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Week 7 (2014) Game Scripts: Packers Lead the Way

For the second straight week, a pair of blowouts registered Game Scripts of at least +17.0 points. This time, two 2013 NFC South playoff teams were on the losing side of things, as the Packers (+22.8) crushed the Panthers in the afternoon before the Broncos obliterated the 49ers (+18.0) at night. Aaron Rodgers was his absurdly hyper efficient self, completing 19 of 22 passes for 255 yards and 3 touchdowns. Peyton Manning, in addition to setting the career passing touchdowns record, threw for a first down on 14 of his 28 dropbacks. That’s pretty darn good.1

There were only two teams to win in week 7 with a negative Game Script.  The most shocking comeback of the day came in Detroit, where the Lions overcame a 13-point deficit with five minutes remaining to win, 24-23. In Buffalo, the Bills drove 80 yards in just over three minutes and defeated the Vikings when Kyle Orton hit Sammy Watkins for a touchdown with just one second left in the game.

In the “misleading final scores” category, the Browns/Jaguars game takes first prize. The Jaguars posted a Game Script of just +1.5 in the team’s 24-6 win; the Browns actually led for most of the first half and had the ball in Jacksonville territory in the middle of the fourth quarter tailing by just four points. Alas, two late touchdowns, and it turned into a Jaguars blowout. On the other side of the coin, the Rams won by just two points, but were in control for most of the game in the upset victory over Seattle. St. Louis had a 21-3 first half lead, before Russell Wilson second-half magic nearly altered the result. For the day, Wilson became the first player to ever pass for 300 yards and rush for 100 yards in the same game.

The table below lists the Game Scripts data from each game in week 7. [click to continue…]

  1. The best rate this year was Matt Ryan against Tampa Bay, when he picked up a first down on 60% of his dropbacks. []
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Just above these words, it says “posted by Chase.” And it was literally posted by Chase, but the words below the line belong to Bryan Frye, a longtime reader and commenter who has agreed to write this guest post for us. And I thank him for it. Bryan lives in Yorktown, Virginia, and operates his own great site at nflsgreatest.co.nf, where he focuses on NFL stats and history.



With six weeks behind us, we should be at the point where we can figure out who teams are.1 However, this season seems to be a parity lover’s dream. Although many teams near the poles are who we thought they were, others (such as New Orleans and Dallas and perhaps San Diego) are far from their preseason projections. The middle ranks are a jumble of average and indiscernible teams, and no team was even able to make it to 4-0.2 With half of the NFL’s teams lingering around 1-2 losses, how can we tell the petty tyrants from those with legitimate claims to the throne? I recently began working on a model to do just that.

[click to continue…]

  1. For a counter view, see this post by Chase. []
  2. Think that’s crazy? In 1961, the Cowboys, Lions, and Eagles were the last undefeated teams in the NFL, at 2-0. []
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Analyzing NFL SRS Ratings Through 3.0625 Weeks

I thought it would be fun to create NFL SRS ratings through three weeks and one Thursday Night football game. After just 3.0625 weeks, all data are heavily influenced by events that are unlikely to be repeated.  Remember Neil’s old post that showed how for teams with any record, to determine their “true winning percentage”, we need to add 5.5 wins and 5.5 losses. That means through three weeks, a team’s actual record should still be regressed to league average by nearly 80%; in other words, take all these ratings with a big grain of salt.  But there’s no reason not to run the numbers, so here are the customary parameters:

  • Home wins of less than 3 points are treated as ties;
  • For all other games, give the road team 3 points.  From there, wins of fewer than 7 points are treated as 7-point wins;
  • Wins of between 7 and 24 points (after adjusting for home field) are treated as they are.  So a 14-point home win is a 11-point MOV, and a 17-point road win is a 20-point MOV;
  • Wins of greater than 24 points convert to a Margin of Victory that is the average of 24 and the HFA-adjusted MOV.  So the Falcons get a 31.5 for beating Tampa Bay by 42 at home, while the Giants get a MOV of 29 for winning in Washington by 31.

From there, we simple use the typical SRS iteration process to produce a set a season ratings. Those are presented below: [click to continue…]

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Fourth Down Conservatism Rules Week 3

The top-scorer on Harbaugh's fantasy team

The top-scorer on Harbaugh's fantasy team.

It’s become trendy in this space and many others for stats folks to rail against bad 4th down decisions. It’s even trendier to do it when those conservative decisions backfire, leading to losses. But analyzing any decision — and especially decisions about whether to go for it or kick on 4th down — should not be done with the benefit of hindsight. So today, I’m going to rail against John Harbaugh, Bill Belichick, and Mike McCoy, who made some awfully timid 4th down decisions but won on Sunday. And while one could argue that they won because of those decisions, the better argument, I believe, is that they won in spite of them.

Trailing by 4 with 5:03 remaining, the Ravens kick a Field Goal on the 3-yard line

Harbaugh is no stranger to meek 4th down decision making; in fact, he’s no stranger to this particular brand of conservative coaching. Last year, he sent out the kicker when, trailing by 6 points with just over four minutes remaining in the game, the Ravens faced a 4th and 5 from the 6 yard line. Both Jason Lisk and I wrote about the silliness of this decision, which resulted in a Buffalo 23-20 victory.

Facing similar circumstances — a 4-point lead and an extra minute remaining makes it less objectionable to kick the field goal, but being on the 3-yard line makes it even worse — Harbaugh again sent out Justin Tucker to take the points.  That decision cost the Ravens 0.22 expected wins; according to Advanced Football Analytics, the decision to kick a field goal instead of going for it dropped Baltimore’s win probability from 54% to 32%.

As Mike Tanier facetiously wrote, this just set up the ultimate Ravens end game: one bomb from Joe Flacco and one kick by Tucker is all the team would need to win.  Sure enough, Flacco hit Steve Smith for a 32-yard catch, and Tucker kicked the chip shot for the win.  The Ravens wound up having two additional possessions: after Tucker made it a 1-point game, the Browns and Ravens traded 3-and-outs, and the Browns went 3-and-out again before giving Baltimore one final possession with 1:58 remaining.

At the time of the decision to send Tucker out for a field goal, Brian Hoyer was 19 of 22 for 290 yards and a touchdown. He wound up throwing incomplete on his last three passes of the day. But if not for two Cleveland three-and-outs — the only two of the day — Harbaugh’s decision to cost his team 22 points of win probability would be generating much more backlash today. [click to continue…]

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Here is graphic video of a famous football player performing an act of cowardly violence against a defenseless victim. The offender did not receive any penalty for his actions. After committing that crime, the assailant showed no remorse at the condition of the victim, who lay prostrate on the ground. Not disciplined for earlier acts of violence, that player struck again, this time paralyzing his defenseless victim. That victim would eventually die far too young, in part as a consequence of that attack.

For this perpetrator, the response was much worse than insufficient punishment or radio silence. Jack Tatum was celebrated for many of his hits, perhaps most notably the one on Sammy White in Super Bowl XI. The Ray Rice punch makes all of us cringe, but the hit on White―and even more so the one on Darryl Stingley ― should also make us cringe. [click to continue…]

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Quick Thoughts on the Saints 0-2 Start

No team wants to start the season 0-2. By now you’ve heard the statistic that since 1990, only 12% of teams to start 0-2 have made the playoffs. While that’s true, that’s just one way — and not the only way — to examine the Saints start. That analysis is based on the following idea:

Look at group of teams with the same start –> see how they finish the year

But there’s another way to consider New Orleans’ early season woes. The Saints lost both games on the road. So while New Orleans is 0-2, the team still has 8 home games remaining. Based on the Saints history under Sean Payton, projecting a a 7-1 home record doesn’t seem unreasonable. And while the team lost both games so far, note that Saints opponents have already kicked three game-winning or game-tying field goals at the end of regulation or overtime already.1 That’s an amazing feat to have occurred after just two games; from a predictive standpoint, the Saints could just as easily be 2-0. And from a predictive standpoint, a 3-3 finish in road games the rest of the way doesn’t seem unreasonable, either. That would give the team a 10-6 record, and probably a playoff berth. [click to continue…]

  1. Matt Bryant forced overtime with a 51-yard field goal as time ran out in the 4th quarter, and then won the game for Atlanta in week 1 with a 52-yarder. []
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Quick Reactions From Week 2 Sunday’s Games

After a really dark week for the NFL, I don’t blame you if you were less excited than usual about this weekend’s games. But there were 14 games to watch on Sunday, and I at least watched a little bit of each game. Here are some quick thoughts, in chronological order.

Buffalo 29, Miami 10

  • Last December, Ryan Tannehill went to Buffalo and proceeded to have one of the worst passing games you could ever have without throwing an interception.  He gained 36 net yards on 34 dropbacks.  In the first half on Sunday, he had… 13 net yards on 14 dropbacks. In the second half, he dropped back to pass 40 times (!) and gained 197 yards. Okay, not the stuff Pro Bowls are built on, but hey, it’s an improvement.
  • EJ Manuel looks to be playing the role of game manager: as long as the Buffalo defense (this week) and running game (last week) play well, that can be a winning formula.  Manuel’s numbers looked good this week, but that was more Sammy Watkins than Manuel.  From what I watched, Watkins (8/117/1) could have had an even bigger game had Manuel been more accurate. Buffalo had just 13 first downs.
  • Plays You Need To Know About: Mike Wallace had a ridiculous catch for a touchdown. C.J. Spiller had a great kickoff return touchdown. Any play involving Sammy Watkins.

[click to continue…]

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Red Zone Diaries: Week 1 Review

Football is back. Oh my goodness gracious. Football is back.

The return of football also means the return of TV’s greatest channel and one of the five most important innovations of the 21st century. The Red Zone Channel has simultaneously rendered obsolete commercials, bad games, bad moments of good games, and halitosis. Let’s celebrate with a running diary. Below is what I was thinking as I watched the RedZone through the early games on Sunday.

Allow me to make one gambling note right off the bat. My stone-cold mega-lock of the week was a two-team tease of the Raiders (to +11.5) and the Bears (to -1). I feel completely queasy about the Bears part of this bet. I’m sticking with it, but every instinct in my body is crying out: “Why take Jay Cutler down to 1 point when I can take Peyton Manning down to 2? You know you will regret this.” So if I sound extra emotional about Raiders-Jets and Bills-Bears, that’s why.

One more note: I was writing this as the games were still going on so the time is approximate in some cases. You can pick most of those out by the times that are whole numbers that end in :00 or :30.

Week 1 Red Zone Diaries

Pregame: Ten years of redzone? I didn’t know about this until 2010 or so. Clearly I am getting old. Maybe I’m remembering that wrong, anyway, since I am getting old. Oh so good to see Andrew Siciliano. Is it possible he’s the median man in America? Dark hair, white, average handsomeness, only his ears seem anything other than completely average. If he’s the median man, here’s the Andrew Siciliano of restaurants and the Andrew Siciliano of American incomes. [click to continue…]

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2014 NFL Standings Prediction: Confidence Edition

Here are my NFL projected standings for 2014, but with a twist: I’m ranking the teams from most confident to least confident in their final records. In other words, these are rankings with implied variances, too. If you think this is just a way for me to have built-in excuses for missing on teams in the bottom ten, you are completely wrong and I would never do that.

1) Denver Broncos: 12-4

There may be no more exciting team to watch on the field than the Broncos. Of course, there’s no more boring team to talk about, which is why the Broncos take the place atop my confidence leaderboard. Absent a Peyton Manning injury, Denver will sleepwalk to 12 wins. Games against Seattle, San Francisco, and New England will be must-see television, and also serve to guard against predicting a 14-2 sort of season. The additions of DeMarcus Ware, T.J. Ward, and Aqib Talib, along with the return of Ryan Clady on offense, means the Broncos are fielding their deepest team of the Manning era.

2) New England Patriots: 12-4

Even when the Patriots aren’t very good, they still win 12 games. The offense has a lot of question marks at wide receiver, but Shane Vereen and Rob Gronkowski can mitigate those concerns when healthy. The defense has five Pro Bowl caliber players on defense with Vince Wilfork, Chandler Jones, Jerod Mayo, Darrelle Revis and Devin McCourty.  Three others — Rob Ninkovich, Dont’a Hightower, and Jamie Collins — look to be above-average starters, too. This should be the team’s best defense in a long time (and will be even better once Brandon Browner returns from suspension), which makes New England have a higher floor than any team in the NFL.

3) Seattle Seahawks: 12-4

Do you really need explanation here? The only reason I’ve got Seattle down at 3 instead of 1 is I see a bit more variance in their potential outlook.  The Seahawks are the clear best team in the league to me, so a 15-1 season isn’t out of the question;1 of course, a very difficult schedule could lead to a 10-6 year, too.

[click to continue…]

  1. For what it’s worth, while it’s a bit easier to be higher on Seattle after their strong performance in week 1, I did predict the Seahawks to win against Green Bay. []
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Which team will be the biggest surprise in 2014? Last year, the Houston Texans shocked Vegas and analytics fiends alike. Before the season, the Texans’ over/under win total was 10.5. Football Outsiders Almanac projected them to have 9.3 wins and gave them a 67% chance of making the playoffs. Basically nobody saw the 2013 Texans’ implosion to 30th in DVOA coming. Interestingly, though, the Texans are part of a larger trend in the kinds of teams that have been having enormous drop-offs in performance.

Consider the graph below. It looks at the change in DVOA for good-but-not-great teams, those that ranked between 6th and 15th in the previous year.1

AH Fig 1

Historically, the good-but-not-great teams have regressed a little bit. From 1985 to 2010, those teams dropped on average between two and four points of DVOA. The trend was relatively stable for each five year period. While we would expect some regression from good teams, the size of that regression has changed since 2010. Over the last four years, the good-but-not-great teams have dropped an average of ten points of DVOA, the biggest regression by far since the merger. Note that if we drop 1983 to account for regression coming out of the strike-shortened 1982 season, we get a DVOA change for 1980-1984 of about four points of DVOA, making 2010-2013 even more clearly on its own island. This idea leads into my first prediction for the season. [click to continue…]

  1. Before 1989, I use Andreas Shepherd’s estimated DVOA. I thank him for sharing his data. []
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Projections: 2014 Awards

After 214 days off, we finally have real football again. Tonight, the Seahawks host the Packers, as Seattle begins its title defense.

Starting in 2004, the NFL now schedules the defending Super Bowl champion to take the field for the league’s opening night kickoff game.  For the first eight seasons, the defending champion hosted each of these Thursday night games, and won all eight times.  In 2012, the Giants lost the opening game to the Cowboys on a Wednesday night, as  President Barack Obama was speaking the following night at the Democratic National Convention.  And last year, a conflict with the Baltimore Orioles led to the Ravens/Broncos matchup moving to Denver, which the Broncos won, 49-27.

So the last two years, the defending champs have lost, although it’s worth noting that the Ravens were a 7.5-point underdog in 2013. Tonight, Seattle is a 6-point favorite, which has become the new norm for the team.  But it wasn’t that long ago that the Seahawks were far from a lock to win every home game.

In each of Russell Wilson’s first three home starts — against the Cowboys, Packers, and Patriots — the Seahawks were three-to-four point underdogs.  And, with an assist from the replacement referees, the Seahawks won each of those games.  For his career, Wilson is 17-1 in Seahawks home games, including a 2-0 mark in the playoffs (the one loss came to Arizona, in the last regular season game in Seattle).

That makes Wilson the fourth quarterback to win 17 of his first 18 starts, joining Daryle Lamonica, Kurt Warner, and Matt Ryan. But did you know that Danny White began his career as the Cowboys starter with 18 consecutive home wins (including playoffs)?

And now, before we kick off the season, I wanted to get in my 2014 projected award winners. [click to continue…]

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Below are my 2014 projected quarterback rankings. Let me be very clear at the top of this post as to exactly what these rankings mean: they represent my projections of the order in which these quarterbacks will finish in my preferred measure of quarterback play. Everyone has their own measuring sticks when it comes to quarterbacks; for me, it’s Adjusted Net Yards provided above league-average. As a reminder, here is how we calculate that metric.

First, we start with Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt, which is calculated as follows:

(Passing Yards + 20 * PassTDs – 45 * INTs – Sack Yards Lost) / (Pass Attempts + Sacks)

Then, we take each quarterback’s ANY/A average, and subtract from that number the league average ANY/A metric, which should be around 5.9 ANY/A. Then, we multiply that difference by the quarterback’s number of dropbacks.

Last year, Peyton Manning led the league in this category, with 2,037 Adjusted Net Yards of value provided above average. The benefit to this approach to ranking passers is that the results are easy to test. At the end of the season, we can calculate the actual results, and then look back and laugh at this post.

So, ranking 1-32, here is how I project the top quarterback for each team to finish in 2014.

No, Peyton, you're the number one

No, Peyton, you're the number one.

1) Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos

There’s a reason Manning is the heavy favorite to repeat as NFL MVP. The Broncos lost Eric Decker and Knowshon Moreno, and Wes Welker’s concussion concerns only worsened this preseason. No matter: Manning remains the gold standard. Denver added Emmanuel Sanders in the offseason, and he caught five passes for 128 yards with two touchdowns against Houston in the preseason. Manning has led the NFL in sack rate in three of his last four seasons, and the return of Ryan Clady should make Manning even more difficult to sack in 2014. No need to over think this one: Manning is the clear favorite to again provide the most value of any quarterback in the league.

2) Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers

3) Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints

Choosing between Brees and Rodgers is tough, but the return of a healthy Randall Cobb and the departure of Darren Sproles is enough to tip the scales towards Rodgers for me. Green Bay tends to forget about the little things — Corey Linsley, a fourth round pick, will be the team’s starting center — but Rodgers has a way of curing all ills. Brees turns 36 in January, which is yet another reason to break ties in favor of Rodgers. Since ’09, Rodgers is the league-leader in ANY/A, while over that period, Brees has thrown the most touchdowns and gained the most yards. If Manning isn’t the king in 2014, it’s a good bet that either Rodgers or Brees took the crown. [click to continue…]

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Updated: Vegas Futures Wins Totals

Some background links:

Today I want to look at the latest odds from Vegas on NFL futures, this time courtesy of Bovada.  While we often focus on the number of wins a team is projected to have, the payouts associated with each bet are also key sources of information. Consider the Bears and the Panthers, two teams Bovada has pegged at 8.5 wins. You might think Chicago projects as a better team than Carolina this year; as it turns out, so does Bovada.

If you want to bet on Chicago winning more than 8.5 games this year, Bovada is requiring you bet $155 just to win $100 in the event the Bears win nine games. Of course, if you’re brave enough to suggest that the Bears will win eight or fewer games, Bovada would pay you $125 for your $100 bet. While Chicago is at -155(o)/+125(u), the Panthers are at +145(o), -175(u). So if you think the Panthers are overvalued at 8.5 wins, well, you need to bet $175 on the under just to win $100 if Carolina falls short of that number. On the other hand, Bovada would pay you $145 if you want to take the Panthers winning nine or more games.

Based on those numbers, we can conclude that Vegas thinks Chicago has a 58.2% chance of going over 8.5 wins1, while Carolina has just a 38.6% chance of going over 8.5 wins.2 The table below shows the number of projected wins for each team in the NFL this year, along with the lines associated with their over and under bets. The final column shows the implied likelihood (by the over/under lines) of the team going over their win total; that column was used to break ties between teams with the same number of projected wins.

[click to continue…]

  1. The -155 implies a 60.8% chance of going over 8.5 wins (155/255), while the +125 on the under implies a 55.5% chance of going over 8.5 wins (1 – [100/225]).  The average of 0.555 and 0.608 is .582. []
  2. An over line of +145 implies a 40.8% chance of going over (100/245), while an under of -175 implies just a 36.4% chance of going over (1 – [175/275] []
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Yesterday, I looked at how long it took the best quarterbacks to break out. Today, I want to apply what we learned from that post to 15 current NFL quarterbacks with fewer than 50 starts, all of whom were 26 years old or younger during the 2013 season.

Bradford looks to check down

Bradford looks to check down.

Sam Bradford (49 career starts): Career Relative Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt of -0.68.

Bradford was overrated after he put up good counting stats but weak efficiency numbers as a rookie; he posted a -1.0 RANY/A in 2010, a -1.4 average in 10 starts in 2011, was at -0.3 in 16 starts in 2012, and then +0.2 in seven starts last year. Yesterday, we noted that great quarterbacks who came to terrible teams (Warren Moon and Drew Brees, in addition to former number one picks like Troy Aikman, Terry Bradshaw, Vinny Testaverde, and Steve Young) struggled initially. Bradford would seem to fit that mold, although he’s now 49 starts into his career. Are there other reasons to give him a pass?

St. Louis had the third-youngest offense in the NFL last year, and the man who has gained the most yards from Bradford over the last four years is Brandon Gibson. The former first overall pick has received very little help, and been saddled with a revolving door of mediocre receivers.

On the other hand, Kellen Clemens posted better numbers than Bradford last year, at least when you adjust for strength of schedule. As Bill Barnwell pointed out last week, Bradford’s big problem is his inability to throw the ball down the field, which jives with some of the work I’ve done Bradford’s historically low yards per completion averages.  If not for Bradford’s first season of above-average work last year, I’d say his odds of ever being a franchise quarterback are very low.  But there has been some progression, and he does fit the mold of number one pick being saddled with bad teammates.  Of course, the presence of Brian Schottenheimer is enough to make me skeptical of Bradford’s ability to put it all together this year.  Perhaps the best case scenario is a Testaverde-like revival with another team years from now.

Cam Newton (48 career starts): Career RANY/A of +0.30.

Not much to see here. Newton’s RANY/A has moved from +0.3 as a rookie to +0.7 in 2012 to -0.2 last year; it went under the radar because #QBWINZ, but Newton did have a down season in 2013.  It’s hard to find any reasons for optimism for the Panthers this year after a mass exodus in the offseason, but that doesn’t say much about Newton’s long-term prospects.   Add in his rushing ability, and Newton has shown enough to say that he’s still in contention (if he’s not already there) to go down as a franchise quarterback.

Andy Dalton (48 career starts): Career RANY/A of -0.01.

Look at that, Dalton is almost perfectly average! Bill Barnwell did a nice job profiling Dalton last week, and it does seem like what you see is what you will get from Dalton.  After posting slightly below-average RANY/A numbers in 2011 and 2012, he was above-average (+0.4) last year.  But the Bengals have one of the most talented offenses in the NFL if you exclude the quarterback position; at this point, you’d be hard-pressed to find many folks who believe Dalton will turn into a future star.

Of the 42 quarterbacks I looked at yesterday, 13 failed to be significantly above-average during any of their first three 16-game samples.  Dalton doesn’t really resemble any of them: Bradshaw/Testaverde/Elway/Vick were former number one picks; Brady/Favre/Krieg/Kelly were on the border of being good enough on to not make the list, and were certainly ahead of where Dalton is now; McNabb and Cunningham were running quarterbacks.  Moon played for a terrible team, and Gannon and Theismann sat for long stretches.  That’s the full thirteen. The best case scenario may be that Dalton turns into a Krieg or a poor man’s Jim Kelly.  Of course, he could also win a Super Bowl by riding the coattails of one of the more talented (and youngest) rosters in the league.

Christian Ponder (35 career starts): Career RANY/A of -1.19.

There are always excuses to be made for bad quarterbacks, and I’m sure that there are still some Vikings fans who believe in Ponder.  He produced a -1.7 RANY/A as a rookie, improved to -0.9 in 2012, but was back at -1.1 in nine starts last year.  Minnesota may not have a ton of talent at wide receiver, but Ponder’s failure to produce even with Greg Jennings is yet another strike against him. The Vikings drafted Teddy Bridgewater at the end of the first round in the 2014 draft, which seems like the beginning of the end for the former Florida State star.

Wilson is watching game tape right now.

Wilson is watching game tape right now.

Russell Wilson (32 career starts): Career RANY/A of +1.15.

Franchise quarterback achievement badge mode: unlocked.

Ryan Tannehill (32 career starts): Career RANY/A of -0.80.

Tannehill was at -0.7 RANY/A in 2012 and at -0.9 RANY/A last year; neither of those numbers put his future prospects in a positive light.  There are excuses, to be sure: he was a raw prospect, the Dolphins offensive line was the worst in the NFL, he and Mike Wallace have the chemistry of a pair of tomatoes, etc., but the numbers are bleak enough to cast doubt on Tannehill’s future.  Unless the argument is that Tannehill landed on one of the very worst offenses in the league — which would allow you to lump him in with the Aikmans, Bradshaws, Breeses, and Testaverdes of the world — there is simply no precedent for a quarterback being this below average for this long and then turning into a franchise passer.1 Barnwell is a little (and only a little) more bullish on Tannehill than I am, but 2014 would appear to be Tannehill’s last chance to convince the Dolphins that he was not a wasted pick.  There are a couple of mitigating factors here — the running game has been terrible, and as an immediate starter, Tannehill is at a disadvantage relative to other quarterbacks on this list — but I’m not going to lose sleep over whether this prediction will look bad in a few years.

Andrew Luck (32 career starts): Career RANY/A of -0.06.

Since starting this site, Luck has been one of the quarterbacks I’ve profiled the most.  He wins without much help and is an ESPN QBR star, but he’s below average in ANY/A.  I’m inclined to grade Luck on a curve — after all, the Colts team he inherited didn’t look any better than the ’70 Steelers or ’89 Cowboys or ’87 Bucs.  On the other hand, Reggie Wayne and T.Y. Hilton have given Luck some excellent targets, which has probably been enough to boost his ANY/A to league-average proportions.

Perhaps the best comparison will be to another quarterback drafted first overall by the Colts who had a magical history of producing comebacks: John Elway.  In any event, Luck’s already a franchise quarterback.

Can RG3 get up from a disastrous 2013?

Can RG3 get up from a disastrous 2013?

Robert Griffin III (29 career starts): Career RANY/A of +0.5.

Griffin’s career RANY/A is like measuring the temperature of a person with a foot in the freezer and a foot in a frying pan.  As a rookie, he had a RANY/A of +1.5; last year, it was -0.4, and that number doesn’t begin to explain how ugly things were in D.C.  The simplest explanation is that Griffin is a franchise quarterback who struggled last year as he recovered from ACL surgery and dealt with an ego-maniacal head coach.  But it’s hard to just assume Griffin is a franchise quarterback after 2013.  If Griffin one day turns into a Hall of Famer, we’ll remember that it was obvious from the start, as he had one of the greatest rookie seasons ever.  If he flames out, the first chapter of that book has already been written, too.

Blaine Gabbert (27 career starts): Career RANY/A of -2.15.

Spoiler alert: Gabbert is not a franchise quarterback.  He started at -2.2 RANY/A as a rookie on a team not dissimilar from the ’89 Cowboys; he’s followed that up, however, with a -1.2 RANY/A in 2012 and a -4.7 RANY/A over three starts last year. Suffice it to say if Gabbert turns into a franchise quarterback, it will have taken the greatest reclamation project in NFL history.

Colin Kaepernick (23 career starts): Career RANY/A of +1.06.

Kaepernick was mind-bogglingly efficient in 2012, producing a +1.6 RANY/A over 13 games and seven starts.  That number dropped to +0.8 RANY/A last year, but much of that is due to the loss of Michael Crabtree.  With an all-star crew of receivers set to take the field in 2014, I expect another very strong year out of Kaepernick. He may not be a finished product, but he already has the label (and contract) of a franchise quarterback.

Jake Locker (18 career starts): Career RANY/A of -0.25.

Maybe it’s because I’m a college football guy, too, but doesn’t it feel like Locker has already been around forever? I can’t believe he only has 18 career starts. And his RANY/A is nearly league-average, even if it doesn’t feel like Locker has been even that good.  I was not a fan of him as a prospect, but he has been better than I feared.  While we shouldn’t compare Locker’s first 18 starts to those of a quarterback who started immediately, I think Locker has shown enough that you can’t just write him off just yet.  On the other hand, his numbers last year were a bit inflated by one of the NFL’s easiest schedules. Like Tannehill, this is the crucial season for Locker, who also carries with him the injury prone label. But if Locker can stay healthy and produce strong numbers, Ken Whisenhunt may prove that he really is a quarterback whisperer (to the extent he’s not whispering to someone named Skelton, or Kolb, or Anderson, or Leinart, or Lindley, or Hall….)

Nick Foles (16 career starts): Career RANY/A of +1.45

Foles had a rookie RANY/A of -0.8 before posting an absurd +3.3 RANY/A in 2013. Even the bigger Eagles homer would admit that much of Foles’ success was due to good fortune, the presence of Chip Kelly, or both.  Foles may not have arrived just yet as a franchise quarterback, but if he turns into one, nobody will ever question when we first saw a glimpse of that ability.

Geno Smith (16 career starts): Career RANY/A of -1.70.

Smith was bad — really bad — for long stretches as a rookie.  But he finished the season well, and terrible rookie numbers on a talent-deficient offense are not the death knell for a quarterback’s career.  The Jets need to see a lot more from him this year, though, and he’ll need to produce roughly league-average numbers to make the Jets think he’s not just another Mark Sanchez.

Mike Glennon (13 career starts): Career RANY/A of -0.9.

Glennon had a very different rookie campaign than Smith, but the acquisition of Josh McCown sends Glennon to the bench, at least for now.  We don’t know how he’ll fare in (or when he’ll see) his next three starts, but Glennon’s performance through 16 starts likely won’t be enough to write him off.

EJ Manuel (10 career starts): Career RANY/A of -1.0.

Manuel had a rough rookie year, especially when you consider how much worse he looked than Thaddeus Lewis. On the other hand, ten starts of bad (but not horrendous) play certainly isn’t enough to write off Manuel, not when Smith was worse for a longer stretch.  Still, as with Smith, this is a big year for Manuel, especially after the team went out and acquired Clemson’s Sammy Watkins.

  1. I suppose one could point to Phil Simms, but I’d object for a couple of reasons. For one, Simms didn’t crack my initial list, checking in at #86 in my GQBOAT series.  Then again, I’ve made the argument that Simms’ numbers underrate him because of his terrible receivers, so I would morally classify Simms as a franchise quarterback. However, the Giants teams of the late ’70s and early ’80s were so terrible that he really has more in common with the Aikmans of the world than someone like Tannehill. Here is how Simms fared compared to the other Giants quarterbacks during Simms’ first three years and 1978, the year before he came to New York. That’s U-G-L-Y. But if Dolphins fans want to point to Simms as a pro-Tannehill example, so be it. []
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Graham was flexed often in 2013

Graham was flexed often in 2013.

On July 3rd, arbitrator Stephen Burbank ruled that Jimmy Graham is a tight end for purposes of the NFL’s franchise tag. You can read a very good analysis of Burbank’s ruling from Jason Lisk here. But after reading Burbank’s full report, I wanted to add my thoughts. And let’s start with a high-level overview.

Football is not baseball: position designations are much more fluid in football, and they also hold less inherent meaning. You can have five wide receivers on the field in football, but you can’t play five third basemen. You can go without a tight end or fullback for long stretches in a game, but you don’t exactly see baseball teams going without a first basemen very often.

In baseball, emphasizing position distinctions make sense because of the rigidity of the designation and the inherent scarcity involved in building a team. A catcher that can hit is more valuable than a first baseman that can hit, because it’s much easier finding a first baseman that’s a productive offensive player. In football, those concepts don’t necessarily apply, which gets us to the Jimmy Graham issue. Four years ago, when writing about Art Monk, I referenced Sean Lahman’s section on Monk in Lahman’s fantastic Pro Football Historical Abstract:

Even though Monk lined up as a wide receiver, his role was really more like that of a tight end. He used his physicality to catch passes. He went inside and over the middle most of the time. He was asked to block a lot. All of those things make him a different creature than the typical speed receiver…. His 940 career catches put him in the middle of a logjam of receivers, but he’d stand out among tight ends. His yards per catch look a lot better in that context as well.

I haven’t heard anyone else suggesting that we consider Monk as a hybrid tight end, but coach Joe Gibbs hinted at it in an interview with Washington sportswriter Gary Fitzgerald:

“What has hurt Art — and I believe should actually boost his credentials — is that we asked him to block a lot,” Gibbs said. “He was the inside portion of pass protection and we put him in instead of a big tight end or running back. He was a very tough, physical, big guy.”

Monk said similar things:

“In [1981] we were pass oriented and that didn’t work so well. So we went to a ground game. About this period of time we shifted a little into more of a balanced offense. I was moved from being just a wide receiver to playing H back. I would come out of the backfield and do a lot of motion. And we had a lot of success with that.”

And here’s more from Coach Gibbs:

‘We used him almost as a tight end a lot,’ said Gibbs, ‘and not only did he do it willingly, he was a great blocker for us.’

Heck, Graham may be more “wide receiver” than Monk was. But identifying Graham a tight end or a wide receiver is  meaningless. Calling Graham a tight end doesn’t mean the Saints not “get” to put another wideout on the field, and calling him a wide receiver doesn’t mean the Saints “have” to put an extra tight end on the field.  His position classification has no impact on what the Saints do on the field.  Which left Burbank to ultimately decide something very meaningful — his compensation — based on something very meaningless. [click to continue…]

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Round 1 2014 NFL Draft Recap

Let’s get started! As always, I’ll be using my Draft Pick Value Calculator and the JJ Trade Value Calculator to analyze all trades (well, all trades except for one).

1. Houston Texans – Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina

Little drama at the top. Clowney’s been expected to be the first overall pick in the 2014 draft for about three years.  He’ll be joining J.J. Watt to create a scary front seven in Houston. The Texans need to do something to counter the Colts landing Andrew Luck, and this isn’t too bad of a plan.

2. St. Louis Rams - Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn

Not much of a surprise here, either, at least according to most mocks. Robinson is an incredible athlete and a dominant run blocker. The early word, though, is that he’ll play left guard right away, as Jake Long remains on the left side (Robinson could play the right side, but the Rams may be happy with Joe Barksdale).

3. Jacksonville Jaguars – Blake Bortles, QB, UCF

Surprise! I had the Jaguars taking a quarterback, but Bortles was the first real shock of the draft. That’s a risky move by the Jaguars: Bortles seems to have pretty high bust potential and this pick means the clock is now beginning to tick on the rebuilding project. [click to continue…]

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Clowney's potential is too tantalizing for Atlanta to ignore

Clowney's potential is too tantalizing for Atlanta to ignore.

1. ***Trade*** Atlanta: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina

The Falcons are desperate for a pass rusher and Thomas Dimitroff doesn’t anticipate being this close to landing a top-flight talent like Clowney ever again. After successfully trading up for Julio Jones in 2011, Dimitroff rolls the dice again, sending the 6th pick in the draft along with number 68 (Atlanta’s 3rd rounder), and the team’s 2015 first round and third round picks to Houston.

It’s a heavy price to pay, but the best way for the Falcons to cure their pass-rushing woes.  On the first day of free agency, Atlanta signed three run-stuffing, interior defensive linemen; with Clowney, the Falcons now have a legitimate pass rusher to help them close out games against Drew Brees and Cam Newton. Atlanta is switching to a 3-4/hybrid defense this year, but that won’t deter Dimitroff from making this move.  The Texans like but don’t love Clowney, and just hours before the draft, finally get the ransom they’re demanding.

2. St. Louis (from Washington as part of Robert Griffin III trade): Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo

Jeff Fisher was the Titans coach for 16 drafts and has been with the Rams for two more.  In that time, he’s never spent a first round pick on an offensive lineman, and has only twice used a top-80 pick on the position (Michael Roos in 2005 and Jason Layman in 1996). St. Louis really wants to trade down here, but simply can’t find a partner.

Instead, Fisher harkens back to his days with the Bears, and decides one can never have enough pass rushers. Having Robert Quinn, Chris Long, and Michael Brockers is nice, but having them and Mack is even nicer. The Rams drafted Alec Ogletree last year, which leaves Jo-Lonn Dunbar as the odd man out at right outside linebacker. It also means Mack will get to line up behind Quinn, a terrifying prospect for every team that plays the Rams.

[click to continue…]

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As part of the new collective bargaining agreement, most rookies sign four-year contracts. But as further evidence of the owners’ success during negotiations in connection with the 2011 lockout, teams were granted a club option for a fifth year for all players selected in the first round. The option is only guaranteed for injury, however, so a team can exercise the option for 2011 first round picks and still release the player after the 2014 season.

For players in the top ten, that fifth year salary is equal to an average of the top ten highest-paid players at their position from the prior year. For players selected with picks 11 through 32 — and boy, that number 11 pick never looked as valuable as it did in 2011 — the fifth-year deal is worth an average of the salaries of the players with the 3rd through 25th highest salaries at their position.

The deadline for exercising the fifth-year option on 2011 first rounders is tomorrow, May 3rd.  As a reminder, here is a review of the first round of the 2011 Draft: [click to continue…]

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Remembering Earl Morrall

Morrall in Super Bowl V

Morrall in Super Bowl V.

Five days ago, Earl Morrall passed away at the age of 79. His story is well-known to many, but it’s one worth recounting for the uninitiated.

Born in Muskegon, Michigan, Morrall was a star quarterback and baseball player at Michigan State.  He made it to the College World Series in 1954 as an infielder, and a year later he guided the Spartans to a 9-1 record as a senior and a victory over UCLA in the Rose Bowl. Morrall was selected by San Francisco with the 2nd overall pick in the 1956 draft, where he sat behind Y.A. Tittle for a year.

In that draft, Pittsburgh used the first overall pick on safety/kicker Gary Glick, who had been a jack of all trades in college, but the team quickly had buyer’s remorse. After the 49ers selected John Brodie with the third pick in the 1957 draft, the Steelers saw an opportunity to acquire Morrall, and did so by sending two future first round picks (and linebacker Marv Matuszak) to the 49ers for Morrall.1

Why was Pittsburgh so desperate to trade for him? Because Pittsburgh really needed a passer: the only other quarterbacks on the roster at the time were a pair of 22-year-olds named Len Dawson (yes that Len Dawson), whom the Steelers selected with the 5th pick in the ’57 draft, and Jack Kemp (yes that Jack Kemp). The Steelers knew you couldn’t count on young quarterbacks — the team released a 22-year-old Johnny Unitas two years earlier — which explains the trade with the 49ers.  As a reminder, just about everything Pittsburgh did before 1970 was a disaster.

Morrall produced solid numbers as the Steelers starter in ’57, but threw seven interceptions in his first two starts with the Steelers in 1958. Pittsburgh’s head coach at the time was Buddy Parker, who had coached the Lions from 1951 to 1956.  Parker was not content to turn the job over to Dawson, so he traded Morrall and a pair of picks2 to Detroit for his old quarterback, Bobby Layne. [click to continue…]

  1. The trade occurred in September 1957, so the two first round picks were Pittsburgh’s 1958 and 1959 selections. Neither panned out for San Francisco — the players selected were Jim Pace and Dan James. []
  2. One of whom likely turned into the great Roger Brown []
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The 2014 NFL Schedule

The color-coded NFL schedule is back!

Download the Excel file here: 2014-NFL-SCHEDULE

That Excel file contains full page and wallet-sized copies of the schedule, in both color and black and white. On the wallet-sized copies, the line between weeks 8 and 9 has been enlarged — that is where you want to fold the paper in half to put in your wallet.

iPhone page: http://www.footballperspective.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/2014-iphone-schedule.png

Go to that page on your phone, then hit your power and home button at the same time to take a photo (or hit the button on the middle of the Safari browser and click ‘save image.’) The schedule has been formatted to fit an iPhone screen, so you can always carry the schedule with you.

Of course, you don’t need an iPhone or Excel to view the NFL schedule: [click to continue…]

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Johnny Jaguar

Johnny Jaguar.

A couple of years ago, I wrote that when a team misses on a first round quarterback, someone tends to gets fired (update here). I identified 22 quarterbacks drafted in the first round between 1998 and 2010 who did not turn into stars: in nearly every case, the offensive coordinator and/or head coach was fired.

Jacksonville has underdone significant upheaval over the past few years. In January 2012, Shahid Khan acquired the Jaguars. The general manager at the time was Gene Smith: after a 2-14 season, Smith was fired, and Khan brought in his man, David Caldwell.

Caldwell brought in his own man, too, when he replaced Mike Mularkey with Gus Bradley. The new management team also inherited Blaine Gabbert, the 10th overall pick in the 2011 draft. After two poor seasons from Gabbert before they arrived, Caldwell and Bradley could have decided to select a quarterback in the 2013 draft. But with the 2nd overall pick, there was no Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III available, and the Jaguars selected offensive tackle Luke Joeckel.

When Jacksonville was on the clock at the top of the second round, the only quarterback off the board was EJ Manuel. The Jaguars could have drafted Geno Smith, but instead selected Jonathan Cyprien. In the third round, Mike Glennon was still available, but the team picked Dwayne Gratz. In the fourth round, before Matt Barkley, Ryan Nassib, Tyler Wilson, and Landry Jones were drafted, the Jaguars took Ace Sanders.

[click to continue…]

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2014 Running Back Free Agent Market

The free agent running back market has been as peculiar as it’s been quiet. There have been no big contracts doled out and only a few sizable ones of note, although some of the ensuing narrative about the demise of the running back position has been overblown. Today I want to look at the ten biggest free running back signings1 of 2014 and see what conclusions we can draw.

Player contracts are notoriously complicated to analyze; I won’t pretend that we can truly and fully measure contracts handed out by ten different teams. But I won’t let the perfect be the enemy of the great: armed with the understanding that this analysis is not perfect, we march onwards. Over The Cap publishes detailed salary cap information, including the total value of the contract, the average per year, the amount of guaranteed money (which is never as clear as it sounds), the guaranteed money per year, the percent guaranteed, and the number of years.  I’ve added one additional column: the approximate value of the contract in the first two years, which in itself is pretty tricky to calculate.2 It’s not close to perfect, but no method is, and I thought this was a better metric by which to sort the table than any other. Take a look: [click to continue…]

  1. Excluding Joique Bell, who was a restricted free agent. []
  2. For players on one-year contracts, I averaged the guaranteed amount and the total amount, and multiplied that average by two. For players on two-year contracts, I averaged the guaranteed amount and total amount. For players on three- or four-year contracts, I treated the first two years as fully guaranteed and ignored the remainder. []
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Owen Daniels and Gary Kubiak, Together Again

A couple of years ago, I wrote this post about Josh McDaniels and Brandon Lloyd. Well, with Owen Daniels reuniting with Gary Kubiak in Baltimore — lest you forget, Kubiak is the Ravens new offensive coordinator with Jim Caldwell now head coach in Detroit — I thought it might be fun to look at previous examples of a tight end playing with a head coach or offensive coordinator in two different cities. I’ve found nine examples since 2000 (minimum 400 yards by that tight end in at least one season of his career), including another Kubiak favorite.

Dallas Clark and Jim Caldwell in Baltimore in 2013 (after Indianapolis)

Clark was a productive tight end/slot receiver in Indianapolis for nine years, but he was released in the post-Peyton Manning makeover after the 2011 season.  Caldwell was with the Colts from ’02 to ’11, including as the team’s head coach in his final three years. After Dennis Pitta dislocated his hip in the summer of 2013, Caldwell — by then the Ravens offensive coordinator — decided to bring in Clark.  With Ed Dickson dealing with a hamstring injury, Clark made an immediate impact in week 1 with 7 receptions for 87 yards against the Broncos. Clark wound up finishing with the most receiving yards of any Ravens tight end last year, but still totaled just 343 yards in 12 games. [click to continue…]

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Matt Schaub and a franchise quarterback in the same sentence

Matt Schaub and a franchise quarterback in the same sentence.

The Texans and Raiders recently made a couple of veteran quarterback acquisitions. The team with the first overall pick in May’s draft signed Ryan Fitzpatrick and then traded Matt Schaub to Oakland, owners of the fifth overall selection. Will either team now be deterred from spending a top five pick on Teddy Bridgewater, Blake Bortles, or Johnny Manziel? Putting aside your feelings on those players, one would certainly hope not simply as a matter of principle. The idea that a journeyman quarterback would cause an organization to pass on a potential franchise quarterback is absurd. If the Texans choose to select Jadeveon Clowney over a quarterback with the first overall pick, that’s fine, but the reason isn’t going to be because Houston is confident that Fitzpatrick is the quarterback of the future.

I thought it would be interesting to review the last 20 years of NFL history and identify situations where a team added a veteran quarterback and then still selected a passer in the first round of the draft. There weren’t quite as many examples as I originally expected, although part of the explanation is that there simply aren’t that many quarterbacks drafted in the first round, period. In addition, the 2011 lockout prevented this from happening that year, but teams that spent high picks on quarterbacks went after veterans once the lockout ended. Minnesota traded for Donovan McNabb after drafting Christian Ponder, the Titans signed Matt Hasselbeck and gave him the starting job over Jake Locker, and even the Panthers brought in Derek Anderson to do something for Cam Newton. But let’s look at some of the examples more similar to Schaub-to-Oakland or Fitzpatrick-to-Houston: [click to continue…]

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Free Agency Roundup

Happy Friday, folks.

Dr. Jene Bramel (@JeneBramel), who always has interesting insights on defensive players and injuries in the NFL, is producing multiple daily updates for his excellent blog over at Footballguys.com. Jene is very high on DeMarcus Ware (calling the Broncos as good a fit as any schematically for Ware), a bit lukewarm on Jon Beason (“last year showed that he cannot execute sideline to sideline or in coverage”), and thinks the Bears were wise to sign Lamarr Houston.

Sigmund Bloom (@SigmundBloom) handles the blog for offensive players over at Footballguys, and he does a great job of not only telling you what happened, but why the transactions matter from a fantasy perspective.

Bill Barnwell (@billbarnwell) wrote a pair of very good recaps after day 1 and day 2 of free agency.

Mike Tanier (@MikeTanier), who also reviewed the news from day 1 of free agency, later explained why the 49ers traded for Blaine Gabbert and Jonathan Martin.  Mike also contributed an article that is surely near and dear to the hearts of Football Perspective readers: five stats that really should be official.

Three years ago, Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) wrote this article about new Jet Eric Decker.  Matt also chimes in with his view on the silly test known as the Wonderlic and an in-depth description of how he scouts quarterbacks.

Former NFL safety Matt Bowen (@MattBowen41) argues that the position is more important than ever, and which would explain the large contracts given to Jairus Byrd, T.J. Ward, and Donte Whitner. [click to continue…]

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Recapping the News From Day 1 of Free Agency

What uniform will DeMarcus be Waring in 2014? [punches self in face]

What uniform will DeMarcus be Waring in 2014? {punches self in face}.

Free agency kicked off at 4PM yesterday, the start of what may be the dumbest day of the year. Some absurdly large contracts were dished out, as always, but free agent signings weren’t the only news stories on Tuesday.  The new regime in Tampa Bay appears ready to move on from the Darrelle Revis era, possibly via a trade to the Browns or an outright release. The Cowboys ended their game of renegotiating chicken with DeMarcus Ware by cutting him; he was joined on the waiver wire by Chicago DE Julius Peppers, 49ers CB Carlos Rogers and Steelers OLB LaMarr Woodley.

One of the first major signings came in Miami, where 29-year-old Branden Albert was finally brought to South Beach. The Dolphins tried to trade for Albert to replace Jake Long last year, but talks with the Chiefs fell apart, leaving the team to turn first to Jonathan Martin and then Bryant McKinnie at left tackle. The Dolphins gave Albert big money — a five-year deal worth $46M with $25M guaranteed – but after last year’s headache, this is probably money well spent.

The Bucs added former Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson as soon as free agency opened, luring him with a whopping five-year, $43.75M ($24M guaranteed) deal.  Tampa Bay desperately needed to improve the pass rush, and Johnson will team with Gerald McCoy to make the defensive line a strength of the team. And while losing Revis will hurt, Tampa Bay signed Alterraun Verner late in the day to 4-year, $26.5M deal with $14M guaranteed.  That’s a pretty reasonable deal: If Verner plays out that contract, Tampa will have saved nearly $40M compared to what they would have paid Revis over that time.

The Browns played a bit of whack-a-mole on Tuesday.  Cleveland lost inside linebacker D’Qwell Jackson to Indianapolis before the start of free agency, and replaced him yesterday with former Cardinal Karlos Dansby (initially reported as four years, $24M, $14M guaranteed). Dansby, as you may recall, was arguably the second best free agent signing of 2013, so this was probably an upgrade (but the Browns got older). More curious was the team’s decision to pass on resigning safety T.J. Ward (who signed a reasonable $5.75M/Yr deal with the Broncos) and sign former 49er Donte Whitner to a four-year deal worth $28M. To replace Whitner, the 49ers signed longtime Colts safety Antoine Bethea. [click to continue…]

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What Teams Might Sign Jimmy Graham?

What uniform will Graham be wearing in 2014?

What uniform will Graham be wearing in 2014?

On February 28th, the Saints elected to use the non-exclusive franchise tag on Jimmy Graham. The big dispute now is whether Graham should be classified as a tight end or a wide receiver; if Graham is classified as a tight end, the tag is worth $7.0 million, a number that jumps to $12.3 million if he’s labeled a wide receiver. An arbitrator will decide which position Graham plays for New Orleans, but it’s the type of tag the Saints used that’s interesting to me.

By using the non-exclusive tag, any team can sign Graham to a contract… provided such a team is willing to give up two first round draft picks to the Saints on top of the huge contract needed to lure Graham. On the surface, giving up so much capital for a tight end non-quarterback seems absurd, as the new Collective Bargaining Agreement has increased the value of rookies to a team. Players in their first four seasons contribute nearly half of all value provided by NFL players each season, and these players are now on very cheap contracts. As a result, teams should be even more hesitant to trade draft picks for players than they were before.

But that analysis doesn’t foreclose the idea that for a handful of teams, giving up picks for Graham could be a smart idea. And here’s something important to keep in mind: a team can sign Graham after the draft, giving up only 2015 and 2016 first round picks. We can all agree that there is some time value to draft picks; what does this mean for those future first round picks? Are they equivalent to a 2014 2nd and 2014 3rd? Well, probably not, but they’re not equal to two 2014 firsts, either.

Signing Graham would be a poor decision for most teams, but a team that meets several of these qualifications could justify the decision:

  • In a win-now window, i.e., a team that has a very good chance of winning a title in 2014 and 2015, and just an average chance down the road.
  • That would benefit specifically from harming the Saints
  • One offensive playmaker away from being a challenger
  • Expecting to have very good records in 2014 and 2015
  • In great salary cap shape, mitigating the impact of a large Graham contract

The Seahawks, with huge contracts on the horizon for Russell Wilson, Earl Thomas, and Richard Sherman, along with several others, are probably out of the mix because Seattle is not in great long-term cap shape. And for most teams, giving up two first round picks is just too much. But there are a few teams that might find this to be a very tempting move:

[click to continue…]

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The AP’s All-Pro Voting Process Is a Joke

In early January, the Associated Press announced its All-Pro team. The voting process is pretty simple: 50 voters select their top players at each position, and a first-team All-Pro squad is announced.  The runners-up at each position are placed on the second-team, but that leads to some very odd results. If fans, teams, and Hall of Fame voters are going to put weight on a player being considered a 2nd-team All-Pro, then the voters should actually vote for both a first and second team. Simply naming the second vote getter (or third and fourth vote getters at positions with two starters) as the second-team All-Pro(s) invites significant abuses of the system.

Let’s take a look at the detailed voting breakdown.  I’ve bolded the first-team All-Pro(s) at each position, and italicized the second-team “choices.”

Quarterback

Peyton Manning, Denver, 50.

This one’s pretty easy.

Running Back

LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia, 48; Jamaal Charles, Kansas City, 47; Adrian Peterson, Minnesota, 1; Eddie Lacy, Green Bay, 1.

Did you hear that Eddie Lacy was a second-team All-Pro choice in 2013? That’s because one voter — presumably one in Wisconsin — decided that Lacy was better than McCoy or Charles in 2013. And that’s it. Is Lacy, or for that matter, Peterson, a more-deserving choice as a 2nd-team All-Pro than Matt Forte, Marshawn Lynch, Alfred Morris, Knowshon Moreno, or DeMarco Murray? Who knows — and that’s the point. The 2nd-team All-Pro honors going to Peterson and Lacy are essentially meaningless pieces of information. All we know is that 1 voter out of 50 decided that those two were top-2 running backs in 2013. Gregg Rosenthal noted that it was a shame that Forte was passed over for 2nd-team honors, and I agree with that sentiment. But Forte wasn’t passed over in the literal sense: had the 50 voters actually selected a second-team pair of running backs, I suspect Forte would have been chosen.

It’s also worth noting that it appears as though 3 voters selected only one running back. Brilliant.

Fullback

Mike Tolbert, Carolina, 31; Marcel Reece, Oakland, 8; Anthony Sherman, Kansas City, 5; Bruce Miller, San Francisco, 4; John Kuhn, Green Bay, 1.

Anyone want to offer me 49:1 odds that the AP voter who selected Kuhn also selected Lacy?

Tight End

Jimmy Graham, New Orleans, 49; Vernon Davis, San Francisco, 1.

Vernon Davis was a 2nd-team All-Pro in 2013 because…. 2% of all voters thought Davis was better than Jimmy Graham. Graham should have been a unanimous pick, but we all know what happened here: some voter decided that he wanted Davis to get some love, and figured he could ensure such accolades by placing Davis on the 2nd team by casting just one vote for him. I love Davis, and think he’s probably an underrated player nationally, but how can anyone give any credibility to this “accomplishment”?

[click to continue…]

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Super Bowl XLVIII Recap

A fitting end to a dream season

A fitting end to a dream season.

It almost seems silly to spend much time recapping one of the most lopsided Super Bowls ever. But we have six months until we get to watch another NFL game, so I think we can spend one more day recapping the 2013 season. One housekeeping note: Football Perspective isn’t going anywhere. Just like last year, we’ll be publishing a post every day of the offseason. So be sure to check back daily! Freelance articles are also welcome, so just send me an e-mail if you’d be interested in contributing to the site.

There were some great recaps published in the immediate hours after the Super Bowl, including summaries from Bill Barnwell and Mike Tanier, a Super Bowl edition of Audibles at the Line from Football Outsiders, Ben Stockwell’s Refocused recap at Pro Football Focus, an analytic take from Advanced NFL Stats, the gut-punching summaries from Douglas Lee  and T.J. Johnson at It’s All Over, Fat Man!, and the elated Danny Kelly and Jacson Bevens from FieldGulls.

So with 24 hours to sleep on things, here are my thoughts on how any why Seattle produced a Super Bowl blowout.

The Seattle Defense vs. The Denver Offense

I wrote a lot about Super Bowl XLVIII, but by far the most anticipated subplot was seeing Peyton Manning against Richard Sherman and the Seattle pass defense. In my Super Bowl preview, I encouraged readers to watch the YAC: No quarterback gained more yards on yards after the catch in the regular season than Manning. On a per-catch basis, Denver receivers averaged 5.75 yards after the catch according to NFLGSIS, but Seattle led the league in YAC/Catch allowed at 4.1.  The Seahawks press coverage and sure tackling seemed like a bad matchup for Denver, and it was: according to Pro Football Focus, Denver receivers gained just 3.7 yards after the catch per reception in the Super Bowl.

That’s just part of the biggest story, of course, which is how one of the greatest pass defenses in NFL history — and one of the greatest defenses in NFL history — played like it on the biggest stage. Cliff Avril (5 hurries, 2 hits according to PFF) was remarkable in the first half, dominating the Broncos offensive line and forcing both Manning interceptions. Kam Chancellor and Malcolm Smith were the recipients of both Manning picks, and both had strong all-around games, too. Richard Sherman was quiet, but Manning and the Broncos largely avoided him, which means his impact was felt. [click to continue…]

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Super Bowl XLVIII Denver/Seattle Preview

Before we get to my preview, I want to point you to some excellent Super Bowl previews I saw this week:

Last week, I went into the film room and recapped the preseason matchup between these two teams. Today, I’m going to analyze the six — yes, six! — different matchups to watch in Super Bowl XLVIII.

Seattle Pass Defense vs. Denver Pass Offense

I’ve written many glowing articles about the Seattle pass defense, and we all know about the Broncos record-setting offense. Super Bowl XLVIII is the greatest offense/defense showdown since 1950 and the greatest passing showdown ever. Denver’s pass offense is historically great, and Seattle’s pass defense is historically great. But beyond being a great defense, there are reasons to think the Seahawks present a particularly tough challenge for Manning and company. [click to continue…]

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