Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

04 Aug 2006

10 Most Important NFL Off-Season Moves

Full disclosure time: This is a somewhat basic piece requested by MSN rather than our usual in-depth, numbers-heavy analysis. But hey, there's always room for more debate, more lists, and more debate spurred on by lists.

Posted by: Doug Farrar on 04 Aug 2006

87 comments, Last at 31 Aug 2006, 4:08pm by P. Luxx


by Kalyan (not verified) :: Fri, 08/04/2006 - 12:27pm

While you have covered most of the issues, i think the list is something that i don't agree with.

I think Adam is the single biggest offseason move, as it could likely lead the colts to a superbowl in the next year or so (as painful as it is to write it, it is painful to think of it!)
so the question of the listing should have considered, which of these moves will take the team to the SB?
apart from Adam, LaVar & possible TO (though i am not sure Dallas is going anywhere this year!), none of the changes will impact the teams to reach the SB in the next year or so

by Whatever0 (not verified) :: Fri, 08/04/2006 - 12:38pm

Kalyan: Are you absolutely sure Miami, Seattle, Minnesota, or Kansas City can't win the Superbowl this year? They all had winning records last year. It's not that likely, but it's certainly possible: and, if they do make it, the additions they made this offseason will be a big part of it.

I'm sorry, but I have to disagree with the Vinatieri selection. No human kicker is going to be one of the ten most valuable players in a FA class, and Vinatieri is no exception.

by Kyle (not verified) :: Fri, 08/04/2006 - 12:45pm

Vinatieri is so romanticized at this point that its hard to see that his replacing Vanderjagt is not that big of an upgrade. Sure, he makes big kicks in crunch time, but the Colts aren't one kicker away from the Super Bowl. He won't provide any difference during the regular season, as it was already stated in the article that he's replacing the most accurate kicker in NFL history, and his postseason performance was largely dependent on being given multiple situations to convert those kicks (unlikely to keep happening). That isn't to discredit the fact he's a one clutch bastard, but he lucked out in being given that many opportunities to shine.

Although I am admittedly assuming Vinatieri is incapable of shoring up a horrible run defense that allowed 4.4 YPC, can replace the Edge, and teach Dwight Freeney to properly play the position of defensive end rather than being in "3rd down situational pass rusher" mode all game. Hey, if this kicker can do all that, then he definitely is the most important signing of the offseason.

by Pat (not verified) :: Fri, 08/04/2006 - 12:47pm

I’m sorry, but I have to disagree with the Vinatieri selection. No human kicker is going to be one of the ten most valuable players in a FA class, and Vinatieri is no exception.

Well, that really depends on the free agent class, but definitely not Vinatieri, in my mind, and definitely not for the Cowboys. They replaced a great short field goal kicker who can't kick off with... a good overall field goal kicker who probably shouldn't kick off.

This isn't a major upgrade. The Colts really need to improve their kickoffs (and not have it cost a roster spot (*)) more than their field goal kicking, and signing Vinatieri isn't the way to do that.

*: pro-football-reference's blog aside, the fact that the Colts deactivated their kickoff specialist in the 2004 playoffs and idiotically let Vanderjagt kickoff indicates that it's probably not a good thing to have a separate kickoff specialist. You're probably eventually going to want that roster spot, and you're probably going to want it at the time that you most need good kickoffs.

by Yaguar (not verified) :: Fri, 08/04/2006 - 12:52pm

The Vinatieri move isn't so much there for the actual effect on games as it is for the hype value and stuff. It's just awesome that the Colts stole the Pats' second-most beloved player. And don't underestimate how much the kickoff problems hurt them.

On the other hand, if you want to say that, for example, Javon Walker will make a big splash, I wouldn't argue with him over Vinatieri on the list.

by Pat (not verified) :: Fri, 08/04/2006 - 1:00pm

Though if I say "Vinatieri shouldn't've been there" I guess I should say who should've been. My personal choice would've been Darren Howard to Philly, even though that gets quietly looked over around the league - Philly's struggles on defense last year were so incredibly tied to lack of QB pressure that it's crazy, and Howard is just a ridiculously perfect fit.

But a more popular one would've probably been Steve McNair to the Ravens. I know that move was poo-pooed by FO before, but McNair wasn't exactly bad last year - 8th in DPAR, with ~50 DPAR. Compared to Boller at 9 DPAR, that's a huge upgrade. Plus, Tennessee's defense was bought at the five-and-dime last year, and so McNair likely was forced to do too much. Baltimore's defense isn't what it once was, but it was still 5th in the league last year.

The last time McNair had a competent defense (2003), he had a 24-7 TD/INT ratio. Boller has never thrown only 7 interceptions in his entire career (and he's only played 1 full season!).

I'm not saying Baltimore will win the Super Bowl, or even go to the postseason, but getting McNair likely gave them an additional 3 or 4 wins.

by asg (not verified) :: Fri, 08/04/2006 - 1:16pm

...the 2004 draft pick of Philip Rivers, and Brees' torn labrum in a season-ending loss to the Broncos, made the inevitable possible.

I thought the inevitable was possible by definition.

by Daniel Klein (not verified) :: Fri, 08/04/2006 - 1:30pm

Although I agree that all of the moves suggested will have an impact on the upcoming season, I think there is one move that isn't present and should be on the top ten. Last year at the start of the season the Washington Redskins were expected to go nowhere. One analyst even predicted a 2-14 season, which I thought was rather harsh. There were questions about Brunnell as a quarterback and the offense in general. Despite this they proceeded to go to the NFC Championship game due to the incredible play of the defense and the explosiveness of Portis and Moss.

Where the Redskins came up short last year was on special teams and depth in the wide receiving core. It came down to if you double-up on Santana Moss the receiving game was non-existent.
This year the team brings in Antwaan Randle-El from the Pittsburgh Steelers, who comes with a nice Super Bowl ring to demonstrate his play-making abilities. The reason he's coming to Washinton is because realisitcally dueto salary cap problems in Pittsburgh they are not going to see another Super Bowl team this year, and he believes there there is a lot of potential not just to get touches with the 'skins, but also to go deep into the playoffs once again.

His presence as another big-name wide receiver, as well as the threat he poses on special teams returning kick offs will make the difference for a team that has sometimes been rather stagnant on offense. His playing will help free up Moss, and also allow Portis more room to run.

On top of this the Redskins are bringing in offensive coach Al Saunders, who has 24 years of NFL coaching experience and is regarded as one of the most accomplished and innovative offensive minds in all of football. His leadership will also give spark to a team that's lacking in offensive creativity, and will paly to Randle-El by breaking the "pound the ball" formula of the Redskins past.

One final note: I find it interesting that you included Arrington on the top 10 list. When he plays he does add a spark to a defense, but he spent most of the season on the bench, and the Redskins still managed to have one of the top defenses in football. So is he really top 10 material?

by josh (not verified) :: Fri, 08/04/2006 - 2:04pm

Please tell me why Steve McNair to the Ravens was left off this list! Please!!!! The Raven's went from a 3rd/4th place team to a team capable of competing with Cinncinnati and Pittsburgh for the division. How can an off-season move like that be left off?

by Jason (not verified) :: Fri, 08/04/2006 - 2:08pm

I've always been a huge believer that rushing was much, much more about blocking than about the back. Case in point, Thomas Jones in Arizona was labelled a bust. Well, if there aren't any holes to run through, what are you to do? Running behind a good line, he's all of a sudden good? No, he always was good, but no one ever defended him in that situation. James will suffer massively, but who will the talking heads blame? Will they point to the line? Will they say James is simply past his prime? Will they say all his success was based on lanes provided by a pass-first system? James is a top back and that doesn't change because his teammates do, but to most people it will.

by morganja (not verified) :: Fri, 08/04/2006 - 2:52pm

Re: 8
Is this the same NFC championship game they played in Seattle? Why did the Redskins wear Carolina Panther jerseys?

by Pat (not verified) :: Fri, 08/04/2006 - 3:02pm

This year the team brings in Antwaan Randle-El from the Pittsburgh Steelers, who comes with a nice Super Bowl ring to demonstrate his play-making abilities.

That would belong in the Top 10 if Randle El had actually been good.

While that one play in the Super Bowl will be remembered, you might also remember several of the brain-dead awful plays he made last year as well, including attempting to lateral to an unsuspecting Hines Ward, resulting in a turnover.

2005 Randle El: 0.2 DPAR, -15% DVOA. Impact of going to Washington: very little.

by Matthew Furtek (not verified) :: Fri, 08/04/2006 - 3:16pm

I think the comparison is more one of... Taylor Jacobs/David Patten/James Thrash to Lloyd/ARE/Patten.

Especially considering how much Moss is going to help create space for the other receivers.

by Pat (not verified) :: Fri, 08/04/2006 - 3:53pm

Randle El wasn't getting open with Plaxico Burress and Hines Ward. Santana Moss isn't going to help. He's just not that good of a wide receiver.

James Thrash actually had a higher DPAR than Randle El last year.

Patten was awful, granted, but adding Patten vs Randle El is only a change of about 9 DPAR. Falls well, well short of the 50 DPAR difference between Boller and McNair, for instance.

by DWL (not verified) :: Fri, 08/04/2006 - 3:57pm

And so here I am thinking #8 is my winner for "the ultimate homer comment of the day," until I hit #11 and procede to simultaneously fall out of my chair and wet myself. Thanks for capping the FRI.

by Pat (not verified) :: Fri, 08/04/2006 - 4:08pm

He’s just not that good of a wide receiver.

This referred to Randle El, not Santana Moss. Moss is a dang good wide receiver, definitely. But if Hines Ward couldn't open up space for Randle El to succeed in, Moss isn't that much of an improvement over Ward.

by White Rose Duelist (not verified) :: Fri, 08/04/2006 - 4:18pm

I had an interesting conversation over lunch about the Vinatieri situation. How often does a team lose one of its most beloved players - a local hero, even - to its most hated rival, then replace them with a rookie and a famous bungler? We decided that the only comparable would be if Mariano Rivera signed with the Red Sox, and the Yankess then used some random guy from AAA and Mitch Williams as closers.

by Tally (not verified) :: Fri, 08/04/2006 - 5:06pm

I’m sorry, but I have to disagree with the Vinatieri selection. No human kicker is going to be one of the ten most valuable players in a FA class, and Vinatieri is no exception.

Which makes you wonder about the potential value of a kicker who can hit field goals from any point on the field, a ROBO-KICKER, if you will. At what point would you take the guaranteed 3 points over a potential 7?

by MRH (not verified) :: Fri, 08/04/2006 - 5:07pm

Does LeCharles Bentley not count? Adding a two-time, Pro Bowl young o-lineman seems like a big move to me, bigger than a kicker.

OK, so he got hurt. (Any one of thse players could get hurt tomorrow, does that automatically mean the list is invalid?) Then doesn't that mean Cleveland wasted that cap space on a useless player and failed to upgrade another position? Isn't that important? Or does "important" mean "most likely to improve the gaining team as long as they don't get hurt"?

I think you should have defined what you mean by "important" before listing the players, even in what you seem to regard as a lghtwieght piece of analysis.

by Ben (not verified) :: Fri, 08/04/2006 - 6:59pm

I agree. I think the additions of the Washington recievers makes the Redskins NFC favorites. Even if Randle El is overrated there is a perception of him that is not there for James Thrash. Portis is going to have a monster season.
However, I think the most important acquisition on this list will be the Green Bay DBs. I don't think anyone in the NFC north is impressive and I forsee a Packer divisional title, with an 8-8 record. Oh god, the Packers in the playoffs only means we have to endure two more weeks of "What is Brett Favre going to do?" I can't take it.
Screw the Packers, go Bears.
What were we talking about again?

by Pat (not verified) :: Fri, 08/04/2006 - 7:10pm

Even if Randle El is overrated there is a perception of him that is not there for James Thrash.

Here I was, thinking that football games were won by actual performance, rather than perception. Because that's what Randle El lacks.

by Ben (not verified) :: Fri, 08/04/2006 - 8:01pm

A football game is won by performance but perception affects performance. I believe defenses will pay closer attentino to Randle El than they did Thrash.

by Nilblog (not verified) :: Fri, 08/04/2006 - 8:05pm

My main qualm with this "most important off-season moves" list is that it doesn't really take into account the subtractive effect on the teams from whom the players defected. With more weight given to that side of things, I think the Hutchinson, Brees, and Vinateri movements are more "important" than the others on this list. How will Alexander fare without the best left side OL in football? Are the very-talented Chargers team wasting a season on developing Rivers? What happens if the Patriots' season comes down to a last minute field goal?

by MJK (not verified) :: Fri, 08/04/2006 - 8:15pm

Re 18:
Disney actually made a movie about such a non-human kicker. Anyone remember "Gus"? It was about a mule that could kick 100+ yard FG's, and somehow, through some loophole in NFL rules, got to play on an NFL team and led them to the Superbowl before an evil bookie drugged the mule to make them lose and win betting profits. Yes, it was as silly as it sounds. But the point is, that theoretically, if you had a kicker who could make a FG from anywhere on the field, it would be valuable, because you would get 3 points on every possession (and presumably would always get touchbacks on kickoffs, too). Therefore, as long as your defense could hold the other team from getting a TD at least a little more than half the time when they start from the 20, or as long as you score the occasional TD yourself, you always win. Of course, ROBO-KICKER would be even better, because he would not only be able to kick FG's from anywhere, but he could also always succeed in converting an onside.

Re 20:
Ben, as an impartial observer who could care less about the NFC, I don't see how you could consider any of the four teams of the NFC East the favorite, or any of them the weakest. I think after beating up on each other all season, two will go 9-7, and two 8-8, just like what happened in the AFC East and West in 2002, and it will be a big mess.

by Don M (not verified) :: Fri, 08/04/2006 - 11:15pm

About #12, I'm not the most rabid Randle El fanboy in the world (although I will confess to being an IU football fan, no I don't know why either) but while not the most valuable player imaginable. He did throw a touchdown pass to help win both the superbowl and the first round playoff road game, at a point when the Steelers still trailed the Kitna-led Bengals. So... The guy helped his team win the Superbowl, in a very meaningful way.

by Englishbob (not verified) :: Sat, 08/05/2006 - 6:42am

It's not just about Randle El to the Skins, they got Lloyd as well so have clearly very strongly upgraded their receiving corps. Now have to see if Brunnel will take a few risks and try to get the ball to them.

by Harry (not verified) :: Sat, 08/05/2006 - 10:43am

I can't believe that someone from FootballOutsiders would ever think that the Vinatieri move is all that important. He's just a kicker. He's not a "clutch" kicker because there's no such thing as "clutch" as every statistician will tell you repeatedly. He's simply a very good kicker on the down-side of his career. I think any Colts fan who really believes this is a major upgrade is about to be very disappointed.

by Daniel (not verified) :: Sat, 08/05/2006 - 1:39pm

I don't think that the signing of Randle El was necessarilly a bad move, but it isn't like the Skins picked up one of the best WRs in the league. He's a good young player that is still relatively new to the position. It will be a more significant move if he is able to help shore up the WR corps and provide a spark on special teams. If he catches 40+ passes and has some big returns his signing will be justified. But it isn't like the Steelers were crippled by losing him. Bringing back Quincy Morgan and drafting Holmes and Reid will fill any void left by Randle El.

by SlantNGo (not verified) :: Sat, 08/05/2006 - 1:52pm

RE: 27 "He’s not a “clutch� kicker because there’s no such thing as “clutch� as every statistician will tell you repeatedly."

If all kickers were able to handle "clutch" field goals as well as regular field goals, then you are correct. However, that is not the case because I'm sure some kickers get more nervous than others with "clutch" field goals, which will affect their performance. Thus, there are most certainly "clutch" kickers. Whether Vinatieri is a "clutch" kicker or not, however, is a different story (sample size may be too small). In fact, I'm not sure that we can look at "clutch" performance and say anything conclusive about the kicker's "clutch" performance because a kicker gets into "clutch" situations maybe two or three times a year at most I'd think.

by Ben (not verified) :: Sat, 08/05/2006 - 2:58pm

There is no such thing as clutch? Are you serious?
Then you would not be opposed to your team starting Donovan McNabb and Scott Norwood in the Super Bowl?
How about if your baseball team sent A-Rod up in the bottom of the ninth?
Clutch is completely real.

by Thad (not verified) :: Sat, 08/05/2006 - 5:06pm

re 30
prove it

by Crushinator (not verified) :: Sat, 08/05/2006 - 5:18pm


I don't have any strong association with the NFC East, but I think the one who falls out of that pack are the Giants. They lost a good run-stuffer, and Manning didn't look amazing last year. I have a hard time believing Tiki Barber at his age can explode again for that kind of yardage.

Perception isn't as important as you make it seem. Teams don't gameplan against the image or reputation of the player - that's all a creation of the media.

If they did, Emmitt Smith would be pulling out 1700 yard seasons still, Brett Favre would still be considered a legitimate threat, and they'd both fall second in MVP voting to Matt Jones - the first NFL player to lead the league in passing, rushing, and receiving.

Any coaching staff that spends hundreds of hours watching game film a week and still buys into unfair player hype is a staff on the verge of being fired. The only way ARE beomes more of a threat is if he becomes better - which is completely possible with the Redskins coaching staff.

by Crushinator (not verified) :: Sat, 08/05/2006 - 5:23pm

Re: 31

We went over a huge thing in my Sports Psychology class relating to clutch. Some people just handle pressure better than others.

Did a pretty simple experiment to test it. Got 10 volunteers, had them putt a ball from 10 feet away into a hole 20 times. Then did it again with people and cameras watching. and then did it again and told them that if they improved, they'd get a reward. Hooked up to all sorts of equipment and such while doing it.

Of the 10 volunteers, 9 of them did worse when onlookers were watching. 2 of them did a little worse, but the other 7 did dramatically worse (dropping from around 15 in to 6 in). Heart rates dramatically increased in all the participants as they became more nervous. Many of them started coming up with excuses.

When offered an incentive to match or beat how they did last time, 8 of the 10 failed. They had even higher heart rates and brain wave activity than when just being under pressure. The other two, it was still increased, but not as much.

Certain people can just handle pressure better than others. and thats what clutch is all about. Though to pretend that its purely a QB or kicker trait is a little inaccurate.

by Ben (not verified) :: Sat, 08/05/2006 - 5:55pm

Proof of clutch:
Super Bowl XXXIX

Brady has a ring
McNabb Vomitted

They were #3 and 4 in DPAR that year.

by Smurf (not verified) :: Sat, 08/05/2006 - 9:46pm

You forgot to mention The Eagles' failure (AGAIN) to shore up their "middle infield" - a legitimate running, running back, and decent, or shall we say, OK, outside linebackers. A real fullback wouldn't have hurt either.

This will doom them to another sub-par season.

by Chris (not verified) :: Sun, 08/06/2006 - 12:10am

I don't think anyone doubts that some people are better under pressure than others. However, statisticians have not been able to find an athlete who consistently over or under performs in "pressure" situations relative to their baseline performance. Rob Neyer accounted for this discrepancy between the math and our impressions (that some people are horrible under pressure) by saying that athletics selects against those "non-pressure" individuals. He says that these people have been weeded out by the time they are professional athletes. The assumption is that are no "clutch" players, but there are better and worse players.

On the other hand, I read an article by Bill James recently (which I can't find right now) that mentions he is beginning to think people have been too hasty in writing off the clutch player. Anyone wonder if that is the influence of David Ortiz?

by mattman (not verified) :: Sun, 08/06/2006 - 12:44am

Addressing the 'clutch' issue, nobody seems to mention that 'clutchness' has two sides. On one side, you have the idea of people performing better in high-stakes situations. I've never seen any real evidence that this exists over the long term in any athlete. The other side is those who perform worse in high-pressure situations. This is what was demonstrated in the experiment in #33, and, in my mind at least, there's no question it exists, and makes plenty of logical sense.

So I guess the question is, is Tom Brady better under fire, or is he just a damn good quarterback who is able to maintain the same skill level in any circumstances? I'd argue the latter, and if you want to call that 'clutch', I wouldn't have a problem with it.

In the case of Viniateri, the sample size is just too small to get a real read. His legacy is tied to only three kicks, only one of which had a truly out-of-the-ordinary degree of difficulty. If anything, I'd say that the fact Vinny missed two field goals in Superbowl 38 suggests his kicking powers don't increase in high-stakes situations. He's just a very good kicker, and fact is very good kickers are going to make 45-yard field goals more often than they don't.

by mattman (not verified) :: Sun, 08/06/2006 - 12:47am

#35 - so the 'middle infield' of a football team is the running back and outside linebackers? What makes up the outfield, the strong safety, punter, right defensive end, and nickle corner?

by Whatever0 (not verified) :: Sun, 08/06/2006 - 1:06am

30: I would have no problem sending A-Rod up in the bottom of the ninth. In fact, in the years 2002, 2003, and 2005, A-Rod had an OPS over .900 in close and late situations.

What does that have to do with football? "Clutch" is 50% sample size, 40% selection bias, and 10% skill. Vinatieri's hit 20-25 field goals in the postseason since 2001. That's 80%, just about Vinatieri's regular season field goal percentage.

I'm not saying "clutch" doesn't exist, just that it's heavily overdiagnosed.

by Ben (not verified) :: Sun, 08/06/2006 - 1:15am

Contrary to popular belief, every element in sports cannot be determined by stats. There is not an accurate, long-term, stat for clutch playing because A. Players play for only 12-15 years, give or take. B. Clutch situations are only a small part of the game. If you don't believe in players being clutch, listen to Red Sox fans praying that Kevin Youklis doesn't hit in to a double play so Papi can come up. They know that he's money. On the contrary, Yankees fans pray that Jeter ends the game so that they don't have to see A-Rod. If you don't believe in clutch players, ask yourself, am I really comfortable with Jake Plummer leading my team in the Super Bowl? If you are a fan of anyone other than the Colts, Patriots, Seahawks, Chiefs, Bengals or Steelers, the answer should be "yes" because he is higher than your quarterback in both DPAR and DVOA.
You could say players are clutch if they are good and remain good in big situations. However there are guys who thrive on it and are better in huge situations.
Exibit A: Robert Horry
Common sense tells me that if I need a three at the end of a big game, there are two guys I want taking it, Michael Jordan and Robert Horry. Watching the end of Suns-Lakers games in this years playoffs there was only one thought I had; thank God the Lakers don't have Horry any more.
Some players are clutch.
Some players are not.
That is all there is to it.

by DanT (not verified) :: Sun, 08/06/2006 - 1:46am

Darn you #39! I was trying to post that as you did. If certain people would turn off their Boston sports talk radio and actually look at numbers, they'd see a very different story.

#40 - I stopped reading that halfway through because you had no evidence.

A team of nine A-Rods beats a team of nine Ortizes. A team of 11 Akerses beats a team of 11 Vinatieris (in what would be the greatest football game ever). A team of 5 Karl Malones KILLS a team of 5 Robert Horrys.

Unless the magic Clutch Genie helps out. Or is it the Clutch Leprechaun?

by Ben (not verified) :: Sun, 08/06/2006 - 2:16am

I'm not debating that A-Rod is better than Ortiz. Obviously Karl Malone is better than Robert Horry. However, were not debating the ability of players. A team of five Robert Horry's would kill a team of five anyones if the entire game was played in the the 48th minute. A-Rod might beat ortiz in an entire game. However, if the entire game was in the bottom of the ninth Ortiz would slotter him. Like it or not, the end of games are more important than the middle.
There is no evidence to support being clutch because clutch isn't about stats.
There is no evidence to support the "it" factor either.
There is also no evidence to support intuition.
Millions of things have no evidence to support them, yet we know that they exist.

Also, if you stopped reading my comment in the middle, how did you know the part about Horry?

by Johnny (not verified) :: Sun, 08/06/2006 - 2:17am

Re #40

Some really weak arguments.

Saying "clutch" is beyond stats, because the stats don't back it up. That argument can be applied to anything you want to claim is true, when it is not.

Somebody once said, "sometimes common sense is neither common nor sensible." If it common sense, we would not be having this arguement, because we would all just be agreeing. What you mean is you believe it, and are trying to claim that the you can speak for everyone else.

Common sense is never a real argument, it is one step above saying "because I say so!". Like "because me and some others say so!" You are in essence saying that since some people believe a thing is true, then it is true. Shaky enough, but then to claim evidence to the contrary is wrong, based on nothing but your need to not believe it is even worse. Provide actual evidence if you have an argument. Not "he said/she said" or "this one time I saw" stuff.

"That is all there is to it." Oh, well, there is an ironclad argument.

Oh, and if you really don't believe in stats, you have made a very strange choice of website to read.

by mattman (not verified) :: Sun, 08/06/2006 - 2:31am

"Some players are clutch.
Some players are not.
That is all there is to it."

If that's all you need for a point to be made, then I honestly don't know what a site like this has to offer you. We tend to look beyond the reflexive theorem.

by Marko (not verified) :: Sun, 08/06/2006 - 3:49am

Determining whether someone is clutch reminds me of what Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart once famously said about the difficulty in trying to define obscenity: "I know it when I see it."

Certain athletes seem to come through over and over again in game-deciding moments, particularly in playoff and championship settings. Obvious examples include Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Reggie Jackson, and Joe Montana. And, yes, Robert Horry, even though he is not an all-time great player.

Others players, who may be great and even Hall of Famer-caliber players, seem to be unable to come through when it matters most. For example, Karl Malone is known for bricking two free throws in Game 1 of the 1997 NBA Finals (which took place on a Sunday) with the score tied and 9 seconds left after Scottie Pippen told him that "the Mailman doesn't deliver on Sunday." Michael Jordan then hit the game-winning jumper at the buzzer. Dave Winfield was derisively called "Mr. May" by George Steinbrenner because he was great in the regular season but couldn't come through in the postseason, unlike "Mr. October" Reggie Jackson. Alex Rodriguez and Peyton Manning are great examples of all-time great talents who seem to choke repeatedly in the postseason.

All of which is a long-winded way of saying that while clutchness may be hard to define, I believe it definitely exists, as does choking. Who would you want leading your team down the field in the last two minutes of a playoff game with your team tied or down by a field goal: Joe Montana in his prime? Or Peyton Manning or Jake Plummer? Who would you want to take a game-tying or game-winning field goal in the postseason: Adam Vinatieri, even in the snow? Or Mike "I didn't think it was possible to kick it that far wide right indoors" Vanderjagt? Who would you want with the ball in his hands and your team down by a point with less than 10 seconds to go: Michael Jordan? Or Karl Malone? Who would you want at the plate with the tying run on second base and two outs in the 9th inning: Reggie Jackson? David Ortiz? Derek Jeter? Or Alex Rodriguez?

by DanT (not verified) :: Sun, 08/06/2006 - 4:11am

Well Marko, I'd take Alex Rodriguez. Why? He's the better player. To check out their splits for 03-05 (easiest available) we see this:

Scoring Position, 2 Out

Rodriguez .887 OPS 204 AB
Jeter .815 OPS 191 AB

Hmm. Of course, you could say its because that's all those early inning meaningless runs A-Rod drives in? Check out this.

Close & Late

Rodriguez .945 OPS 228 AB
Jeter .744 OPS 217 AB

Now, granted, these are small sample sizes, so the reason I'm taking A-Rod is because he's the better player. But this certainly doesn't help your example.

Also, please, please, please try and look stuff up before you make wild assertations. I know this is a football website, but its a quick click to BP to put to rest the pablum of sportscasters.

Below I'll put three life time postseason batting lines. One belongs to Clutch God David Ortiz. One belongs to True Yankee Derek Jeter. One belongs to a man you labeled a post-season choker, Alex Rodriguez. Tell me who is who.


Which one is the great examples of all-time great talents who seem to choke repeatedly in the postseason?

by Ben (not verified) :: Sun, 08/06/2006 - 4:42am

I believe in stats very much. More than most people. However, being clutch isn't defined by them.

by mattman (not verified) :: Sun, 08/06/2006 - 5:56am

#45 - There's a phrase that comes up over and over again in your post - 'seems to'. Clutch reputations (and choker reputations) are forged early and tough to shake. Derek Jeter has come short plenty of times. It's quickly forgotten. Vanderjagt misses a field goal and Peyton gets the collar for yet another postseason loss. The Eagles' defense gives up 10 fourth quarter points and McNabb is labelled a choker. The Green Bay Packers have been an absolutely miserable playoff team for years and years now, but Favre will always be remembered as a winner. Our memories of these athletes are viewed through these lenses, and as a result partially obscured one way or the other.

That's the great thing about statistics - they don't show what we seem to remember happened, they show what happened. Exactly. They're right there to fill in the gaps, allowing us to evaluate the event as it happened, not as we seem to remember it.

by Marko (not verified) :: Sun, 08/06/2006 - 11:24am

DanT, this is one of those situations where statistics do not tell all of the story. How many times can you recall ARod coming up huge in the postseason? How many times has Jeter come through? And its not necessarily with a home run or even a hit. It could be a run-scoring groundout with runners on first and third and one out in the 8th or 9th inning of a tie game (instead of a strikeout or a double play, both of which would have the same value for OPS purposes). It could be a key defensive play.

And, again, we're not necessarily talking about overall statistics throughout a baseball playoff series. ARod had a huge game in that 19-8 Yankee victory in Game 3 of the 2004 ALCS. He is a fine player in a blowout, when the pressure is not as great. But I wouldn't want him at the plate in the 9th inning, down by a run, with the tying run on first base. Ask Yankees fans if they would want him batting. (I'm not a Yankees fan or a Red Sox fan, so I don't have any rooting bias here.) Or if they would trust Jeter more to do something to help the team win. Yes, Jeter didn't always come through. But he has come through in the past countless times when the pressure was on. Not so with ARod.

by Gibson (not verified) :: Sun, 08/06/2006 - 11:46am

Just imagine John Abraham - the best defensive free agent last year - going to a team other than Atlanta.

You would then easily put that aquisition in the top 5.

by Gibson (not verified) :: Sun, 08/06/2006 - 12:22pm

Seattle was trying their damndest to get John Abraham.

It fell thru, and then their backup plan was to get Julian Peterson.... and it makes the list??

by Food4Thought (not verified) :: Sun, 08/06/2006 - 12:33pm

This is an interesting list no doubt about it. However, #10 stands out to me. The signing of Julian Peterson is one of the most important offseason moves? The addition of a LB to a group that already has Lofa Tatupu? It's a nice pickup, but hardly the best.

I mean, Seattle was desperately trying to get John Abraham from the Jets but were unable to out maneuver Atlanta. Their BACKUP plan, was Peterson. Yet it ranks higher?

by Crushinator (not verified) :: Sun, 08/06/2006 - 12:53pm

51 -

An acquisition is only a big deal if it improves the team. If the Patriots picked up Drew Brees, you can't call it much of an acquisition, can you?

The thiing about John Abraham is that the Falcons were already very good rushing the passer - they needed help against the run, so they picked up a pass rush specialist.

by JimforNFL (not verified) :: Sun, 08/06/2006 - 1:08pm

This really was an excellent list. The number one selection is primed for a comeback. Although Culpepper couldn't throw the football to save his life, and Minny nearly made the playoffs after Johnson took over for him, Culpepper will do great because loosing that leg strength might help him quit over throwing the ball. I hear one leg's help guys' accuracy right?

To should be great, now if they find a QB that can throw it farther than 20 yards they'll be in better shape than the Jets!

Brees should be great. Being able to throw to Gates and LT will really help him come back from that pesky shoulder injury. Thank goodness it wasn't to his throwing shoulder or it might be tough. Hopefully SD's line can protect him, if he got traded to somewhere like NO he might really be in trouble.. oh wait.

Trading for Washington's backup LB'er really should be a point of pride for the Giant's organization, no complaints there.

So Green Bay get's to use 2 moves to equal 1 good one? How many other teams made 2 moves that were far better than any of the moves listed on the list? Biased much?

A kicker is always a good move though. Definitely. Well as long as the offense puts him in a position to have a try at a kick, which if they don't he would have no effect on the game at all...

I think enough people mentioned the brilliance of listing Seattle's second option as one of the top 10 moves. Good observation, I bet Seattle was just trying to sneak one past those pesky Falcons and wanted Peterson all along..

Overall very solid list, great work again fellas, keep it up!

by QT (not verified) :: Sun, 08/06/2006 - 2:01pm

what kind of crappy list is that i mean no.8 charles woodeson, no.10 julius peterson, no.9 vinateri, and no.7 arrington, ever hear of john abraham and lawyer milloy...you guys did some serious research to put together this list...you've also lost all credibility by having a kicker on the list

by Whatever0 (not verified) :: Sun, 08/06/2006 - 2:33pm

49: "But I wouldn’t want him at the plate in the 9th inning, down by a run, with the tying run on first base."

What about Game 2 of the ALDS? Bottom of the twelth, down by one, runners on first and second. Rodriguez hits a ground rule double, knocking in the tying run and moving the winning run to third, where he is knocked in by a sac fly.

That's what I'm talking about with sample size and selection bias: How many times has Rodriguez come to bat late in a game during the playoffs where his team was close but losing? Spread it out to late and close, or all the playoffs, and the magic of adequate sample sizes washes away the effect. What are the odds of a .300 hitter going 1-6 over a random selection of plate appearances (hint: pretty good).

Judging a player over 6 or 7 ABs just isn't a good idea. And, to be back on topic, judging a kicker over three or four kicks is even sillier.

by cyberprophet (not verified) :: Sun, 08/06/2006 - 4:43pm

1. QB Daunte Culpepper.

It's easy to understand why this is the most significant off-season move in the NFL this year. As a QB, Culpepper will touch the ball on practically every offensive play (and all indications are he will start opening day). The reason it's more significant than Brees has to do with the overall capability of their respective teams. The Dolphins were a team on the rise last year, and now with the addition of Culpepper, they can have a difference make behind center. The reason it is more significant than McNair is their relative age, therfore, the long term impact is far greater with Culpepper. This move could determine more than just an outcome during a critical moment in a game this season, but possibly, the outcome of the AFC for a long time to come.

by mattman (not verified) :: Sun, 08/06/2006 - 7:12pm

#54 - You can argue whether or not the moves were good ones, but the acquisitions of Daunte Culpepper and Drew Brees sure as hell count as important. Changing starting quarterback is a big deal, and when you're bringing in recent Pro Bowler, then it's a huge deal.

And what does it matter if Julian Peterson was Seattle's second choice? Does that cancel out the move or something? It can still be a key move.

by DanT (not verified) :: Sun, 08/06/2006 - 9:42pm

#49 - Look, I'm not going to take this even further off topic, but seriously, go over to Baseball Prospectus (I have it linked in my name) and do some reading. But the absolute bottom line is that fans perceptions are completely worthlessly and the proof is right there in the pudding. We'll have to agree to disagree on this one I guess.

by VarlosZ (not verified) :: Mon, 08/07/2006 - 8:12am

Just to clarify a point that was brought up before, Bill James did back off of the claim that clutch hitting doesn't exist. My understanding is that he said that the stats don't provide evidence that clutch hitting exists, but that is not evidence that clutch hitting DOESN'T exist.

That said, Ben is just being silly. Sure, I'd have no problem with Norwood and McNabb (or Manning) starting for my Super Bowl team. The NFL's history is full of players who put up big numbers but couldn't win the big one . . . until they did. Elway and Favre are the most obvious exampes, but there are plenty of others.

by uh (not verified) :: Mon, 08/07/2006 - 8:12am

how does javon walker to the broncos not make this list.

by Sophandros (not verified) :: Mon, 08/07/2006 - 4:10pm

40: Robert Horry has to be better than Karl Malone because Horry has rings... (ducks and hides)

by Tally (not verified) :: Mon, 08/07/2006 - 5:16pm

Re 62: Mark Madsen's better than Karl Malone, then.

And Horry's as good as Jordan because, well, they have six rings each.

And yes, I know you're joking. (I think.)

by Eric (not verified) :: Mon, 08/07/2006 - 5:34pm

Re: 45

Most of the examples you offer of "clutch players" also happen to be really, really good players at all times. I'd rather give Jordan the ball than Malone because he was better, especially at creating his own shot. I'd rather give Montana the ball than Plummer, because Montana was one of the best quarterbacks ever. I'd probably take Adam over Mike V, because he has a stronger leg (and NE has led the league in placekicking value 2 of the last 4 years). Finally, I'd take A-Rod over each of the three listed alternatives depending on the situation: Jackson in all cases, Ortiz if I need a non-HR hit, and Jeter if I need an extra-base hit.

By the way, Mr. May Dave Winfield hit the game-winning double in extra innings in Game 6 of the 1992 World Series.

by Sean D. (not verified) :: Mon, 08/07/2006 - 5:39pm

RE: #9

Please tell me why Steve McNair to the Ravens was left off this list! Please!!!! The Raven’s went from a 3rd/4th place team to a team capable of competing with Cinncinnati and Pittsburgh for the division. How can an off-season move like that be left off?

I don't want to give away too much from the Annual, but suffice it to say, FO projection thinks highly of Boller and doesn't see McNair as a significant upgrade. I would assume this is the reason it was left off the list.

by Sean D. (not verified) :: Mon, 08/07/2006 - 5:53pm

The most important things to understanding clutchness are:

All professional athletes have succeeded at their sport at some point.

All professional athletes have failed at their sport at some point.

Many times Athletes are put in a position to impact the game, when the game is not close to over.

Very few times Athletes are put in a position to impact the game, when the game is close to being over.

Even fewer times Athletes are put in a position to impact the game, when the game is close to being over and the game is a playoff or championship caliber game.

With so few opportunities given in the times that can be called clutch compared to the opportunities that are not considered clutch, it is very difficult to conclude that the Athlete's ability in those clutch situations is vastly (or especially slightly) better or worse.

And of course, why should one care to spend a lot of effort understand clutch performance when most of the opportunities to impact the game come in non-clutch situations? As well as the fact that the most accurate measurements of an athlete's productivity come from non-clutch situations.

by Marko (not verified) :: Mon, 08/07/2006 - 7:00pm

Re: 64: "Most of the examples you offer of 'clutch players' also happen to be really, really good players at all times."

That's part of the point. They were great players at all times, including in the clutch. Many of the other
players listed for purposes of comparison (Karl Malone, Dave Winfield, ARod, and Peyton Manning) are, as I said in my earlier post, "great and even Hall of Fame-caliber players." For example, Karl Malone is generally considered one of the best power forwards ever, if not the best. It would hardly be fair to compare Michael Jordan to lesser-accomplished players such as Bryon Russell or Greg Ostertag instead of Malone, or to compare Joe Montana to Chad Hutchinson or Aaron Brooks instead of Peyton Manning. But the players listed for purposes of comparison weren't as great when it truly mattered.

"I’d rather give Jordan the ball than Malone because he was better, especially at creating his own shot."

While that is true, the ability (or lack thereof) to create his own shot had nothing to do with the two free throws that Malone missed at the end of Game 1 of the 1997 NBA Finals with the score tied.

"By the way, Mr. May Dave Winfield hit the game-winning double in extra innings in Game 6 of the 1992 World Series."

I know that. And it was all the more memorable because of his previous postseason futility. He went 1-22 in the 1981 World Series and his postseason batting average was .208.

by Eric (not verified) :: Mon, 08/07/2006 - 8:54pm

Each of your examples still runs into problems. Malone was a very good player, possibly even a great one, but he was nowhere near Jordan's class. Also, during the '97 Finals, he averaged 23.8 points and 10.3 rebounds, including 37 and 10 in a must-win Game 3 victory for the Jazz; that's a good series under pressure regardless of two unfortunate missed free throws. Incidentally, Malone was a 76% FT shooter that year, which means that there was a 42% chance that he'd miss at least one, letting Jordan win the game.

Winfield was the kind of player who makes it to Cooperstown, but not Canton; he was quite good for a very long time and moved far up several career lists, particularly that for hits. Also, performance in the postseason would naturally be worse than regular season stats, particularly for a non-all time great player, since the competition is tougher. This is not meant to explain away Winfield's performance, but his reputation as a constant choker is partly undeserved (92 WS) and partly due to the fact that he wasn't in Reggie Jackson's class as a hitter.

As for A-Rod and Peyton, their clutch struggles have been greatly exaggerated. It was pointed out earlier that A-Rod has put up some excellent season numbers in late-and-close situations, and also played well overall in the 2004 postseason; if the sample for clutch play is restricted further (say to late and close in the playoffs), the sample sizes become so small as to be of very questionable value. Peyton is similar, as has been documented by FO. His only horrible playoff loss was the '03 AFCCG; in the Colts' other failures, he played well and was let down by his teammates. Peyton has also had some excellent playoff performances, dissecting the solid Broncos defense easily in 2003 and '04.

Overall, my point was that the players who are regarded as "clutch" perform well in those situations because they are good, not because they have magic clutch powers.

Apologies for the long post.

by cjfarls (not verified) :: Tue, 08/08/2006 - 11:50am

...am I really comfortable with Jake Plummer leading my team in the Super Bowl? If you are a fan of anyone other than the Colts, Patriots, Seahawks, Chiefs, Bengals or Steelers, the answer should be “yes� because he is higher than your quarterback in both DPAR and DVOA.

Yes, if I am not a fan of any of these teams you listed, I am absolutely ecstatic about having Jake Plummer as my QB in the Superbowl. The QBs of the teams you listed are all tier 1/tier 2 QBs... Drew Brees & McNabb are the only 2 QBs not on this list that I think are comparable to Jake, and while I think McNabb is a better QB (and would take him over Jake, assuming healthy), I am just as happy with Jake as I am with Brees.

The better question: Would you take Delhomme (a good QB considered by some to have "clutchiness", but not as statistically good as Plummer) over Jake in the Superbowl...
...and my answer is absolutely not. I'll take Jake, because he's the better player (for example, he can see more than 1 receiver on the field). I'll take the better player over the "clutchy" player everytime.

Basically, there is no proof of clutchiness... many called Elway a choker too, and then he won 2 superbowls.

by cjfarls (not verified) :: Tue, 08/08/2006 - 11:53am

I just realized that my last post is kinda dumb... because both Delhomme and Plummer are named Jake... please assume in all cases where I refer to "Jake", I mean Plummer.

by Doug Farrar :: Tue, 08/08/2006 - 11:53am

McNair may indeed have that impact, but I'm not sure about that line, Ogden notwithstanding. FO seems to like Boller more than most. Was McNair a miss? I could be talked into that. Abraham was the 10b pick, and if you factor in Milloy...yeah, that is a very good argument.

Top 12 next time!

I thought Julian Peterson was more valuable for Seattle than John Abraham ever would have been. Whether Seattle tried to get Abraham first or not isn't really what I was going for. The Seahawks led the NFL in sacks last year, though they were inconsistent at times. They drafted Darryl Tapp in the second round as a situational pass rusher, so I think they're set.

Peterson was a more important move because Seattle was abysmal defending TEs last year, and they face just about every great TE this season. If you saw Leroy Hill try to defend Jeremy Shockey...double yoi. Peterson will change that defense almost as much as Tatupu did last year if he stays healthy. Peterson is also teaching Tatupu and Hill little things about coverage. More impact.

The subtractive value of these moves is a very valid point, and one that was discussed. Unfortunately, due to format constrictions, I wasn't able to get into that.

by Doug Farrar :: Tue, 08/08/2006 - 11:57am

And I agree that the definition of "important" is nebulous here, and that's on me. It's not really "Which move will get a team to the Super Bowl", or "Which move will net a team more wins". In most cases, it's about replacement value. In one case (James), it's about the myth of absolute replacement value being undercut by a truly abysmal offensive line.

by Kevin (not verified) :: Tue, 08/08/2006 - 12:20pm

Randle El himself doesn't make the top 10 - he isn't even the most important receiver the Redskins picked up this offseason - Lloyd (who will start at the other wideout spot) is. Randle El and Brandon lloyd could combine to get on this list, like two Packers' corners, but if I had to pick one move the Redskins made I wouldn't take either WR or both...I would take Al Saunders.

by Kevin (not verified) :: Tue, 08/08/2006 - 12:26pm

Doug - I'm with you on McNair and Boller. That line of Baltimore's is going to make it impossible for any QB to succeed. I think they could reanimate Johnny U and he wouldn't do anything back there. That's also why I don't like Dallas or Arizona this season, and why I think Brett Favre is due for another 30 picks.

Put Boller behind a decent line and I think you couold have a decent QB. Put a decent QB behind Baltimore's offensive line and you get...well, Kyle Boller...

by Moses (not verified) :: Tue, 08/08/2006 - 3:43pm

I swear, whoever wrote this didn't watch a single 49er game and is going by an over-hyped reputation, not actual production. This could have been written about the 2002/2003 Peterson, without being too much of a stretch, but not the 2004/2005 Peterson. Peterson, who has a history of performance losses from minor nagging injuries, has really lost a lot of athleticism with the achilles rupture and will probably never get it back.

What really flumoxes me are TE comments, yet he is a major factor in why the 49ers did so badly in the "TE coverage" stats you have on this board!!! And in his defense, it wasn't just Peterson, because Emmanuel blew chunks and Parrish is starting to slip on deep-coverage and Winborn was, at times, a joke until he was traded; but the plain and simple of it is that Peterson was the primary guy and he got dominated by TEs in the run game and strong receiving (and not so strong receiving) TEs like Witten, LJ Smith, Shockey, Troupe, and lesser talents like Marcellus Rivers frequently just had their way with him.

The REAL linebacker deal is the Rams signing Witherspoon. Much to my chagrin, that was a brilliant signing. He's everything Peterson WAS plus he can stack the run; something Peterson was always weak at.

by LnGrrrR (not verified) :: Wed, 08/09/2006 - 9:00am

To all those people who are asking for evidence for being 'clutch', I want them to first give me evidence for 'love'. As soon as they can statistically measure that, I'll be glad to hear them rip apart being clutch. :)

by LnGrrrR (not verified) :: Wed, 08/09/2006 - 9:05am

Also, I tihnk a point towards 'clutchiness' would have to be the stats on Peyton Manning's playoff performances as opposed to the regular season.

by Jeremy Billones (not verified) :: Wed, 08/09/2006 - 11:41am

Re: #76

% of marriages with infidelity, charted by years in the relationship.

by VarlosZ (not verified) :: Wed, 08/09/2006 - 2:17pm

#77: "Also, I tihnk a point towards ‘clutchiness’ would have to be the stats on Peyton Manning’s playoff performances as opposed to the regular season."

Manning's regular season stats over the past three years:

67.3% Comp, 8.3 YPA, 3.53 TD:INT Ratio

Manning's playoff stats over the past three years:

66.2% Comp, 8.8 YPA, 2.33 TD:INT Ratio

Needless to say, there's not much difference there, and the worse TD:INT ratio is due almost entirely to one bad (4 INT) game versus New England.

by Michael Posner (not verified) :: Wed, 08/09/2006 - 10:28pm

Regarding Peyton, his stats are close, but his won loss record in the playoffs is 3-7 if memory serves me right. In college he never beat Florida once, and the year after he left, Ty Martin and Tenn. won the national championship.

McNabb has never won the big one and looked poor in two NFC championships, but is stil 7-5 in the playoffs.

by karl (not verified) :: Thu, 08/10/2006 - 12:39am


by Tally (not verified) :: Thu, 08/10/2006 - 12:29pm

Why do people keep bringing up team record to describe individual performance? Non sequitur!

by Crushinator (not verified) :: Fri, 08/11/2006 - 3:14am


Because Vanderjagt kicked indoors and can't kick off to save his life?

by Abarine (not verified) :: Fri, 08/11/2006 - 9:14am

I agree with #19; the move is still strong even if it didn't pan out due to injury this season.

The PFP2006 doesn't even list Vinatieri in the top ten for kickers according to that article I just read; picking up a mid-level kicker who had a great history isn't anywhere near as important as picking up a young center with a specific desire to play for your team.

by Sisyphus (not verified) :: Sat, 08/12/2006 - 11:58am

I found one item missing that surprises me and that is the move of Keyshawn Johnson to Carolina. First he provides a real alternative to Steve Smith, the strategy that Seattle used against Carolina in the playoffs is not an option. Second, and perhaps more important, is that Johnson is a very good blocking wide receiver who will block down on a LB or even the DE giving Fox an additional gap to run through. This reprises the blocking options that Carolina had on their last trip to the Super Bowl. I wonder where this came in among the also rans?

by Justanothersteve (not verified) :: Thu, 08/31/2006 - 1:11pm

#31 (and a few others)
There are clutch players. The link at my name is to an article on free throw percentage by NBA players overall vs the last two minutes of a game. Some players who normally shoot >80% at the line - e.g., Michael Finley, Paul Pierce, Kirk Henrich, Jason Terry - shoot less than 70% at crunch time. Amazingly enough, Sam Cassell really does deserve the rock then; his FT% goes from 86% to 95% in the last two minutes.

by P. Luxx (not verified) :: Thu, 08/31/2006 - 4:08pm

The Vinitieri deal was purely a result of Polian's passionate Patriots Penis Envy.

He's just a kicker, made some good kicks, and I wish him well. But most Patriot fans (even most of the Red Sox fans that pretend to be Patriots fans) are over it.

People act like he's the only guy on the planet that could have made some of those kicks and they're just silly and wrong. He was in the right place at the right time and made the most of the opportunity.