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I’m back…for now

April 4, 2016

For the last half decade I’ve written about the NFL Draft in great detail. Last year I wasn’t able to keep up that +300 prospects graded level depth but nonetheless I feel like I had a good showing. This year is in doubt though because my personal life has been quite busy (sold our condo, bought a new condo, wife totaled her car, bought a new car, baby Avery is due to arrive any day now). I still have the itch to write about the draft though so I’ll give it my best shot but just know this year will not be like previous years and my draft analysis will likely have some holes in it.

Anyway I’ve been gone awhile so I wanted to quickly go through a few topics that are on my mind:

Free Agency Steals and Busts

Free Agency is essentially in the books and after a month to digest it all, I came up with these picks as the best and worst signings this year:

Steals

Mario Williams-If Mario Williams had hit free agency in 2015 he would have garnered a 4 yr $48 million deal at minimum because he was coming off three straight seasons of double digit sacks highlighted by his 14.5 sack 2014. 38 sacks over the past 3 seasons at the age of 30 gets you paid. Apparently 43 sacks over the past 4 seasons at the age of 31 doesn’t as he had to settle for a 2 yr $17 million deal. I bet that next year Williams will look like an absolute steal for $8.5 mil a year after he gets the 6th double digit sack season of his career and goes to the Pro Bowl. The Dolphins, with Cameron Wake and Ndamakong Suh, might just have the best D-Line in the NFL. The Rams and Jets would have an argument as well.

Eric Weddle-Another 31 year old perennial Pro Bowler that was overlooked in free agent, Weddle is an intelligent player who has consistently been graded by Profootballfocus as one of the best safeties in the game. I was shocked that the Ravens were able to steal him from the Chargers for only 4yr $26 million ($6.5 mil/year). The Ravens are the perfect team for an aging but still talented veteran, ask Elvis Dumervil, and I expect him to effortlessly become part of the culture of that team. It’s just a perfect fit.

Matt Forte-I was disappointed to see the Cowboys not go after Forte as his 3 yr $12 mil deal seemed pretty reasonable for a player of his talents. Yes he is 30 years old but I didn’t see any reduction in productivity from his last year as his 4.1 ypc and his 8.8 ypr were both right around his career averages. I suspect Forte will be a workhorse in 2016 and 2017 and a timeshare back in 2018. That’s worth $12 million and I thought the Cowboys and the Packers made a lot of sense as he’s the ultimate security blanket in the passing game which would have been a god-send to Romo or Rodgers. Alas he now gets to catch passes from Geno Smith.

Casey Hayward-He came into the league looking like a superstar with 6 INTs and rated by Profootballfocus as one of the best corners in the league. He has regressed since then but has been a solid starter nonetheless the past two seasons (his 2013 was basically wiped out due to injury). I’m surprised that a 26 year old cornerback with starting experience that flashed ballhawking skills in 2 of his 3 seasons didn’t get a better deal than 3 yr $15.3 million. He looks like a cheap, quality #2 CB for a team, something a lot of NFL teams pay through the nose for…cough Brandon Carr’s made $10 mil a year the past 4 seasons!

Busts

Malik Jackson-This is probably the biggest surprise signing of not just this year but of the past couple years combined. I actually really liked Malik coming out of Tennessee a few years ago as he’s a combo DE/DT and can be elite at either spot, depending on the down (elite DE as a run stopper, elite DT as a pass rusher). Yet the guy just got JJ Watt level money. Newsflash: Malik Jackson is not JJ Watt. Malik’s career stats over 4 seasons (124 tackles 14 sacks) are arguably worse than JJ Watt’s 2012 season (81 tackles, 20.5 sacks) or 2014 season (78 tackles, 20.5 sacks). Who would pay an underrated, up and coming player a 6yr $90 million deal like you would a perennial Pro Bowler? I think Jackson is cut after 1-2 seasons and is looked at as one of the all-time great busts in free agency.

Oliver Vernon-Vernon is a quality #2 DE for a team. I wouldn’t want him as my #1 rusher as he’s only had a double digit season once in four years despite lining up across from Cameron Wake, one of the best pass rushers in the NFL over that time frame. He is only 25 years old though so I guess the thinking is that his 6.5 and 7.5 sack seasons the past two years will morph into 12 and 13 sacks seasons but I doubt it. JPP doesn’t get nearly as many double teams as Wake does so Vernon will likely become a better player but not necessarily a more productive one and will stay in this 8-10 sack range. As such he will be called a bust as a signing since you don’t give a 5yr $85 mil deal to a #2 DE that never makes it to the Pro Bowl.

The Browns offseason

If I ever became the GM of an NFL team with a top 10 pick and without a franchise QB I would do six things:

  1. Cut or trade every veteran on my team that is 29 years old or older.
  2. Purposefully suck in Year 1 to be near the top of the draft in each round for two consecutive drafts.
  3. Make no major moves in free agency except on a quarterback.
  4. Spend a large amount of money/picks to get the best possible quarterback for the franchise long term.
  5. Trade down in the draft regularly
  6. Sign a bunch of undrafted free agents

Interestingly enough the Browns are following this exact blueprint (the last two likely occurring later this month) and are getting hammered in the media for it. I think the main part of the backlash is that they are “moneyball” GMs and that branding quickly gets reactions from the old school coaching crowd as they come off as outsiders and know it alls. I have my doubts that Jimmy Haslam will have the patience to see their blueprint through but if he does I suspect he will be rewarded for it as they are on the right path. The Browns do not currently have the talent level to compete at a high level in the NFL and should avoid the overpriced quick fixes in free agency. They also should allow mediocre players (Tashaun Gipson, Travis Benjamin) and older players (Alex Mack-30 years old) leave in free agency as it will net them compensation picks as well as retain their salary cap space for future seasons when attracting a free agent to become a Brown won’t require an above market contract and could be the difference between an 8-8 season and a playoff bound 10-6 season. Finally they should spend ample resources finding their franchise QB whether it be in free agency (RGIII) or the draft (#2 Overall Pick likely being used on a QB). All of the correct moves were made by the Browns new management team but since they were looking at the results of these moves 2-3 years from now and not for the 2016 season they were panned by the media. Now it’s on to the draft for them and I will be watching them closely as a good draft by the moneyballers in 2016 and again near the top of the draft in 2017 could result in the Browns being the hot team in 2018 just like the Raiders and Jaguars were this year.

Finding your Franchise Quarterback

I really like what NFL GMs are doing this offeason in regards to the QB position. Everyone is doing it a little differently but I like the logic of a lot of recent moves:

Browns: They plan on taking a QB at #2 Overall yet still kept Josh McCown and added RGIII as they think both have good value at their respective salaries. I like this as RGIII was a franchise QB just a few years ago so to get him for a 1 year deal and an option for a 2nd year at 9 million makes some sense. Keeping McCown does as well as there is no better veteran QB to have to keep the young rookie and RGIII’s demeanor in check while teaching them both a thing or two about being a professional. The Browns are a mess. I like that the new regime saw this and said, “Let’s do everything we can to ensure that we will have quality options at the QB position in 2017 and beyond.”

Eagles: The Eagles are in a similar position to the Browns but in reverse as they spent a lot of money in free agency on the position (Sam Bradford 2 yr $35 mil, Chase Daniels 3 yr up to $21 mil) but it isn’t keeping them from considering using a Top 10 pick on the position as well (the Eagles top brass have met with numerous QB prospects over the last few days).

Analysis: Both the Eagles and the Browns actions could be considered overkill in their pursuit of an elite QB but in my opinion the position is so important to fill at a high level that more teams should do what the Eagles and Browns are doing and just throw resources at it. An example of this strategy working is none other than RGIIIs old team as they spent an incredible amount of picks to move up to get RGIII yet when Kirk Cousins fell to them later in the draft they didn’t overthink it and still drafted him. Similar situations have occurred previously whether it be Matt Flynn and Russell Wilson in Seattle, Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay, etc. The QB position in the NFL is critical to a team’s success so it’s important for a team to first figure that position out and then move forward, cost be damned.

Broncos: The Broncos basically admitted to the world that they won an NFL Championship despite their QB play when they let both of their starters walk out the door. I liked this move as 4 yr $72 mil for Brock Osweiler seemed steep and Peyton Manning was worse than Osweiler so he clearly wasn’t a good fall back plan. One stat I came up with myself that I have yet to see anywhere else is this:

Peyton Manning (2015 season): 10 games 2,249 yards  9 TD  17 INT

Unknown QB (2015 season): 11 games 2,793 yds 11 TD 15 INT

The unknown QB is the trio of Brandon Weeden, Matt Cassel and Kellen Moore for the Cowboys this year. Think of how badly they played last year and then realize that the stats show that they outperformed Peyton Manning. The only reason this isn’t talked about is because Manning was 8-2 in his 10 games and the Cowboys trio was 1-11 in their 12 games. Analysis: I like that Elways saw what really occurred in 2015, the defense carried the team singlehandedly to a championship, and didn’t bother spending a lot of money (Osweiler) or even a little money (Manning) to have one of the QBs return. Mark Sanchez, Colin Kaepernick and/or Ryan Fitzpatrick/2016 Draft Pick will be able to be Manning level terrible and for millions less. It isn’t a good long term strategy but because their defense is so good and so expensive it’s probably his best short term option. Don’t be surprised if the Broncos take Connor Cook or Kevin Hogan. They both seem like Elway type of guys and could be had with a mid round pick.

Bills: Remember this time last year when the Bills traded for Matt Cassel and everyone expected him to win the starting job over Tyrod Taylor? Well it didn’t happen and one year later it now seems obvious to us why as Cassel went on to have a terrible season with the Cowboys (70.6 QB Rating) and Taylor went on to have a breakout season with the Bills (99.4 QB Rating).

Analysis: Well the Bills made the right call then and I think they are making the right call now in regards to them ignoring Taylor’s contract demands as they have Tyrod 1 year into a ridiculous 3 yr $3.35 million deal (combined not annually!) and aren’t letting him out of it. They rightly can say they gave a guy with 0 career starts in Baltimore a chance to really compete for a starting job and now get to take advantage of the savings that result in finding themselves a diamond in the rough. If they had caved to his agent’s demands it would have immediately taken away the biggest benefit of going out on a limb like they did with an unproven player. Taylor will get one more year to prove himself and if he is as successful in 2016 as he was in 2015 he’ll get that third year of his contract ripped up. If not then the Bills can keep him in 2017 for another low priced year and tell him it was his own fault because now they aren’t 100% sure he’s the answer anymore. Either way the Bills are, and will be again in 2017, in a very enviable position with a starting QB making less than $2 mil a year. It will give them a lot of options in free agency and in working out long term extensions for their young nucleus like Cordy Glenn whom they just franchised.

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2 Comments
  1. peter permalink

    With so much going on, no need for 100s of reports. Just have fun with it. You are spot on with the Browns. The rollover cap means that you can transfer cap space (and wins) from the current year to a future year, while getting a better draft position. It’s also extra-valuable to have the absolute worst record and get the first overall pick to draft QB, and certainly the Browns are heading in that direction.

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  1. Draft Thoughts Part 3 | dfwprosports

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