Free-Agency Cost-Benefit Analysis

Free-Agency Cost-Benefit Analysis

by Andrew Healy

Even if the opening days of free agency felt like a shopping free-for-all, it is a fair question to wonder how much all this matters. Most players get something close to their true value. Free agency, in general, does not appear to make the difference between winning and losing.

But what is true on average does not apply to all cases. The Patriots likely do not win the Super Bowl this year without signing a certain itinerant free-agent cornerback. On the other side of the ledger, a failed signing such as Michael Johnson in Tampa Bay can hamstring a franchise for years.

The numbers -- both previous performance and player age -- can help identify those few signings where a player is paid way too much relative to his likely future performance. They can also help identify those cases where the downside is small and there is some serious bargain potential.

For this year, I will go position by position to identify highly questionable contracts and those that have some notable value for the signing team. Then I'll add up the net value across teams to identify the teams that appear to be doing the best in free agency by using their salary cap dollars wisely.

To evaluate the teams, I also need to add a key component that can be overlooked: compensatory picks. With the methods I described last week, we can value draft picks in the same way that we value players and cap space. The teams that got the most value in compensatory picks for not resigning free agents created about as much value as the Dolphins destroyed by overpaying Ndamukong Suh.

Methods

First, I'll describe how I estimate the value that Suh's contract and other 2015 free-agent contracts created or destroyed. This part can be skipped if you want to just see the results.

As with last week, I use Pro-Football-Reference's Approximate Value (AV) to evaluate performance. I estimate $1.486 million to be the amount that a team has to spend on average to get one additional point of AV from a veteran player relative to a replacement-level player, who Chase Stuart estimates produces 3.36 AV per season.

Take Suh. His contract pays him $18.318 million more per year than the minimum ($745,000) for players with four to six years of service. I estimate that Suh thus needs to generate 15.68 units of AV to be worth his salary.

Needed Future AV = 3.36 + ($18.318 million)/($1.486 million) = 3.36 + 12.32 = 15.68

After finding the future AV that Suh's salary implies, I used his weighted AV over the previous three seasons to look at his previous performance. I weighted that by the number of games played in a year, but included a penalty for playing fewer than 16 games.

Finally, I compared a player's Weighted Past AV with his Needed Future AV, adjusting with a linear regression that allows a player's age to flexibly impact their worth.

From this I get Age-Adjusted Value, my estimate of the extra value that a player provides based on his past performance, his current contract, and his age. Suh's Age-Adjusted Value of -2.14 says that he is likely to produce 2.14 less AV per season than he needs to in order to justify his contract.

Cornerbacks

Player Old Tm New Tm Age Yrs Avg Salary Guaranteed Wt Past AV Needed Future AV Age-Adj Value
Byron Maxwell SEA PHI 27 6 $10,500,000 $25,500,000 4.05 9.92 -4.63
Davon House GB JAC 25 4 $6,125,000 $10,000,000 2.00 6.98 -3.81
Tramon Williams GB CLE 32 3 $7,000,000 $10,000,000 5.67 7.57 -3.21
Teddy Williams JAC CAR 26 2 $900,000 $2,200,000 0.00 3.46 -2.09
Perrish Cox SF TEN 28 3 $5,000,000 $2,250,000 3.67 6.22 -1.68
Chykie Brown NYG NYG 28 2 $900,000 $200,000 1.00 3.46 -1.59
Brandon Browner NE NO 30 3 $5,000,000 $7,750,000 4.93 6.22 -1.54
Darrelle Revis NE NYJ 29 5 $14,000,000 $39,000,000 10.41 12.28 -1.52
Chris Culliver SF WAS 26 4 $8,000,000 $16,000,000 5.40 8.24 -1.47
Walter Thurmond NYG PHI 27 1 $3,250,000 $2,000,000 2.38 5.05 -1.44
Rashean Mathis DET DET 34 2 $1,750,000 $750,000 4.53 4.04 -1.12
Brice McCain PIT MIA 28 2 $2,750,000 $3,000,000 2.95 4.71 -0.89
Buster Skrine CLE NYJ 25 4 $6,250,000 $13,000,000 5.00 7.06 -0.89
Chris Cook SF SF 28 1 $1,350,000 $650,000 2.36 3.77 -0.54
Shareece Wright SD SF 27 1 $4,000,000 - 3.92 5.55 -0.39
Leonard Johnson TB TB 24 1 $1,000,000 - 3.00 3.53 0.04
Phillip Adams NYJ ATL 26 1 $745,000 - 2.28 3.36 0.29
Robert McClain ATL NE 26 1 $1,240,000 $300,000 2.66 3.69 0.34
Antonio Cromartie ARI NYJ 30 4 $8,000,000 $20,000,000 9.33 8.24 0.84
Bradley Fletcher PHI NE 28 1 $2,500,000 - 4.91 4.54 1.24

Age-Adjusted Value comes out negative for most cornerbacks. This doesn't mean that most free-agent corners are overvalued; rather, it suggests that AV probably undervalues corners.

Age-Adjusted Value is particularly down on Byron Maxwell and the two former Packers, Davon House and Tramon Williams, although there is more variance in potential outcomes for House than for the other two. Age-Adjusted Value rates the Revis signing as an average value for corners, but he gets hurt for his outlier season in Tampa. He seems much more likely to be 2014 Revis (14 AV) with the Jets than 2013 Revis (8 AV).

Age-Adjusted Value is most positive on the Cromartie signing and two potential value signings that the Patriots made at the low end of the market: Robert McClain and Bradley Fletcher. While the Patriots should probably keep Fletcher away from guarding the Dez Bryants of the league, there is value in getting even last year's most memorably torched corner at that price.

Safeties

Player Old Tm New Tm Age Yrs Avg Salary Guaranteed Wt Past AV Needed Future AV Age-Adj Value
Jeron Johnson SEA WAS 26 2 $2,000,000 - 1.00 4.20 -1.83
Ron Parker KC KC 27 5 $5,000,000 $8,000,000 3.46 6.22 -1.52
Da'Norris Searcy BUF TEN 26 4 $5,937,500 $10,500,000 4.00 6.85 -1.48
Sergio Brown IND JAC 26 3 $2,333,333 $250,000 2.00 4.43 -1.06
Anthony Levine BAL BAL 27 2 $1,100,000 $400,000 1.41 3.60 -0.95
Isa Abdul-Quddus DET DET 26 1 $1,500,000 $300,000 1.74 3.87 -0.76
Marcus Gilchrist SD NYJ 26 4 $5,500,000 $8,500,000 4.67 6.56 -0.52
Jimmy Wilson MIA SD 28 2 $2,125,000 $1,250,000 2.96 4.29 -0.47
Mike Adams IND IND 33 2 $2,425,000 $1,200,000 6.50 4.49 0.41
Kurt Coleman KC CAR 26 2 $1,400,000 $600,000 2.95 3.80 0.52
Nate Allen PHI OAK 27 4 $5,750,000 $11,800,000 6.02 6.73 0.53
Antrel Rolle NYG CHI 32 3 $3,750,000 $4,900,000 7.33 5.38 0.65
Rahim Moore DEN HOU 25 3 $4,000,000 $4,000,000 5.90 5.55 1.53
Kendrick Lewis HOU BAL 28 3 $1,800,000 $1,400,000 5.34 4.07 2.14
Chris Conte CHI TB 26 1 $1,500,000 $1,250,000 5.42 3.87 2.92

The Titans did not get great value with their $23.8 million contract ($10.5 million guaranteed) for Da'Norris Searcy. On the positive side, Houston appears to have gotten Rahim Moore at a good price. Baltimore made a smart signing of Kendrick Lewis and Tampa got Chris Conte on a contract with little downside.

Linebackers

Player Old Tm New Tm Age Yrs Avg Salary Guaranteed Wt Past AV Needed Future AV Age-Adj Diff
Dan Skuta SF JAC 28 5 $4,100,000 $8,000,000 3.61 5.62 -1.14
J.T. Thomas JAC NYG 26 3 $3,333,333 $4,500,000 2.70 5.10 -1.03
Jeff Tarpinian HOU HOU 27 1 $795,000 $50,000 1.20 3.39 -0.95
Andrew Gachkar SD DAL 26 2 $2,600,000 $2,200,000 2.30 4.61 -0.94
Jonathan Casillas NE NYG 27 3 $2,666,667 $2,975,000 2.64 4.65 -0.77
Brian Orakpo WAS TEN 28 4 $7,750,000 $13,500,000 6.58 8.07 -0.62
Justin Durant DAL ATL 29 3 $3,600,000 $1,250,000 4.69 5.28 -0.25
Ramon Humber NO NO 27 2 $1,042,500 $334,000 2.41 3.56 0.09
Mark Herzlich NYG NYG 27 2 $1,300,000 $400,000 2.64 3.73 0.15
O'Brien Schofield SEA ATL 27 1 $1,700,000 $255,000 3.05 4.00 0.29
Jabaal Sheard CLE NE 25 2 $5,500,000 $5,000,000 6.00 6.56 0.61
Malcolm Smith SEA OAK 25 2 $3,500,000 $3,750,000 4.69 5.21 0.65
Jasper Brinkley MIN DAL 29 2 $3,250,000 $2,000,000 5.38 5.05 0.68
Bruce Carter DAL TB 27 4 $4,250,000 $4,250,000 5.33 5.72 0.85
Akeem Ayers NE STL 25 2 $3,000,000 $2,750,000 5.23 4.88 1.53
Curtis Lofton NO OAK 28 3 $6,000,000 $6,500,000 7.67 6.90 1.64
Brooks Reed HOU ATL 28 5 $4,400,000 $9,000,000 6.73 5.82 1.78
Sean Weatherspoon ATL ARI 27 1 $3,850,000 $1,250,000 6.25 5.45 2.04
A.J. Hawk GB CIN 31 2 $1,625,000 $500,000 7.33 3.95 2.55

Age-Adjusted Value suggests the Jaguars overpaid for Dan Skuta, as did the Giants for J.T. Thomas. The numbers love the Cardinals getting Sean Weatherspoon at the price they did, and they also like A.J. Hawk as providing value at his bargain-basement price.

Defensive Linemen

Player Old Tm New Tm Age Yrs Avg Salary Guaranteed Wt Past AV Needed Future AV Age-Adj Diff
Pernell McPhee BAL CHI 26 5 $7,750,000 $15,500,000 2.55 8.07 -4.16
Trent Cole PHI IND 32 2 $7,000,000 $7,750,000 6.34 7.57 -2.54
Ndamukong Suh DET MIA 28 6 $19,062,500 $59,955,000 12.67 15.68 -2.14
Tyrunn Walker NO DET 24 1 $1,750,000 $750,000 1.50 4.04 -1.97
Jared Odrick MIA JAC 27 5 $8,500,000 $22,000,000 5.67 8.58 -1.67
Jarius Wynn BUF BUF 28 2 $1,100,000 $250,000 1.79 3.60 -0.94
Derrick Morgan TEN TEN 29 4 $6,750,000 $10,500,000 6.32 7.40 -0.74
Greg Hardy CAR DAL 26 1 $11,311,600 - 8.84 10.47 -0.26
Chris Canty BAL BAL 32 2 $2,325,000 $1,500,000 5.60 4.42 -0.13
Corey Peters ATL ARI 26 3 $3,050,000 $5,750,000 4.00 4.91 0.46
Dan Williams ARI OAK 27 4 $6,250,000 $15,200,000 6.33 7.06 0.51
Cory Redding IND ARI 34 2 $3,000,000 $2,000,000 7.38 4.88 0.88
Vance Walker KC DEN 27 2 $2,500,000 - 4.30 4.54 1.00
Terrance Knighton DEN WAS 28 1 $4,450,000 $2,950,000 6.00 5.85 1.02
Nick Fairley DET STL 27 1 $5,000,000 $1,500,000 6.03 6.22 1.05
Stephen Paea CHI WAS 26 4 $5,250,000 $7,850,000 6.09 6.39 1.07
Vince Wilfork NE HOU 33 2 $4,500,000 $5,000,000 8.67 5.89 1.18
Michael Johnson TB CIN 28 4 $5,000,000 $4,500,000 7.00 6.22 1.65
Alan Branch NE NE 30 2 $2,150,000 $700,000 6.40 4.31 1.84
Kendall Langford STL IND 29 4 $4,300,000 $2,500,000 7.67 5.75 2.26
Henry Melton DAL TB 28 1 $3,750,000 $1,000,000 7.06 5.38 2.55
Adrian Clayborn TB ATL 26 1 $3,000,000 $750,000 6.55 4.88 3.04

By Age-Adjusted Value, the Bears hugely overpaid for Pernell McPhee. The contract he signed seems to have no upside. In the best case, he reprises Paul Kruger in Cleveland and lives up to a big contract. The numbers are also pretty down on the Colts' again going old on Trent Cole and on the value that the Dolphins got in the Suh contract.

Age-Adjusted Value likes the value that Atlanta got in several players, and particularly loves the upside of the Adrian Clayborn contract.

Wide Receivers and Tight Ends

Player Old Tm New Tm Age Yrs Avg Salary Guaranteed Wt Past AV Needed Future AV Age-Adj Value
Lee Smith BUF OAK 27 3 $3,033,333 $3,100,000 0.35 4.90 -3.31
Marcus Easley BUF BUF 27 4 $1,750,000 $2,200,000 0.00 4.04 -2.80
Jordan Cameron CLE MIA 26 2 $7,500,000 $12,500,000 3.79 7.90 -2.74
Kenny Britt STL STL 26 2 $7,000,000 $4,300,000 3.90 7.57 -2.30
Richard Gordon KC KC 27 1 $745,000 - 0.00 3.36 -2.12
Owen Daniels BAL DEN 32 3 $4,083,333 $3,000,000 4.86 5.61 -2.06
Lance Kendricks STL STL 27 4 $4,625,000 $10,000,000 2.68 5.97 -2.05
Dwayne Harris DAL NYG 27 5 $3,500,000 $7,950,000 2.00 5.21 -1.97
Julius Thomas DEN JAC 26 5 $9,200,000 $24,000,000 5.71 9.05 -1.97
Marlon Moore CLE CLE 27 3 $950,000 $200,000 0.34 3.50 -1.92
Jeremy Maclin PHI KC 26 5 $11,000,000 $22,500,000 8.06 10.26 -0.83
Eddie Royal SD CHI 28 3 $5,000,000 $10,000,000 5.02 6.22 -0.33
Jason Avant KC KC 31 1 $950,000 $50,000 4.00 3.50 -0.33
Scott Chandler BUF NE 29 2 $2,650,000 $2,000,000 4.66 4.64 0.36
Torrey Smith BAL SF 26 5 $8,000,000 $22,000,000 7.67 8.24 0.80
Percy Harvin NYJ BUF 26 1 $6,000,000 - 6.35 6.90 0.82
Andre Johnson HOU IND 33 3 $7,000,000 $10,000,000 10.04 7.57 0.88
Cecil Shorts JAC HOU 27 2 $3,000,000 $2,500,000 5.05 4.88 1.41
Brandon Gibson MIA NE 27 1 $825,000 $40,000 3.68 3.41 1.50
Steve Johnson SF SD 28 3 $3,500,000 - 5.93 5.21 1.59
Leonard Hankerson WAS ATL 26 1 $1,000,000 $225,000 4.30 3.53 2.14

Age-Adjusted Value is a little down on this year's tight end contracts. It rates the contract the Raiders gave to Lee Smith (checked to make sure, and that is not this guy) as a gross overpay. AV may not give enough value to a blocking-first tight end like Smith, but on the other hand, where's the market that values blocking tight ends at $3 million per year? The numbers may be too negative on Jordan Cameron's contract, since his AV has been depressed by his quarterbacks. Age-Adjusted Value again gives a thumbs-up to New England and Atlanta for finding potential bargains in Brandon Gibson and Leonard Hankerson, respectively.

Offensive Linemen

Player Old Tm New Tm Age Yrs Avg Salary Guaranteed Wt Past AV Needed Future AV Age-Adj Value
Jermey Parnell DAL JAC 28 5 $6,400,000 $14,500,000 3.00 7.16 -3.29
Mike Person STL ATL 26 3 $1,116,667 $500,000 0.00 3.61 -2.24
Joe Berger MIN MIN 32 2 $1,077,500 $130,000 2.67 3.58 -2.22
Shelley Smith MIA DEN 27 2 $2,825,000 - 2.00 4.76 -1.52
Vlad Ducasse MIN CHI 27 1 $825,000 $40,000 3.00 3.41 0.83
Erik Pears BUF SF 32 2 $2,350,000 $1,000,000 6.69 4.44 0.95
Willie Colon NYJ NYJ 31 1 $870,000 - 5.37 3.44 1.10
James Carpenter SEA NYJ 25 4 $4,775,000 $7,500,000 6.33 6.07 1.44
A.Q. Shipley IND ARI 28 2 $785,000 $300,000 4.00 3.39 1.48
Garrett Reynolds DET STL 27 2 $1,100,000 - 4.31 3.60 1.95
Clint Boling CIN CIN 25 5 $5,200,000 $5,000,000 7.36 6.36 2.18
Marshall Newhouse CIN NYG 26 2 $1,500,000 $800,000 4.76 3.87 2.26
Mike Iupati SF ARI 27 5 $8,000,000 $22,500,000 9.47 8.24 2.46
Orlando Franklin DEN SD 27 5 $7,100,000 $15,500,000 9.32 7.64 2.92
Paul Fanaika ARI KC 28 3 $2,050,000 $1,750,000 7.50 4.24 4.13
John Jerry NYG NYG 28 2 $1,650,000 $1,000,000 8.00 3.97 4.90

Looking at the big contracts, Age-Adjusted Value hates the Jaguars' signing of Jermey Parnell, but really likes the value that the Cardinals got with Mike Iupati and the Chargers got with Orlando Franklin. It also likes Paul Fanaika and John Jerry as two potential blue-light specials.

Ranking Teams By Value Created in Free Agency

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In the analysis, you may have noticed that I ignored a few special-teams players and quarterbacks, as well as the running backs. For all of AV's strengths, it does a poor job of correctly devaluing running backs. While DYAR would penalize Chip Kelly for shelling out big dollars for Ryan Mathews and DeMarco Murray, AV is unable to pick that up. To keep things simple, I leave out running backs. Chip the GM looks bad enough without one more demerit.

One more piece is too important to ignore, however: compensatory picks. While most free-agent contracts are break-even or losing propositions, the picks that teams get for losing free agents are manna from heaven.

OverTheCap gave rough estimates of the compensatory picks that teams would receive for losing free agents earlier this week. As they emphasize, the picks are not exactly pinned down, but there is enough information in there to estimate the value of those picks using the methods from last week's analysis.

Accounting for the value in the supplemental picks is enough to make a very annoying free-agency champion so far.

Team Net Value
From Signings
Yearly Value
from Comps
Total Value
from Free Agency
NE 5.89 1.63 7.52
ARI 7.48 0.00 7.48
CIN 6.38 0.00 6.38
TB 6.36 0.00 6.36
ATL 5.05 0.00 5.05
SD 4.04 0.08 4.12
HOU 3.17 0.00 3.17
NYG 1.95 0.00 1.95
SF 0.82 1.08 1.90
SEA 0.00 1.83 1.83
DAL -0.52 1.78 1.26
BAL -0.66 1.80 1.14
IND 1.01 0.00 1.01
GB 0.00 0.78 0.78
STL 0.18 0.00 0.18
PIT 0.00 0.08 0.08
OAK 0.02 0.00 0.02
DEN -2.58 2.13 -0.46
KC -0.67 0.00 -0.67
WAS -1.21 0.00 -1.21
NO -1.45 0.00 -1.45
CAR -1.57 0.00 -1.57
DET -3.85 1.78 -2.08
BUF -2.92 0.75 -2.17
MIN -2.22 0.00 -2.22
NYJ -2.27 0.00 -2.27
CLE -5.13 2.45 -2.68
CHI -3.01 0.00 -3.01
TEN -4.52 0.00 -4.52
MIA -5.77 0.00 -5.77
PHI -6.07 0.00 -6.07
JAC -12.94 0.00 -12.94

Age-Adjusted Value dislikes the moves that the Dolphins and Eagles made, and thinks the Jaguars have had a disastrous free agency. It is high on the signings made by the Bengals and Buccaneers, but highest on Steve Keim's acquisitions for Arizona.

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But adding the value from the compensatory picks makes the Super Bowl winners also the winners of free agency by a nose over the Cardinals. Smart teams such as Baltimore have consistently played the compensatory game well, in part by developing players other teams want to sign. And Bill Belichick seemingly set this offseason up to grab compensatory picks.

Consider the 2016 compensatory selection they will receive for losing Akeem Ayers. That pick completes this magic trick of a trade with Tennessee:

  • Titans get: 2015 sixth-round pick
  • Patriots get: 2016 sixth-round pick, 2015 seventh-round pick, Akeem Ayers for most of 2015

The smart teams can literally create something out of nothing sometimes. The New England Patriots have won free agency in part with moves like this that happened long before March 10.

Comments

97 comments, Last at 30 Mar 2015, 8:22pm

2 Re: Free-Agency Cost-Benefit Analysis

I think this was brought up in the last thread, but it really seems wrong to have a linear equation for the relationship between money spent and AV gained. Surely it's cheaper to go from 1-2 AV than from 19-20.

21 Re: Free-Agency Cost-Benefit Analysis

I think that's true for comparing 1-2 AV with other jumps, but I don't know if it is for what I'm looking at. The analysis looks at value above replacement. So it's starting at a baseline of 3.36 AV. I think a team probably should pay about the same to go from 3.36 AV - 4.36 AV as it does to go from 19-20.

29 Re: Free-Agency Cost-Benefit Analysis

I strongly doubt that. You say a "replacement" play produces 3.36 AV. By definition, a "replacement player" is a player who is readily available--i.e. there are many more such players than there are roster spots for them. On the other hand, there are very few 20 AV players out there. Supply and demand suggests that the rarer a player is, the more they will be valued, so I would expect the jump from 19-20 to be much higher than the jump from 3.36 to 4.36.

In other words, if 3.36 AV is truly replacement level, a team should never pay more than the veteran minimum for a 3.36 player. On the flip side, a truly elite player at their position will command much more than a proportional price, because of their scarcity.

A player twice as good and also twice as rare could command something like 4X the price...

41 Re: Free-Agency Cost-Benefit Analysis

This really bogs down in a discussion of what "replacement" means, and specifically, what it means in the context of FO and DVOA. My understanding is that there is a base-line average performance across the league that is dubbed "replacement level". Anyone who can perform at that level is "replacement". Anyone who performs below it is "below replacement". Replacement doesn't mean that a player is just a guy off the street who can be replaced. It sure doesn't mean he's making minimum tender. A lot of highly-paid quarterbacks perform at or below "replacement" as it's defined on this site. If you define the term this way, honestly, I would imagine that the biggest difference between performance and price comes at the lower end of the spectrum, where very disappointing players find themselves wildly overpaid.

50 Re: Free-Agency Cost-Benefit Analysis

The original Bill James definition was "readily available talent", like street free agents. For DYAR, Aaron uses average backups as the standard. I'm not sure exactly what Andrew is using here.

(The reason for using replacement level is that average seasons have value. An average player for ten years is more valuable than a slightly above-average player for one year, but "value over average" doesn't reflect that.)

3 Re: Free-Agency Cost-Benefit Analysis

That Akeem Ayers trade looks even better when you consider the position of the '15 draft picks for the Pats & Titans. Pats pick 32nd in the round and Titans pick 2nd. So the difference between the Pats 6th round and Titans 7th round is literally 2 positions (ignoring comp. picks). So the Pats dropped back two positions in the draft and got Ayers for '14 and an additional 6th round pick. Can't plan it much better than that.

6 Re: Free-Agency Cost-Benefit Analysis

Good point, but somewhat technical. You could do the analysis on his numbers regardless. In addition, you could subtract off the value of the comp pick that would have been received had he walked to get a better accounting for the overall value of that signing. Hard to evaluate the "success" of NE's FA period without including the biggest deal they did.

That said, I really like the quantitative framework here. Could also use this historically, to see if teams "purchased" future AAV successfully or not.

10 Re: Free-Agency Cost-Benefit Analysis

It also seems rather a technicality to ignore cut players in this analysis. (Well, most of them; he made an exception for Andre Johnson, which only seems to make it less defensible to exclude the rest of them.) After all, Cary Williams and Jabaal Sheard do exist and did get significant contracts which should also be assessed -- and perhaps should be given a bonus for not affecting their new teams' collections of supplementary picks.

11 Re: Free-Agency Cost-Benefit Analysis

I am curious about relative value of players lost given the teams they were on. For example, Belichick has a poor record drafting secondary players. Since taking over in New England, he has drafted 26 defensive backs, including two first round picks, and a bushel of 2s and 3s. Those picks have yielded 2 stars (Asante Samuel and McCourty), and a scattering of okay starters (Eugene Wilson, James Sanders, Meriweather, Hobbs, and maybe some piece of Alfonzo Dennard). All the rest have been disappointments to one degree or another, and several of those starters could be labeled disappointments as well. Having lost a pair of players who could be conservatively labeled a star and a good starter, there seems very little reason to imagine that compensatory value may yield anything approaching a replacement. In fact, it is far more likely that the replacement players provide almost no value at all than that they offer value comparable to that lost. Is this not relevant in assessing player value? Might it not be that value is highly relative to scheme and strategy?

22 Re: Free-Agency Cost-Benefit Analysis

Thank you. And looking historically is something I'm hoping to get to. Maybe in April.

And that's right on why McCourty, Randall Cobb, and some others were left off the lists. To be consistent, I went with just the official free agent signings. If we look at those two guys, Age-Adjusted Value is somewhat down on the McCourty contract and very positive on Cobb's:

McCourty AAV: -1.15
Cobb AAV: 2.84

The McCourty contract would knock the Pats down to third in the team rankings, while Cobb's would move the Packers up to seventh. That contract is good, but AAV is probably a little high since Cobb's Approx Val is inflated by Rodgers.

8 Re: Free-Agency Cost-Benefit Analysis

Just ball-parked some numbers for DMAC and you would get that with a $9.75mm APY deal, he would need to provide roughly 9.4AV (I don't know how you do the age adjustment) going forward to justify his contract $$. His historical AV has averaged something like 7.3 (again, maybe some minor weighting in here due to 15 game season in 2013). So this *looks* like an overpay of around -2.1AV. This would put NE collectively at +5.4, or still in the top 4, but no longer "winning".

Your Mileage May Vary.

14 Re: Free-Agency Cost-Benefit Analysis

Special teams players earn AV.

http://www.pro-football-reference.com/teams/chi/2006_roster.htm

Brandon Ayanbejo got 6 AV as a special teamer for the 06 Bears. I don't know how they figure this out though. There is a good chance he's getting credit for being listed as a LB on a great defense and getting tackles (which were actually special teams tackles).

12 Re: Free-Agency Cost-Benefit Analysis

Glad to see the numbers confirm that the Byron Maxwell signing and Bradford trade are two of the worst moves of the year. It's interesting to see the bottom of the barrel there and compare: Miami and Philly's total value from free agency are very similar (and teeerrrrible) but one of those teams got the best d-lineman in the league and the other got a couple guys who might not even be starting caliber.

15 Re: Free-Agency Cost-Benefit Analysis

The bill on Suh won't come til next year (they bought him with the titanium credit card), so at least this year he should vastly outplay his 6m cap number. Sometimes I wonder if some of these owners don't approach free agency as a ticket-selling operation rather than as a football operation.

------
Who, me?

30 Re: Free-Agency Cost-Benefit Analysis

Technically football is a business. If owners only cared about "winning" there would be no cap and teams could overspend if they choose to. The cap is there basically save themselves and guarantee profit. It has always been the case that there are teams that only care about the profit margin. There is the notorious story of the old Tampa Bay owners that would pop the champagne cork every 2-14 season because the team made money that year. The question for the Dolphins is if this is a one year "let's blow all the Jeff Ireland stink from this mess" or is this going to be their new norm? I'd like to see last years numbers for Hickey's first year because it felt like he was rather pennywise last season, but I could be wrong. I also don't get the linearity of the scale and why it doesn't dollar inflate. A five year deal in a rising cap number league and a one year deal can't be directly compared $ to $ because the cap number will free up cap space making future $ have less weight or burden.

34 Re: Free-Agency Cost-Benefit Analysis

Yes, Hickey was very frugal last year, and I kinda liked that. He also brought Albert, but mainly cheaper players like Moreno, Earl Mitchell, Delmas, Shelley Smith and Finnegan, who all had modest contributions at modest cost. Then we hire Tannenbaum and boom. So they are cleaning up after Ireland, and in order to do that they sign Suh to a contract with a minimal 1st year cap number. Fine. But what about next year? A 28 cap number? That's unreal. And if they restructure him, there we go down that path again.

I don't know, I guess we can hope the cap will rise so fast it won't seem like too much money by the end of the contract, but by that same token everyone else is doing fine even if they pay 10 million to Byron Maxwell. On the other hand, I agree with chemical's point from the other thread, would you rather have two Maxwell's at 10 million each, or Suh at 19? At least Suh is a great player. And MJK's point from a post above is also fair, the better players may require a premium. I'm just not sure if it's a great idea under the cap system, that's all.

------
Who, me?

45 Re: Free-Agency Cost-Benefit Analysis

I see it as risk/reward. Those negative AV numbers represent both high risk but also often high reward. Taking a lot of risk with little reward seems the worst. You are taking a great risk signing a high AV guy long term since he might get hurt and you are overpaying. Sure over time usually the cap goes up and a high contract this year will often become a reasonable value in five years do to the rising cap. Of course players also have a high injury rate in the NFL so a long term high price deal has the risk that the player will have zero value. Teams also void/ renegotiate late terms in contracts all the time meaning the future of long term deals can be murky. New England has chosen a low risk, but low reward path this year. They signed players for short term meaning they know exactly what they are getting and what the cap will look like, but they are also not likely getting more than a league average starter. We all know risk contracts that have bombed out in the NFL and risk contract that haven't, but I don't know how often they bomb. The number present here also doesn't include several players Miami has signed that aren't high risk high reward... The analysis as it stands left a lot out. If it isn't indexed to the rising cap numbers and contract escalation which most GMs factor into contracts then I'm not sure it has a lot of value or not.

32 Re: Free-Agency Cost-Benefit Analysis

No, it's terrible move, even if he can stay healthy and play well BECAUSE of what they gave up (a younger, equally promising QB prospect with a much cheaper contract & a second round pick) and the cap hit they took. There's no "if." Chip Kelly can believe whatever he wants, but there's a set of resources and other teams competing with the same resources that function totally independent of him. He got fleeced, plain and simple. It's a bad trade, period.

The numbers contextualize just how bad - the only way this trade isn't awful is if you end up with an Aaron Rodgers type player in Sam Bradford... but there's almost no trade in the world that would be bad enough to undermine getting Aaron Rodgers. If you only end up getting a Nick Foles level performance from Bradford (which, for the record, Sam Bradford has yet to perform to the level of Foles) then this trade if the kind of nightmarish disaster that sets teams back half a decade. This trade is the equivalent of the Eagles trading for Henry Melton and needing a Suh-type performance from him to justify the trade. It's not just bad, it's pretty close to insane.

33 Re: Free-Agency Cost-Benefit Analysis

I've heard this sentiment a lot recently and it really bugs me and I can articulate why, I think: what trade WOULDN'T be great if you get a player who wildly exceeds the performance he demonstrated over the course of half a decade in the NFL? Every trade can be judged a "success" if you think of it in terms of "he's been below average so far... but if he's suddenly among the best in the league, the trade will DEFINITELY be worth its horrible, horrible value."

I mean, why not say "Sure, signing Ryan Mathews looks like a bad use of cap space... but if he's suddenly Marshawn Lynch, then Chip Kelly is right to have signed him!" Or "Sure, the Riley Cooper deal looked bad last year... but if he does what Chip Kelly thinks he can and is the next Dez Bryant, well then that contract's a steal!" It's just a really bonkers way of considering a roster move.

So, yes, if Sam Bradford puts up Aaron Rodgers numbers, that will be nice. Then the trade PROBABLY will have been worth it... but only if you ignore that they gave up a younger player who ALREADY put up Aaron Rodgers numbers at one point.

36 Re: Free-Agency Cost-Benefit Analysis

In a way, the numbers don't tell us anything much about the Bradford trade.

They sure do tell us something. Specifically, they tell us that unless a guy who's been average or worse for five years suddenly becomes Peyton Manning, we're screwed.

If Kelly is right about Bradford's ability to stay healthy and play effectively, it's a great move.

Not really. I mean, yeah, the team would benefit in some way from the trade if Bradford were great, sure. But strictly speaking, that'd be more accurately characterized as a lucky move, given what we know about the players involved.

Put it to you this way: if I went to a casino and put my entire paycheck on 00, it would pay out 35 to 1 if I won. By all accounts, that seems like a great move if you just look at the result. But there's a reason financial advisers don't tell people to save for retirement by playing roulette. And it's the same reason that a rational NFL team would not make the trade that the Eagles did for Bradford: the downside is far too high, and the upside far too unlikely, for the decision to be justified under any reasonable appraisal of the evidence.

what trade WOULDN'T be great if you get a player who wildly exceeds the performance he demonstrated over the course of half a decade in the NFL? Every trade can be judged a "success" if you think of it in terms of "he's been below average so far... but if he's suddenly among the best in the league, the trade will DEFINITELY be worth its horrible, horrible value."

Exactly! Sure, if you look at everything in the best possible light, and make favorable assumptions about the future that have no basis in reality, then of course the trade looks good.

Everyone says that the jury is still out on all of Chip Kelly's personnel moves. But honestly, if two freight trains are barreling down the same track towards each other at 60 mph, I don't need to wait until after they crash to be angry at the idiot who sent them hurtling towards each other.

42 Re: Free-Agency Cost-Benefit Analysis

Foles for bradford straight up is a weak trade on its own, but what I find most appalling is how the second round pick kelly gave away is getting treated like irrelevant chump change. Here's a list of the eagles 2nd rounders from the last half dozen years:

Lesean mccoy, desean Jackson, mychal kendricks, zack ertz, Jordan mattews, vinny curry, nate Allen, jaiqwan jarrett.

The least productive players on that list are a guy who just had 9 sacks, a 4 year starter and a special teamer/adequate spot fill-in (there's even an argument jarrett should have been the starter for the jets last year.) A 2nd round pick is incredibly valuable! The eagles have had far more success with their second rounders than 1st rounders, to boot!

Just a horrible, horrible trade...

44 Re: Free-Agency Cost-Benefit Analysis

Foles for bradford straight up is a weak trade on its own, but what I find most appalling is how the second round pick kelly gave away is getting treated like irrelevant chump change.

Giving away that second round pick was just offensive. A straight up trade of Foles for Bradford would’ve been questionable, but at least there’d be a non-trivial chance that it would work out okay. But with a second round pick? That’s basically giving away two promising young players for a single mediocre one. Chip Kelly cannot be fired soon enough.

46 Re: Free-Agency Cost-Benefit Analysis

Look, I fully agree that it's a bad trade, because I'm pretty agnostic on the question of whether Foles or Bradford is likely to perform better in future when healthy (given equivalent supporting casts), think it's likely that Foles will be healthy more often than Bradford, and also, you know, am aware that picks and cap room have value.

But just because we tend (are pretty much forced) to model talent evaluation as a casino doesn't make it so. I assign a significantly higher probability to the hypothesis that Chip Kelly has got it wrong than the hypothesis that Bradford is in fact a franchise quarterback, but if Bradford turns out to be a franchise quarterback, I will assign a much higher probability to the explanation being "Chip Kelly is very good at evaluating quarterbaks, at least for his own offense" than to it being dumb luck. I think Kelly is wrong, but also that if he is right about his ability to evaluate quarterbacks (including their injury risks), he's right.

52 Re: Free-Agency Cost-Benefit Analysis

I think Kelly is wrong, but also that if he is right about his ability to evaluate quarterbacks (including their injury risks), he's right.

I get what you're saying, and I'd be right there with you, except that this isn't the only wacky move Kelly has made. In a vacuum, I would also be inclined to give him credit if Bradford ended up working out well. But given all of his other questionable moves, I'd have a hard time believing that he actually knew what he was doing when he made this one.

81 Re: Free-Agency Cost-Benefit Analysis

The goal-posts just keep shifting with Kelly. First, I heard Vick should get the job because his legs make him fit Kelly's system. Then I heard that Foles' performance deserved acknowledgement nor respect because of it was merely a product of Kelly's genius. Then I heard Sanchez would be fine because any QB could succeed in Kelly's "QB-proof" system. Then after Sanchez played awful and got them bounced from playoff contention, I heard about how QB was the ONLY thing that mattered to Kelly's system and Mariota was "the perfect fit." Now I'm hearing how Kelly's system avoids injury so Sam Bradford will be able to realize his full potential and the problems at o-line and wr won't matter. Kelly seems insanely determined to do anything but give a chance to the only QB with which he's ever had any measure of success: Nick Foles.

There's no evidence he has the slightest ability to evaluation nor develop talent. The best players on his successful 2013 offense were to a man Andy Reid's guys. Think about this: he got rid of Foles, McCoy, Jackson, Maclin and Herremans. The one player he made a long commitment to? Riley Cooper. It's going to be a team full of Riley Coopers and Marcus Smiths before too long...

61 Re: Free-Agency Cost-Benefit Analysis

Quarterback is different.

Elite quarterbacks are extremely valuable. A huge fraction of Super Bowl teams have a multiple Pro Bowler at QB (including 9 of the last 10 Super Bowl winners, and 8 of the last 10 Super Bowl losers - and all of these except for Russell Wilson actually have 3+ Pro Bowls).

Elite quarterbacks are hard to get in the draft (unless your team is terrible). Around half of them go in the top 5 picks, and it seems to have gotten harder lately to find them outside the top 40 picks.

Elite quarterbacks rarely change teams, except early in their career before they're established as elite (e.g. Brees & Favre) or late in their career when they seem to be on their last legs (e.g. Manning, McNabb, Favre, Warner).

So if you have a shot at a potentially elite QB, and it's not ridiculously expensive, then you take it. If Kelly thinks that Bradford has a decent shot at being elite, and that Foles does not, then $12M and a 2nd is a pretty reasonable price to pay to make that swap. It's cheaper than what Washington paid for Griffin, or Chicago for Cutler, or Jacksonville for Bortles.

62 Re: Free-Agency Cost-Benefit Analysis

Any player *could* turn out to be amazing. Bradford has been in the league 6 years with 0 probowls. How many 3+ probowl QBs did that? He has spent about half his time injured, and the other half looking middling.

Foles has spent about 1/3 of his time on the bench, 1/3 looking like Aaron Rodgers, and 1/3 looking middling.

The risk of every trade has to be factored into the cost. What odds would you place on Bradford being voted to 3 probowls?

If we follow your logic to it's reductio ad absurdum, a team should literally trade anything asked for any semi-promising QB since you have to get that QB to compete for a superbowl. Of course, the team will then have literally nothing left when they find their great QB (and like Elway or Manning will probably refuse to play for them).

76 Re: Free-Agency Cost-Benefit Analysis

Looking only at his stats, Bradford's 2 complete seasons at Oklahoma were elite (1st in the nation in passer rating), his first 2 seasons in the NFL were moderately bad, and his next 2 seasons in the NFL were averageish (DVOA between -10% & 10%).

That's a somewhat promising track record - it doesn't scream "this guy is a lock", but it also doesn't scream "this guy is doomed to mediocrity." It's fairly common for an eventually elite QB to spend some time putting up averageish numbers before he finally emerges - Luck did it for his first 2 years, and Brady for his first 3 (though their reputations & Pro Bowl berths exceeded their raw stats).

Looking at QBs who didn't make a Pro Bowl early in their career: Aaron Rodgers, Eli Manning, Steve McNair, Matt Hasselbeck, Rich Gannon, Dave Krieg, Steve Young, and Warren Moon all have 3+ Pro Bowls without making any in their first 4 NFL seasons. (Bradford has been in the league for 5 years, playing 4 and sitting out the 5th with an injury.)

Some of those QBs have decent excuses for not making a Pro Bowl sooner (e.g. Young was stuck on a horrible Tampa team and then behind Montana), but Bradford has also had less than ideal circumstances (the Rams' leading receiver across the 5 years since Bradford joined the team is Brandon Gibson, with 1742 yards).

The injuries are obviously a concern - he has missed 1 full season & two half-seasons in his 5 years - but the 49 NFL games that he has played show a reasonably good trend line.

To make up a number, I'd guess that Bradford has about a 20% chance of making 3 Pro Bowls.

$12M for one year plus a 2nd rounder does not mortgage the future or lock the team into a huge contract long-term. It does not put the franchise all-in on Bradford, just this one season. And they're buying a lot of option value with this investment, because if Bradford does take another step forward this year he will probably stick with the team that he does it with.

80 Re: Free-Agency Cost-Benefit Analysis

You're obviously trying to be dishonest because you chose "4 years as a starter" instead of "5 years" so you could include Rodgers, Krieg, Hasselbeck and Manning on your list - all who made Pro Bowls in the 5th year. Bradford has played in the NFL five seasons. You picked a totally disingenuous cut-off point - we don't have to speculate if Bradford might be like those guys and might have made a Pro Bowl by his 5th season. He didn't. A more honest list would contain only Steve Young, Rich Gannon and (ugh - did you really do this?) Warren Moon.

Additionally, Rodgers, Manning, McNair and Krieg all made Pro Bowls with the team that drafted them - their teams were satisfied with their development. The Rams would've jettisoned Bradford years ago if his cap hit weren't insane. These players, unlike Bradford, stayed with their original team for the majority of their career.

Dave Krieg made the Pro Bowl in his first full season as a starter. He was a acquired as an undrafted rookie free agent and played his way into the line-up, taking the starting spot from Jim Zorn. It would be tough for his career trajectory to resemble Bradford's less.

Rodgers made the Pro Bowl in his second season as a starter, after being nailed to the bench for three years behind a HOFer. This is the inverse of Bradford, who has been repeatedly outperformed by back-ups like Austin Davis and Shaun Hill.

Hasselback, a 6th round pick, didn't play for his original team and then got traded. He quickly established himself as a a legit Qb and was named to the Pro Bowl in his 3rd season as a starter. Again, in his 3rd as a starter did not come within sniffing distance of a Pro Bowl performance. He ranked 16th in DVOA. (And that's one of his top seasons.)

So that only leaves Young and Gannon.

Young made a Pro Bowl in his first year as a starter for the 49ers. Yes, he had to sit behind the greatest QB of all time for several years before he got his shot. That makes him comparable to Bradford... how? The only comparison is that the 49ers gave up a 2nd round and a 4th round pick to get him. (They gave up no players and took on no significant salary.) Steve Young got inserted into one of the best offenses ever - if you think throwing to Josh Huff and Riley Cooper is the same as throwing to Jerry Rice, then you can probably talk yourself into a Steve Young-esque transformation. I personally think Bradford will be in a situation more like throwing to Gerald Carter.

As for Gannon - you know what the Raiders gave up to acquire him? Nothing. He was a cheap free agent and considered spare parts. The Raiders didn't give up a younger QB or a high draft pick to acquire him and didn't take on millions in salary. If the Eagles had acquired Bradford for the same price, I would be applauding them vigorously.

(Warren Moon is a useless comparison for both how the USFL factored into his career and how he had to struggle against racism to be acknowledged as a legit QB. Just leave him out of it, it doesn't help your case. No QB was demonstrably more unfairly denied opportunities and respect than Moon. You don't want to mention Bradford in the same breath.)

Interestingly, you know who has better number through his first three seasons and a Pro Bowl under his belt already? Nick Foles.
As for Bradford's college level "eliteness," give me a break. I will only point out that Foles also had elite college numbers and FO's prospect forecast system loved him almost as much as it did Russell Wilson and Andrew Luck.

This is a horrible trade any way you slice it. And its horribleness is indicative of everything bad about Kelly as a GM.

84 Re: Free-Agency Cost-Benefit Analysis

To make up a number, I'd guess that Bradford has about a 20% chance of making 3 Pro Bowls.

I don’t share your optimism, to say the least, but for the sake of argument, let’s assume you’re right. That gives us a 20% chance of this trade working out, and an 80% chance of it being a disaster. How does that justify Kelly’s decision, again?

$12M for one year plus a 2nd rounder does not mortgage the future or lock the team into a huge contract long-term.

Except it isn’t just $12M for one year plus a 2nd rounder. It also included Nick Foles. You know, the guy who had recently completed one of the best seasons by an Eagles QB in 30 years. While only playing 10 games.

So, if Bradford doesn’t work out, they’ll have to spend a 1st/2nd rounder to get a new starting QB. This trade absolutely does mortgage the team’s future.

85 Re: Free-Agency Cost-Benefit Analysis

It's also easy to overlook the problem that if Bradford has a single great season, they're going to have to sign him to a new contract and pay him a huge amount of money based on a single season of performance - which is hugely dubious for a player who has been as consistently mediocre AND injured as Bradford. That another way in which you can end up mortgaging your future.

Plus, if you're willing to commit to a guy for a single season of performance, why not commit to Foles? Anyhoo, I've said before that 2015 might be ok, but it's almost impossible to see how 2016 and beyond is going to work out for them. They keep getting weaker and thinner and a lot of key players all hit free agency simultaneously next year. You have Bradford, Kendricks, Cox, Vinny Curry, Cedric Thornton, Brandon Boykin, Walter Thurmond and Andrew Gardner all hitting free agency at the end of next season and they're not in great cap shape. It's easy to see how they could lose all of those players but one or two, especially if they're forced to commit to a big new deal for Bradford (or Cox, who could easily draw Gerald McCoy type money if he repeats his 2014 performance.)

That's combined with Peters, Mathis and Celek being very close to aging out of their roles. If Byron Maxwell and DeMarco Murray are whiffs and Jordan Matthews fails to develop, it's not tough to see them fielding one of the absolute worst rosters in the league in 2016.

63 Re: Free-Agency Cost-Benefit Analysis

This is the kind of insane, utterly magical thinking I've seen everywhere about this trade. There is zero AND ONLY ZERO evidence so far that Sam Bradford is "elite." Zero. His highest ranking by DVOA was 14th. His other rankings range from "Not Elite" to "Absolutely, terribly, horribly utterly Not Elite" to put it in the ridiculous terms of "eliteness." Now, I'll admit that now that he's surrounded by talent like Riley Cooper, Zach Ertz and Josh Huff he might finally have the weapons to break out!

There is an 8 game stretch where Foles was not only "elite" but as good as any HOF QB of the last 15 years. I mean... what people are suggesting about this trade is just SO preposterous, I literally can't imagine what folks wouldn't be ok with Kelly doing. If he had made the same trade for... I don't even know who. So few QB's have as much cap-space downside, as extensive a history of mediocrity and as many injury problems so you can't even find another QB as bad as Bradford to have done this with. Even Johnny Manziel or Blaine Gabbert would be more reasonable because they're younger, cheaper, have less of a history of injury, were drafted highly and are more unproven (that is to say, we KNOW what Bradford is - we have half a decade of the NFL to look at, so less proven players you might be able to talk upside)

There's this magic idea that "Kelly sees something" and has found his QB so whatever kind of trade he makes is justified. It's bonkers. Utterly bonkers.

Without Nick Foles as his QB, Kelly has never fielded a passing offense in the top half of the league. Vick, Barkley and Sanchez all led terrible, NY Jets level passing offenses. There is no reason to trust Kelly's talent evaluation or the ability of mediocre QB's to perform transcendently under Kelly.

The only argument Kelly has in his favor was the performance of Nick Foles. And Foles is gone, for a second round pick and about a $12 million difference in cap space. That's an utter disaster if you're not an insane person.

67 Re: Free-Agency Cost-Benefit Analysis

Actually, I take it back: if you said to even a disinterested wife, "this team gave up $12 million, a valuable draft pick and a player who has been ok to get bad player in return," there's a chance she would say "that sounds like a disaster." Unless she's one of those super-annoying people who take every opportunity to remind you of what a small, frivolous thing you're interested in. I'd hate to be married to a lady like that!

69 Re: Free-Agency Cost-Benefit Analysis

You know that I've torched the Bradford-Foles trade pretty harshly, but let's not go too crazy. Blaine Gabbert?

I don't like Bradford's chances, either. But I would put his probability of succeeding as higher than Gabbert's. It means something that Bradford was the #1 overall pick. One previous overall #1 HOFer started about as badly as Bradford did and had a turnaround in mid-career (http://www.footballperspective.com/sam-bradford-and-breaking-out-at-age-27/).

I don't think it's likely that Bradford has a Bradshaw-like transformation (for one, he won't be throwing to Swann and Stallworth). And I still think it's a disastrous trade since they gave up the equivalent of two second-rounders for him. It's a crazy price to pay, but Bradford's chance of breaking out is, while small, not exactly zero.

73 Re: Free-Agency Cost-Benefit Analysis

The main difference between Gabbert and Bradford is in the massive difference in cap hit. He's also 2 years younger and his only two years as a starter are worse than Bradford's, but not by so much - Gabbert was 46th & 34th in DVOA, while Bradford's were 34th & 38th. It's a very, very marginal difference - and it's not like Gabbert had some HOF offense around him, which is always the excuse you hear for Bradford.

If you just go by the numbers, it's not some conclusive case that Bradford is so much more promising. That's how bad this trade is - there's a very logical argument that getting Gabbert for peanuts and having him compete with Foles for the starting spot would have made FAR MORE sense than getting rid of Foles, taking on an additional $12 million in cap space and giving up a second rounder pick in order to take on on oft-injured journeyman whose sharp peak was ranking 14th in DVOA.

72 Re: Free-Agency Cost-Benefit Analysis

I mean... what people are suggesting about this trade is just SO preposterous, I literally can't imagine what folks wouldn't be ok with Kelly doing. If he had made the same trade for... I don't even know who. So few QB's have as much cap-space downside, as extensive a history of mediocrity and as many injury problems so you can't even find another QB as bad as Bradford to have done this with.

Yeah, I tried, and that is a tough trifecta to match. Although I think if he had traded for Kyle Orton, everybody would be on board the "Chip is crazy" train. Well, except maybe Josh McDaniels.

82 Re: Free-Agency Cost-Benefit Analysis

Kellen Clemens managed to rank 25th in DVOA that year (with numbers virtually the same as the 24th ranked DVOA Michael Vick had playing for Kelly) as the starter after Bradford (naturally) lost significant playing time to injury. Kellen Clemens is objectively awful and he wasn't so much worse than Bradford. He threw deep with significantly higher rate of frequency. Maybe Kellen Clemens is secretly amazing as well!

89 Re: Free-Agency Cost-Benefit Analysis

Ron Jaworski LOVED him. Called him the best prospect from the 2006 class, if I'm not mistaken... and if you look at the QB's taken that year, he's probably second behind Cutler. So there's that. I guess it depends on how you feel about Tavaris Jackson and Vince Young.

68 Re: Free-Agency Cost-Benefit Analysis

Elite quarterbacks are extremely valuable.

Agreed.

Elite quarterbacks are hard to get in the draft

True (although they are even harder to get outside the draft).

Elite quarterbacks rarely change teams

Also true.

So if you have a shot at a potentially elite QB, and it's not ridiculously expensive, then you take it.

With you so far.

If Kelly thinks that Bradford has a decent shot at being elite,

Then he’s out of his fucking mind! Seriously, he’d have to be crazy. Why do you think we’re all so upset? I mean, how many QBs in the last 40 years have spent the first five years of their career sucking before they finally got their shit together and became elite? Because that’s what would have to happen here for this trade to be good for the Eagles. Rich Gannon, maybe? That’s the only one that I can think of.

So, yeah, if Bradford is Rich Gannon 2.0, then the trade would be okay. In the much, much more likely event that he’s not a once in a lifetime outlier, then the trade is a disaster.

Now, I know what you’re thinking, and you’re right. “Chip Kelly is a highly paid professional coach who spends a large portion of his time breaking down film of NFL players, and you’re just a fan whose only experience watching game film comes from drunkenly yelling at the TV at your local sports bar. Isn’t it reasonable to believe that Kelly just knows way more than you do about evaluating QBs?”

And it totally is. He’s probably forgotten more about the subject than I will ever know. But here’s the thing – I’m not the only one whose evaluation of Bradford is radically different than Kelly’s. Every other team that would’ve benefited from an elite QB, including several that have seen Bradford play against them, also passed on him*. So, not only would Kelly have to be much better than I am at evaluating QBs (which wouldn’t take much, frankly), he would also have to be much better than the highly paid professionals in charge of a couple dozen other NFL teams. And I see no reason to assume that.

For one thing, the only time he had any legitimate competition for the starting QB spot, he made the wrong call. Otherwise, Foles would’ve been the starter coming out of training camp in 2013, instead of getting the spot only after a 2-3 start.

*Except the Cleveland Browns, who offered a first round pick for Bradford. Oddly enough, I think this actually strengthens my case, given that the last three QBs the Browns have spent a first rounder on are Johnny Manziel, Brandon Weeden, and Brady Quinn.

70 Re: Free-Agency Cost-Benefit Analysis

One thing quick thing that strengthens your case: Foles wasn't officially named the starter until after they were 3-5. As late as the Vikings loss (where he had gotten them to 8-6) Chip Kelly said they were still assessing Michael Vick's health and that "health is always factor" in determining the starting QB week to week. That's after a game where Foles threw for 400 yards & 3TD's (and was their leading rusher for the day with 41 yards to McCoy's 38) and the defense gave up 48 points. Even during Foles' amazing run, Kelly clearly didn't think he deserved the starting job!

If Kelly hadn't lucked into Foles at QB, I think Kelly would have been fired after the 2014 - Vick was terrible in 2013 and showed no signs of leading them to a winning record. Without Foles' insane 2013 performance, no way Kelly names Foles the starter in 2014 and they get to Kelly's Bradford/Sanchez/etc. experiment a year early. I think a pair of 7-9 seasons would have gotten him the can, especially if he gave away the farm for a Bradford-esque player to get there...

13 Re: Free-Agency Cost-Benefit Analysis

It would also be interesting to see these for the past few years - a couple teams perceived to be terrible at free agency like Oakland and Washington are middle of the pack this year. I wonder if this year is an aberration or if some amount of the criticism they receive is unwarranted.

I've seen a couple sites mention Oakland as having had one of the worst off-seasons so far in 2015, but I wonder if that's just knee-jerk or if the general perception of them is out of whack. (Or if this model simply can't account for the failure entailed in adding Nate Allen to your roster...)

It's also interesting to contrast Oakland with better teams near them on the chart like Green Bay or Pittsburgh - Oakland made a lot of moves but added almost no value, while Green Bay and PIttsburgh did their usual things and made almost no moves. Several of the team with the most stable front offices like those two, Seattle and Baltimore are also pretty close to the middle of the pack - keeping with the idea that the best teams only gain marginal value from free agency...

16 Re: Free-Agency Cost-Benefit Analysis

I generally defer to....well basically everybody on this site when it comes to statistics or math in general, but there seems to be one significant consideration here -- the salary cap floor. The money HAS to be spent, and it has to be spent on the players that are available. Now for the Suh contract, it doesn't change much, but teams that were far under the floor -- Jets, Raiders, Jaguars -- and particularly since they've been a terrible on-field product for much of the last decade (and in NY and CA, two high state-tax states), Overpayment is going to happen. If the belles of free agency turn down their overtures, then the second-and-third tier guys are going to get team-unfavorable contracts.

24 Re: Free-Agency Cost-Benefit Analysis

This is related to something that was brought up last week: value of a cap dollar could vary across teams. But I'm think we might still want to treat all teams the same when evaluating contracts. If the Jaguars end up with a bad contract b/c they need to meet the cap floor, or because Jacksonville's an undesirable destination and they have to overpay, or because they just made a bad decision, I think we still want to capture the value they got on those contracts.

And, on tuluse's point, I agree that looking at length (or maybe guaranteed money) would be particularly helpful for contracts where meeting the floor was a motivation.

26 Re: Free-Agency Cost-Benefit Analysis

According to AAV, there's good reason to be concerned. The numbers hate the Clay contract. I got a $7.6 million average (http://www.sun-sentinel.com/sports/miami-dolphins/sfl-dolphins-wont-match-bills-offer-for-tight-end-charles-clay-20150319-story.html). With that contract, AAV for the Clay contract is -2.24, which would push the Bills' ranking down to 28th.

20 The Adventures of Captain Chip: The Land of Libra Ganta

Dearest Arlette,

We disembarked on the coast of Libra Ganta, intent on hiding our hard won treasure along its forgotten shores. However, Captain Chip quickly abandoned our carefully crafted strategy. When he saw Midshipman Maxwell, from the crew of the Blue Astor, Captain Chip immediately offered him a large share of our earnings to join us. Before long, we had picked up several new crewmen, all at great cost. By the time we reached our intended hiding place, there was no treasure left to secure. We returned to the Green Eagle disheartened.

When we returned, Captain Chip started clearing room for the new arrivals. One of the men he fired was little Timmy, who manned the crow’s nest. Timmy had lost his bad eye a fortnight before when a hungry gull plucked it out. Some of the crew wondered aloud why losing an eye that was already blind should matter to his duties. But I have learned not to question the motives of Captain Chip, for they are as fickle as the wind.

As we sailed on from Libra Ganta, I gazed out upon it wistfully, dreaming of what might have been. Perhaps when my servitude aboard the Green Eagle has come to an end, I shall return there to find a post on another ship myself. Until then, I can only hope to have better tidings to relate to you in my next letter.

Your loving husband,
Ethon

27 Re: Free-Agency Cost-Benefit Analysis

Not sure if this works that well if you include non-guaranteed money. Reading the Suh contract page at Over the Cap, it seems like 2018 through 2020 are not guaranteed. For Suh's contract, it makes the production needed from her per year even higher, but other free agent contracts would be set up differently, and change the AAV needed for the contract to be a good one. The Patriots AAV for last year would have been terrible because of Revis' second year 20 Million base salary, which was not guaranteed and ended up not mattering. Relying on the superficial monetary amounts of free agent contracts will lead to distorted AAV averages for teams. However, the value for the compensatory picks is probably correct though.

35 Re: Free-Agency Cost-Benefit Analysis

If you use the expected contract value from Over the Cap, this may end up being very accurate. For instance, Marcus Gilchrist's expected contract value is $ 13,947,500 for the 4 year total. If you use those numbers in the equation, you get 5.23 for Needed Future Value.

38 Re: Free-Agency Cost-Benefit Analysis

Should the fact that the salary cap goes up each year effect these calculations. Using the average salary for the contrac (guarantee period) implies you should use the average cost of a marginal point of AV which must be function of total salary and would increase as the Cap increases. If the cap goes up 5% next year would the $1.486m go up by 5% as well?

48 Re: Free-Agency Cost-Benefit Analysis

The problem is that we don't know how much the cap will go up, or if at all, over the length of the contracts, which vary according to player. One problem with using the guaranteed money or even the expected contract value is whether the contract includes years at the end that will be voided by the player or team. Then the contract length shortens, increasing the amount by year. Basically, this is a great starting point for a very long mathematical conversation. Unfortunately, I got a Bachelors in Poetry and not a Ph.D in physics or math.

39 Re: Free-Agency Cost-Benefit Analysis

One of the big disagreements I have with the 538 article, and similar other articles that try to look at effects in sports leagues is that they seem to forget that they have no control groups in sports.

It's easy to say "well, look, there appears to be no correlation between adding veteran value and winning." But that's because you didn't have nice, evenly sampled control groups. You don't have teams, in general, who add utter crap veterans and let all of their good players go away. And similarly, you don't have teams who even have the opportunity to add super-awesome veterans to replace their utter garbage players.

I mean, in the 538 article, take a look at the "Does Adding Veteran Talent Help?" graph. Is there a single team who dropped more than 10 SRS points who added more than 200 veteran AV? No. Not one. And then in the second graph, look at the number of teams who improved who lost more than ~100 veteran AV. Virtually none.

So why doesn't it look like there's a bigger effect? Because there aren't enough cases where huge things like that happen. Which is a 'duh' - teams don't often do things that make them utter crap, and the rest of the teams don't often let another team do something that makes them super-better.

Specifically talking about this analysis, though, I think the few things that still need to be considered are:

1) Multiple baselines. You might think that AV takes care of this for different positions, because it tries to equalize off the contribution from each position. But because only a certain number of people can play at a time, adding lots of small-AV gains isn't nearly as beneficial as adding a single large-AV gain. If you add 3 medium-AV quarterbacks, you still suck compared to a single large-AV quarterback gain plus 2 small-AV quarterbacks.

2) Opportunity cost. This is what MJK implied above, although I'm torn on this one - saying "it's fine for a team to overpay for a 20-AV player" is something that's fairly subjective. Objectively, no, it's not - you're paying more for value that could be better spent elsewhere. But this is coupled with point #1 above - spending money elsewhere might not yield the same return as spending it on the single high-value player. So I dunno. My gut tells me you have to include it, but I dunno how you would do it. Just making it a nonlinear relation seems wrong, because it seems like it should be nonlinear on *total team* AV, not individual player AV.

43 Re: Free-Agency Cost-Benefit Analysis

Great point about control groups. I do think we might expect to see a stronger correlation. This is not an experimental comparison, but I do think there is some info in seeing a surprisingly weak correlation in the 538 graph.

On multiple baselines: I think that is true for QB and shows a limitation with AV. Is a defensive line better with one 17 AV guy and one replacement level (3) or with two 10 AV guys? I'm much less clear on that.

47 Re: Free-Agency Cost-Benefit Analysis

And this doesn't get any easier with the inter-relatedness of AV. Having a 20 AV player on one side of the ball pretty much means everyone else is going to have their AV elevated.

Look at Lance Briggs, a very good probowl linebacker still has his AV elevated 1-2 points by playing with Brian Urlacher (he's no lower than 11 with him, no higher than 10 without him), and when Tommie Harris had working knees and was just shredding offensive lines, his AV was elevated another 4 points or so. That's just insane.

This also means when you acquire a great player, you're not just getting their AV, but their effect on all their teammates as well. I don't even know how you attempt to quantify that. Plus they probably have synergistic effects. IE, Urlacher, Briggs, Harris and Mike Brown all at the top of their game each improve each other.

51 Re: Free-Agency Cost-Benefit Analysis

I do think we might expect to see a stronger correlation. This is not an experimental comparison, but I do think there is some info in seeing a surprisingly weak correlation in the 538 graph.

It doesn’t surprise me that the correlation is weak. For one thing, as Pat pointed out, teams do a decent job of holding on to great players in their prime, so there isn’t enough talent available in free agency for any one team to get that much better. And perhaps more importantly, players only become free agents after 3-4 years in the NFL (or more). And the free agents that teams spend lots of money on typically have been starting for most of those 3-4+ years. That’s several dozen games worth of film of a player facing NFL opponents.

It’s easy to suck at drafting players, given that there is typically only 20-40 games of them facing college opponents. It can be difficult to predict how they’ll do against NFL talent given how little film there is, and given that it’s against inferior competition. But when you’ve got 50-80 games worth of film, against NFL opponents, the evaluation gets much easier, and there are fewer players that are greatly under/overvalued. It’s hard to be really terrible at evaluating NFL players when you have that much film of them facing NFL talent. But bless his little heart, Chip Kelly’s trying.

1) Multiple baselines. You might think that AV takes care of this for different positions, because it tries to equalize off the contribution from each position. But because only a certain number of people can play at a time, adding lots of small-AV gains isn't nearly as beneficial as adding a single large-AV gain. If you add 3 medium-AV quarterbacks, you still suck compared to a single large-AV quarterback gain plus 2 small-AV quarterbacks.

2) Opportunity cost. This is what MJK implied above, although I'm torn on this one - saying "it's fine for a team to overpay for a 20-AV player" is something that's fairly subjective. Objectively, no, it's not - you're paying more for value that could be better spent elsewhere. But this is coupled with point #1 above - spending money elsewhere might not yield the same return as spending it on the single high-value player. So I dunno. My gut tells me you have to include it, but I dunno how you would do it. Just making it a nonlinear relation seems wrong, because it seems like it should be nonlinear on *total team* AV, not individual player AV.

And that’s one of my big disagreements with the 538 article: it assumes that the only constraint is cap space.

Not only is there a limit on how many people you can have on the field at any one time, there’s also a limit to the number of players you can have on your roster. If you can get 5 players that are each worth 10 AV over replacement level, that’s way better than getting 50 players that are each worth 1 AV over replacement level, because in the latter case, most of those players won’t make your roster. Every time you add another player, you also have to subtract one, so getting the same AV in fewer players is definitely better. And while it’s not obvious exactly how much more cap space it is worth to get your free agent talent in more concentrated doses, it’s worth something.

"You don't have teams, in general, who add utter crap veterans and let all of their good players go away."

Are we sure Chip Kelly isn't just trying to add to our statistical knowledge of the sport this offseason?

Chip Kelly: misunderstood scientist.

54 Re: Free-Agency Cost-Benefit Analysis

I think this is the thought experiment I'd like to do with these ideas: Take your roster and starters as given. Assume that AV captures individual performance. Are you better off having your AV concentrated in a few guys at a given position? Or is it just as good to have it spread out? And throw QB out. Is it better for a team to have three 8 AV pass-catching targets, or one 18 AV guy with two replacement-level players?

I think it's pretty close and I might lean towards the first option. Anyway, I don't know that it's obvious. I think that teams would do well by getting AV for the appropriate price however they could. Getting it in concentrated doses might help sometimes but would be a second order concern.

But it's interesting to think about and I might be wrong.

55 Re: Free-Agency Cost-Benefit Analysis

Thinking out loud, and unwilling to do the work:

There's presumably a relationship between a team's total AV and their record. The next question is for teams with the same total AV, do different distributions correspond to different records? Do teams with high-AV quarterbacks have better records? Do teams with more AV concentrated in 2 (or 3, or whatever) players have better records? Etc. This doesn't need to be a thought experiment; p-f-r should have the data.

56 Re: Free-Agency Cost-Benefit Analysis

The problem is there's clearly a breaking point there. You can't have twenty 2 AV guys. For something like what you're doing here, that could be accounted for by having 2 baselines - one for "projected starters" and one for "projected bench player." There's subjectivity there (and human time cost), of course, which is the problem.

But in addition, the "18 AV" guy doesn't become available... basically ever, but the 8 AV guys probably show up every other year or so. As a GM, your goal isn't to maximize the AV contribution of each player - it's to maximize the AV contribution of the entire team. Which means the "18 AV + 2x replacement" is more valuable than the "3x 8 AV" situation (provided you have the 18 AV guy for longer than the current year) because you can do the "replacement -> 8 AV" upgrade more frequently than the "8 AV -> 18 AV".

90 Re: Free-Agency Cost-Benefit Analysis

Well, the NWE answer is clearly option 1; find a HOF QB and then get multiple B players, rather than a couple of A's, and a bunch of C's. Seems to work.
Unfortunately, the Raiders have been trying the second alternative, and even worse, failing to get the A's.

92 Re: Free-Agency Cost-Benefit Analysis

Yeah, having a player who is no worse than the 3rd best wr of all time on your team is pretty good. Also, Welker is probably in the Top 40 as far as production is concerned, I'd argue his resume for greatness is far stronger than Gronkowski's. Corey Dillon has more career yards than O.J. Simpson and Earl Campbell, so it's not like they never fielded talent in the backfield either. Brady definitely had a year or two with sub-optimal receiving options, but he also played pretty consistently with HOFers and borderline HOFers.

I think it's much more accurate to categorize Pats receivers as a couple A's (Gronkowski and Hernandez, Welker and Moss, Welker and Gronkowski) than it is to categorize them as a bunch of B's.

96 Re: Free-Agency Cost-Benefit Analysis

They are both still, at very absolute least, among the 75 best players ever at their respective positions. That's a touch better than "some C player." They are both "A" players by any non-insane standard. The point is, it's tough to find a stretch where the Patriots where the Patriots didn't have at least 3 near (or certain) HOFers on offense just amongst skill players, not even factoring in the o-line.

57 Re: Free-Agency Cost-Benefit Analysis

Andrew:

I do think we might expect to see a stronger correlation. This is not an experimental comparison, but I do think there is some info in seeing a surprisingly weak correlation in the 538 graph.

I don't understand "surprisingly weak." What did you expect? Look at the "negative SRS/negative AV" quadrant of that graph. Those are probably the few teams that are not trying to get better - that is, they're probably trying to dump salary or get younger. Obviously, doing that is significantly easier, and there's no competition to become the worst team ever. And there, the correlation is pretty obvious. Lose more than 100 AV, and you will be a worse team, almost guaranteed.

Even the positive quadrant is pretty obviously correlated: no team with an SRS drop of bigger than 10 (i.e. below -10) added more than +100 3-year net AV in an offseason. Plus, of course, neither AV nor SRS are actual measures of player strength or team strength, so you'll get quite a lot of scatter in the plot no matter what. All that graph says is that free agency, on average, is not the dominant reason why teams improve or decline. But this is kindof a 'duh' - that's the reason for the existence of the salary cap, to do exactly that - prevent teams from using money to dramatically improve relative to the rest of the league.

Honestly, it's probably a lot like the draft: free agency just gets blown out of proportion in most cases, because you have nothing else to talk about. But occasionally there are dramatic changes, and those 'big' changes do have an effect.

60 Re: Free-Agency Cost-Benefit Analysis

Yeah, that's obviously something that's missing from that graph as well, which is why age-adjusting things like Andrew's done here is really important.

To be honest, that graph is literally the easiest thing you can do: look at net AV change with free agents versus SRS, and both AV and SRS are probably the easiest measures of player and team strength you can possibly make. And it still does clearly show a correlation. A weak one, sure: but given that both the measures are incredibly poor, and the assumptions are clearly limited (that is, expecting previous performance to equate to future performance), the underlying effect would have to be quite strong to overcome that.

71 Re: Free-Agency Cost-Benefit Analysis

I think the relationship is surprisingly weak assuming that you were starting from scratch. In other words, you didn't know about the failures of the teams that have loaded up in free agency. Starting from zero, you'd think that teams that spend a bunch of money on FAs are doing it for a reason. In the NBA, for example, big spending would correlate much more strongly with wins.

Football is obviously very different. But part of this non-relationship is exactly what you and tuluse are pointing out. The graph isn't adjusted for age, which means the Raiders last year added a bunch of AV. And AV has a bunch of error in it, which will tend to bias a regression line towards being flat. I'm going to see if I can at least fix the age part of this to create an improved graph.

95 Re: Free-Agency Cost-Benefit Analysis

Another issue with AV is that it gives no credit at all for special teams play. Matt Slater has been one of the best special teamers in the league since he was drafted in 2008, has been to four consecutive pro-bowls, is one of the most significant reasons why the Pats consistently have excellent starting field position, is probably worth about 5 yards of field position per drive... and has zero AV.

Because he's not a regular starter on offense or defense, and he rarely actually returns kicks.