Nicks, Britt, and Gordon- Should they be Traded?


With trade rumors swirling in the NFL, I thought it would make sense to look at three of the big names mentioned at Wide Receiver and the reasons why the teams might or might not pull the trigger on trading their players.  The big names in question are the Giants’ Hakeem Nicks, Browns’ Josh Gordon, and Titans’ Kenny Britt. All three would seem to be on the block for various reasons and we’ll try to look at some comparables to determine what the players may gain in a trade.

Kenny Britt

Of the three names Britt is likely the least appealing. Britt is a former 1st round draft pick whose best seasons came in 2009 and 2010 when he looked poised to break out as one of the next great receivers in the game. Britt suffered a serious knee injury in 2011 that seemed to de-rail his career. Prior to his injury Britt averaged 17.5 YPC and was looked to be at a minimum a 55 catch/900 yard type player. Since then his numbers have plummeted to under 13 YPC and he has basically been benched by the Titans for general ineffectiveness. Britt’s off the field problems are well documented and I think there are some who question whether Britt is simply not recovered from injury or just unhappy in Tennessee.

Britt will be a free agent in 2014 and there is no chance that the Titans would designate him a franchise player. For Tennessee they first need to weigh what they would receive in draft compensation in 2015 if they let him walk next season. I don’t believe it would be much anything because there are so many questions surrounding him that it would seem hard to imagine a team signing him to anything more than a two year low base value but incentive laden contract.

There are rumors that the Titans are looking for at least a 3rd round pick for Britt. That number is insane and I’m not sure what justification there would be to that price tag other than management preferring to have him suffer through the rest of the year on the bench. The best high end comparison I could come up with for Britt was Santonio Holmes. Holmes was 26 years old when traded to the New York Jets prior to the 2010 NFL draft. Holmes was in the final year of his deal and had well documented off the field issues. He has just finished a season in which he went off for more than 1200 yards and was two seasons removed from being named Super Bowl MVP. Holmes only fetched a 5th round pick.

Another possible player to look at would be Ted Ginn, Jr, who was just 25 when he was traded from Miami to San Francisco. Ginn’s productivity was nowhere near that of Holmes and like Britt had seemingly regressed, though he was never at as high of a level as Britt. Ginn did not have the off the field issues and also had tremendous value as a kick returner. Ginn also only cost a 5th round pick and was set to enter free agency one year following the trade.

The final possible look would be Davone Bess. Bess was a bit older than Britt and never had the upside or cache of Britt, but maybe one could make an argument that a motivated post-injury Britt could be productive as a shorter field threat capable of gaining maybe 500-650 low impact yards a season. The trade for Bess amounted to a 5th rounder in return for Bess and a 7th. Bess was set to be a free agent when traded.

At the most the Titans could expect to receive a 5th round pick for Britt and even that could be pushing it due to his lack of use this season. He was never as good as Holmes and may not be as varied a threat as Ginn especially post-injury. My gut feeling is that they should be happy with receiving a 5th for him and giving up a 7th in return, similar to the Bess trade. Even a 6th rounder might be worth doing. I don’t see the compensatory pick being very large in this case, if it happens at all. It seems to be a trade that should happen if anyone is really interested.

Josh Gordon

Gordon is a very interesting prospect because he still has two years remaining on his rookie contract and will thus be an extremely low cost option for a team that acquires him. As a rookie Gordon had over 800 yards and this season would be on pace for 1700 yards if he played 16 games. So the upside with Gordon is tremendous. So why are the Browns looking to trade him?

In this case I think this is the Browns trying to strike before the clock strikes 12. Gordon has had many drug issues in the past and is one strike away from being out of the NFL for a full year. I doubt the Browns trust him to stay clean and he missed two games for a failed test this season. If he was to slip up again next year he goes from high value to no value.

The Browns are said to be seeking a first round pick for Gordon. It is pretty much impossible to find a comparable player because players this young never get traded.  In terms of off the field trouble Holmes would be a comparison, but contractually they were in very different spots. Godson would give a team 2 ½ low cost years while Holmes was only going to give one.

That said the only receivers in the last few years to get a 1st round pick in return were Percy Harvin and Roy Williams, both of whom were entering their contract years and received extensions following the trade. Williams was a colossal bust and Harvin has yet to play a game for Minnesota. Prior to that would be Deion Branch in 2006 and Randy Moss in 2005. Considering Gordon’s history I think a first rounder would be out of reach, though a 2nd rounder from a playoff contender could be in play.  Even a second, though, could be high. Brandon Marshall is the only recent trade (the one that sent him from Denver to Miami) to include a 2nd round pick. Beyond Marshall the only other trade I can recall is the 2007 in-season trade of Chris Chambers from the Dolphins to the Chargers.

Whatever decision is made with Gordon will take a great deal of guts on both sides. If the Browns think he can be clean then they should hold on to him. If they feel he is going to fail another drug test they should take a 2nd or 3rd for him.

Hakeem Nicks

Of the three names Nicks is the most intriguing. Nicks has had monster years in the past and has been treated as a true number 1 target. But injuries in 2012 seemed to move him to second fiddle behind Victor Cruz and it’s clear that he never regained his chemistry with QB Eli Manning. Nicks is on pace for nearly 1200 yards this year but it seems like a quiet 1,200 yards as he has battled drops and gaining the attention of his QB. Some seem to perceive a rift between Nicks and Manning that most will blame on Nicks going through the motions and not putting in the work.

Nicks is in the final year of his contract, but unlike Britt is going to be a Franchise player. I get the feeling that Nicks is not too thrilled to stay with the Giants but he is going to get that tag which will allow the Giants to control his rights for next season as well. While nobody expects the young wideout to really sign a contract with another team as a Franchise player it does set a bar even now as to his worth. The other two teams can dream and ask for whatever they want but the Giants are the only team that can truly block Nicks with the price they want.

I tend to think the rumors of the Giants being open to offers for Nicks is more of a fishing expedition to hear what he is worth to teams next season. They could just be setting the groundwork for a trade next year rather than this one. Provided the Giants don’t go wild in free agency next year, which they likely won’t, at worst he is worth a compensatory 3. So they are the one team that can really set parameters of a 1 all the way down to a 3 and have reasons behind those parameters.

Finding the trade value for Nicks is difficult because the results are so varied. Nicks is a much more proven player than Harvin and the Seahawks gave up a fortune for him in both draft picks and money. Harvin is also injury prone. Going back to the Williams trade in 2008 the situations could be looked at as similar. Williams often had lingering injury issues, but he had shown tremendous talent when healthy. Dallas gave up a first rounder and other mid round picks to get the job done. I would think both would be the Giants ideal scenarios.

Other teams could use the Braylon Edwards in season Browns to Jets trade as some type of lowball offer. Edwards was an extremely high draft selection who never really lived up to expectations in Cleveland and had fallen out of favor with the new coaching staff. Edwards still was somewhat productive and the Jets traded a 3 and a 5 along with some spare piece players in order to acquire Edwards from the Browns. Edwards was in the final year of his contract at the time of the trade. Other deals involving third round picks include Marshall from Miami to Chicago and Anquan Boldin from Arizona to Baltimore. Both players were in different stages of their carriers than Nicks

Nicks has been t he better pro than Edwards and remains more productive even now. Edwards was almost like a firesale trade because he clashed with the coach. The least the Giants should settle for is the two second round picks that the Dolphins gave for Marshall in 2010. Marshall also signed an extension almost immediately upon being traded. Teams could make the deal at a 2 and a conditional 3, with the 3 becoming a 2 if Nicks is re-signed.

The Giants clearly have options here and with the Franchise power probably do not have any reason to trade him this year. Unless he gets injured his value should remain the same and teams have shown a willingness to spend on the position. The only reason to trade him now would be because they want to make certain they have additional draft selections in the 2014 draft, which may not occur if they have him on the tag.

If it was me I would not trade him, but Franchise him instead and let him more or less seek out his own trade next year. If they do that early enough they should grab two picks over the next two drafts. It allows the Giants to keep up a mirage that they think this season means something and probably will not compromise their position in the long run.


Planning Wide Receiver Dollar and Draft Spending


In doing the best and worst contract articles and then re-hashing yesterday some old thoughts on Mike Wallace I thought what might be interesting was to look at just how important a WR is to a specific offense when deciding to throw money at them. Normally I would just look at WR targets for this but with the TE’s in the news in New England I thought I would include them as well.

Wide Receivers cost a hefty sum in this market. When you sign one of them for a large value and expect them to become some type of incredible upgrade you need to know if you are getting a true number 1 or a piece to a puzzle. A true number 1 is someone who has proven that they can be the lone dominant target on a football team and still succeed. Being a cog in the offensive wheel and then being expected to handle 30-35% of the targets on a team is unrealistic. If the player doesn’t have the track record of doing so, you need to plan on allocating more money or draft picks to the position to get the best out of the free agent.

The average top target on a team in the NFL in 2012 was 29.1%. 17 players qualified above that number. Only two of the 17 were primarily slot receivers (Victor Cruz and Wes Welker) and only 1 Tight End made the cut (Jimmy Graham). The low total for a top target was 19.3%, which was the number for Josh Morgan of the Redskins. The high was Brandon Marshall of the Bears with 48.2% of their receiver targets, showing either how bad the Bears WR corps. are or how little QB Jay Cutler trusts anyone on that team.

But as we look further into the numbers its important to identify the help that the player receives. For that we look at the separation between the top receiver on a team and the second most targeted receiver on a team. If the gap is large I have more confidence that we have a player who can perform in a number 1 role on a team.  The average result for the top player on each team was a 7.5% differential.

In this case only 13 players qualified. Again top of the chart was Marshall with 35.9% more targets than Earl Bennett. The most surprising name in the top was Jeremy Kerley of the Jets. He was only targeted 95 times and it was likely more of a reflection of how bad the Jets passing game was than anything else. The least impactful top target was Graham with only 1.1% more targets than the next highest on the Saints.

If you combine the two qualifiers you can get the group of players who were given what I would consider elite treatment last season. These are the players I would feel most comfortable signing to be the primary target on my team and not worrying as much about the downside of the move. I know they can perform without the great assistance other players will get.


This list is very different than top receiving yards. Gone from that list are Dez Bryant, Vincent Jackson, Demaryius Thomas, Roddy White, Julio Jones, and Marquez Colston. That doesn’t mean that these players are not true number 1’s just that I would have more reservations about them if I were to sign them as a free agent and my next best option is Early Doucet. When you are the primary target like this a team knows that not only is the ball coming your way 1 out of every 3 chances but also that there is nobody else significant they need to worry about. It changes the way you play defense and makes it far more difficult on a receiver.

For the less productive players from a yardage standpoint, who would be Dwayne Bowe, Larry Fitzgerald, Stevie Johnson, and maybe Cruz and Michael Crabtree, my attention needs to go first to the QB and then to the team. If the QB is good (only Cruz’ is as Crabtree only played a handful of games with Kaepernick) then I may want to improve the players around him. Maybe a little too much is being asked of him. In Cruz’ case this is mitigated if Hakeem Nicks could stay healthy for 16 games. For the others I need to make a QB change first rather than jumping on the WR train.

Using a chart like this isn’t going to tell you who to sign or who not to sign its just a way to help better plan for your future. If Miles Austin for example has never shown the ability to be the man in an offense I am taking an incredible risk by paying him $11 million a year to come to say Minnesota. The day I make that decision to do that I also am making a decision to likely invest at least one of my top two draft picks on a Wide Receiver and also bringing in a 1A type that can be productive and demand 20% of the passes thrown his way. Very quickly my allocation needs to move from $11 million to $19 million plus a draft pick.

But if I sign Bowe for $11 million and have a decent QB I can probably get by with lesser players around him. I may not need to waste that draft pick any more. I might be able to avoid the secondary star. That $11 million is probably going to turn to $16 million or stay around $11 million and I’ll allocate a draft choice instead. I may be able to get two low cost players to pair with Bowe whereas Austin needs two higher priced ones. This is a piece of planning that will spiral into disaster if not followed by a team.

Of this list the two interesting situations will be those created by Crabtree and Welker. Crabtree was likely lost for the season giving the 49’ers nothing to fall back on. They acquired Anquan Boldin (25.8%), but Boldin was one of three highly targeted players in Baltimore. Vernon Davis was only targeted 16.7% of the time. It is a very different situation in Baltimore than San Francisco which leaves Boldin in what could be a bad situation with Crabtree out.

Its similar in New England.  They replaced Welker with Danny Amendola. Amendola was a 22.5% target last year which was 4.2% higher than the next player. That may be better than it appears since he did miss 4 games last year, though the productivity was low. The Patriots approach here is clear- blame the QB. But they have also seen changes to their corps replacing Brandon Lloyd (23.6%) and Aaron Hernandez (15.1%) with Michael Jenkins (18.6%), Donald Jones (16.8%),  and Jake Ballard (DNP).  Both Jenkins and Jones are going to be looked at as QB upgrades improving numbers, one of which will be asked to fill Lloyds shoes.

In terms of salary, half of the top 10 highest priced players did not make the list. They include Percy Harvin(injured), Wallace (26.4%/2.9%), Vincent Jackson (30.2%/4.3%), DeSean Jackson (17.4%, -6.7%), and Miles Austin (22.1%,-5.4%).  V. Jackson is probably in the perfect situation in Tampa with Mike Williams (25.9%) doing just enough to help him.  Wallace is going to go to Miami and pair with Hartline and Dustin Keller, who should be able to replicate the Steelers formula of 3 players with 20% looks. He will likely need that to succeed. DeSean Jackson could easily be released next year if he continues to underperform.