafford (2009), Sam Bradford (2010), Cam Newton (2011), Andrew Luck (2012), Jameis Winston (2015), Jared Goff (2016), Baker Mayfield (2018), and Kyler Murray (2019). That’s basically around 60% of NFL drafts in which we see a QB go number one. Its 72% since Manning’s draft so a bit higher since 98.  

The second hurdle is who on this list is so good that it’s worth being this bad to get?  Peyton Manning is really it. Vick was spectacular for some time. Luck was pretty good as was Newton. None turned a team into a perennial Super Bowl contender. Players like Palmer, Stafford, Eli Manning, and Smith have all had very solid, long careers and Eli did win his two Super Bowls but for the most part they would put Miami right back to where they were before tanking- a team that trends around 500 with the occasional season that sees them qualify for the playoffs. Better than most of the Tannehill era? Sure, but worth not trying for a season?  That’s hard to say. Couch, Carr, Russell, and Bradford were all busts. Winston is trending toward that category. Its too early to say on the other three. Goff has the most experience and looks to be in the solid but not spectacular category. Lets call it 60% they find a decent QB, 30% a flop, and 10% a legit game changer.

Has there been other game changers in the draft?  Sure but you could have gotten them without the number one pick and while they are going to have their shot at moving those guys up the board since they will control the draft Im not sure why we would expect them to pass on a Trubisky for a Mahomes if the majority of the NFL thought that was the correct pick. Realistically what the number 1 pick does is prevent them from getting stuck with the Ryan Leaf or RGIII player if it is a two person draft with a QB needy team ahead of you in the draft and ensures that if it’s a one QB draft that they get the guy. Clearly there is a benefit to locking those scenarios in, but how great is that benefit? 

The lack of game changers at the QB position is why I question this kind of approach to building a team. I’ve long been a fan of a team that has perfected the art of tanking, albeit unintentionally, in the New York Jets and I’m still waiting to see my Joe Namath. The Jets had the number 1 pick in 1996 but there was no QB and the Jets choice was Keyshawn Johnson. They had it again in 1997 but Manning decided to go back to college and the Jets ended up trading down (twice) and out of selecting a stud left tackle (Orlando Pace and later Walter Jones) for James Farrior and more draft picks. From 1997 to 2008 the Jets made the playoffs a few times and made the AFC title game in 1998.  The Colts the next year had number one and got Manning leading to a decade of greatness.   

If you are tanking what if that scenario happens to Miami? You have this war chest of draft capital to use that should, in theory, make your team in 2020 much better and out of the running for the number 1 pick in 2021. You have this giant war chest of cap room in 2020 that you would use to make yourself better and likely out of the running for the top pick in 2021.

While you can always trade back and out of the picks (Cleveland did this passing on Carson Wentz) the salary cap war chest is probably going to be very CBA dependent. Right now teams are allowed to carry over as much cap room as they want year to year but with the CBA expiring there is no guarantee that cap money that goes unspent in 2020 will carry to 2021. In the last CBA negotiation it was a fresh slate in terms of cap adjustments. The NFL also requires teams to spend 89% of the cap between 2017 and 2020 so Miami will have to spend money just to meet the 89% threshold.

While the Browns right now are considered the shining example of tanking and getting a QB in Baker Mayfield I think its worth noting that they did not really tank in the year they selected him. They signed a number of moderate to high priced free agents including Jamie Collins (they traded for him the year before), Kevin Zeitler, JC Tretter, Kenny Britt, and Jason McCourty and used their top draft pick on Myles Garrett.  While they were still carrying large amounts of cap space over to 2018 the goal was pretty clear that they were trying to be better and not finish the year winless. They happened to be that bad because of bad luck and coaching and landed Mayfield, who may or not be a game changer.

That brings me back to the same question- what if it doesn’t work in the 2020 draft? Do you then tank the 2020 season to ensure you get a top pick in 2021?  Sign players for other teams to meet your financial requirements and then trade them off? Hope the CBA is extended and carryover exists? What message does that send to the players in the locker room and whoever is showing up to the games? What happens if its no different than the 95/96 Jets when no QBs exist worth taking in the draft? Or do you just do what the Browns did and try to improve and see what happens? If you elect to do that well what was really the point of what you did this season?

And then I have the final question. Given that the only reason to do something like Miami is doing is to break the 8-8 funk and get to be a consistent 10+ game winner shouldn’t you not put all your eggs in one basket next year even if you do get a QB?  This is something that has never been done before in the NFL. I thought the Cardinals this year would be the first to take back to back first round QBs and have them battle it out, but they quickly decided Murray was the guy and traded off Josh Rosen (ironically to the Dolphins).

Given that the majority of top picks turn out to be good but not great I think for this to really work you not only need to try to optimize your chances for a top pick but also to optimize your chances at making the right pick. Miami stuck with Ryan Tannehill because they anointed him their guy in 2012 and luckily for them they never bypassed on anyone of note in the draft because of Tannehill but what if you were the Jaguars with a Blake Bortles causing you to pass on a Deshaun Watson or Patrick Mahomes?  Or if the Cardinals because of Rosen passed on the potential upside of Murray.  If you are doing all of this to maximize your opportunities I think you should be approaching it that way if you have the chance to pick again until you know that the player you draft is indeed special.

All told I just don’t think that this is the best way to do things in the NFL. I think there were probably other ways to get to the same goal and at least play semi-competitive football. Maybe this wasn’t the Dolphins plan originally either. They did make a trade for Rosen and did sign Ryan Fitzpatrick, both of whom in theory should give you a better chance of winning games than signing a Christian Hackenberg off the street. Perhaps they just saw how bad things were looking in the summer and then made the decision to go much harder at being the worst team in the NFL right off the bat.

Perhaps I’m wrong and this is the best way. Maybe Miami is 100% sure of a guy in college that will be in the draft that they can not get if they are not number 1. Maybe there are other teams out there capable of winning just 1 or 2 games that could cost them the pick. If its indeed a successful offseason for the Dolphins they won’t be the last to go this deep into the tank. If it is not it will probably be the last for some time to just punt on a season before it begins.  

Antonio Brown Asks for Release from the Raiders

The Antonio Brown situation continues to get weirder and weirder by the day. Now just a few days before the Raiders season opener Brown has requested his release after the Raiders informed him that his salary guarantees no longer exist due to his conduct.

Still the situation is not exactly cut and dry. While everyone goes crazy these days for guarantees I have long been of the belief that they are so easy to void, especially for players that have a history of issues, that focusing on guaranteed salary is not really all it is cracked up to be. You can void guarantees for a number of reasons, such as not willingly practicing, being suspended for conduct detrimental to the team, PED violations, and so on. When team issues occur the team has to prove that the player has indeed warranted the punishment which also results in the void occurring.

Brown has had numerous transactions that should satisfy the requirements to void the guarantees. He was out of practice due to a non football related injury. He held himself out of practice due to not liking his helmet. He went after the GM in a heated exchange over a fine he received which officially began the paper trail from Raiders GM Mike Mayock necessary for the void. He then missed practice due to the confrontation. He posted a phone call with his head coach in a slick video. He was fined, though not the maximum amount, for conduct detrimental. He asked for his release so Im assuming he wont be with the Raiders today.

If the Raiders release Brown they would only take a miniscule charge on the salary cap of $333,333 which is from his guaranteed workout bonus. Per a source he did not earn that bonus so the team would get a credit on the cap for that number in 2020. However it is possible that Brown would file a grievance over his lost guarantees. If a grievance is filed the Raiders would immediately take on a charge of $11.95 million until the case is heard.

Sometimes these grievances can go on forever. Other times they can be quick. If the Raiders lost the grievance they would then take a full $29.875 million salary cap hit and cash charge this year. Not only is that a fortune to pay for a player who never played a snap for the team but it would push them over the 2019 salary cap, forcing them to quickly restructure other contracts to comply with the cap.

Things are also complicated if the Raiders do not release or suspend Brown for the first game of the season. If Brown is on the roster he would receive full protection of his 2019 (but not 2020) $14.625 million salary through the Termination Pay protection provided to veterans in the CBA. Termination pay can also be voided through actions where the team demonstrates that the player is not putting forth a good faith effort to fulfill his contract. Again this requires written warnings, and so on, so it would mean needing more drama in the regular season. (edit per Adam Schefter the team already has done this) If not on the roster for week 1 the only 25% of the players salary is guaranteed through Termination Pay. That is certainly a big number but not  the full amount.

Teams have the right to fine a player up to one weeks pay and/or suspend him for up to four weeks for conduct detrimental to the team. While the Raiders already fined him I do believe they can still suspend him based on how I read the CBA. That may be the most likely outcome.

During this entire process that has occurred I have wondered a few times if this is simply Brown looking to retire from the NFL or maybe just get to play for a different team. This is where there is an entirely different consideration. Brown’s contract was traded from the Steelers to the Raiders. With a trade the acquiring team retains the rights to recover any remaining signing bonus prorations from a contract via the forfeiture clauses of the NFL CBA.

The bonus that Brown received from the Steelers was $19 million, $11.4 million of which is still outstanding. The Raiders, if Brown walks away from the team, have the right to recover $11.4 million from Brown in addition to not paying him his guaranteed salary. If Brown is released the Raiders do not recover that money.

That is such a significant amount of money that it should really complicate matters. Unlike the retirement of Andrew Luck which had more support from his team this is a completely fractured relationship. I can not imagine the Raiders simply letting Brown walk away without issue if things get there.

If Brown is released there is no team in the NFL after what has transpired that would touch him for the kind of salary he has from the Raiders. There are teams that would certainly take a chance if he wants to play but there would be no guarantees Im sure.

He has tried to mend fences so many times with the Raiders Im not sure if they can do so again. If they can the way to do it is to probably rework his contract again where both sides would need to show faith in the other. A compromise would be to split his salary this year between 46 man bonuses and base salary and then have a guarantee kick in for 2020 if he remains cordial with the organization through not missing practices, strong participation, no suspensions, etc… through 12 or more games. But I think the Raiders have to protect themselves if they try to do this again to not get stuck with the full salary if they don’t play him in a given week.