With all the holes in the Dolphins’ roster this year, some draft analysts have suggested that trading back in the draft to get more picks would be a smart move. Others would like to see the Dolphins trade up from pick 11, in the hope of snagging one of the top quarterback prospects available this year. Which move would offer better value? And in each case, what picks should the Dolphins offer or demand in return?
In my last “Voice of the Fan” post, I argued that a drafted player’s real value is equal to his expected “replacement cost”—the cost of an equivalent free agent player against the salary cap. I also suggested that a simple way to measure the value of a draft pick would be to use the fifth-year salaries of players drafted using that pick in previous years as an approximation for those players’ replacement cost during their rookie contracts. In this post, I’ll use this method to evaluate draft picks in general, and then apply the results to the Dolphins’ draft situation this year.
The traditional measure of draft value is former Dolphins coach Jimmy Johnson’s point system, which assigns a point value to every draft pick. It’s not known how Johnson and his staff came up with their point values, but the system is widely used among teams to assess the fairness of proposed trades. If we can come up with a better valuation system, though, then we can identify trades that would look fair to both teams according to the Johnson system, but would actually give one team—say, the Dolphins—a significant advantage.
To calculate values under the replacement cost method, I used spotrac.com and overthecap.com to compile a list of fifth-year salaries of the first 200 players drafted in each of the 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013 NFL drafts. I then grouped the picks in groups of 20 (except for picks 1-10 and 11-20, which I separated), and charted the average fifth-year salary for each group over the five years. I then scaled these salaries to match the Jimmy Johnson point values for both the top and bottom ranges. The results are as follows:
The most striking feature of this chart is that both methods assign uniformly tiny values to draft picks in the 120-200 range and beyond. We often hear of trades in which these picks (in roughly the fifth through seventh rounds) are included as if they have small but meaningful value. There are even occasional exchanges of picks in these ranges.
Yet a widely established pick valuation system assigns all of these picks extremely small, barely distinguishable values—and our replacement cost-based system confirms that evaluation (These picks are all in the “hit or miss” category—they do occasionally produce quality players, but none appreciably more often than another, or than, say, a team’s complement of undrafted free agents).
It follows that if any team offers significant value in return for a trade down within this range—say, giving up a fifth-round pick for a seventh—the Dolphins should jump at the chance.
On higher picks, however, the two methods differ sharply. Under the Johnson method, pick values decline steeply through the first couple of rounds, before leveling off at a fairly low value from the third round onward. Under the replacement cost method, on the other hand, pick values stay quite high, slowly declining through the early third round, before dropping off sharply around the mid-third round.
This pattern reflects the likelihood of drafting a starting-caliber player, which also drops off sharply around the middle of the third round. Since starters generally have much higher salaries than backups, their salaries play the biggest role in determining a draft pick’s value under the replacement cost method.
From the above chart, we can see that high draft picks generally have considerably higher value under the replacement cost method than under the Johnson system until about the end of the fourth round. Those draft picks can therefore be considered “bargains”—other teams are likely to part with them for less than they’re worth, judging them based on Johnson point values rather than expected replacement costs.
The difference is particularly extreme from the mid-second through mid-third rounds, making those picks especially good targets in trade-back scenarios. For example, trading back from pick 11 to the late first round under the Johnson system would require an early second-round pick, or perhaps a late-second and a fourth, as additional compensation—a huge net profit under the replacement cost system.
As for trade-ups into the top 10, they’re a bad deal under any circumstances, given the Johnson system’s tendency to comparatively undervalue picks in the range below the top 10. But this year especially, when teams are expecting to be overpaid handsomely for a crack at a top quarterback prospect, they’re guaranteed to be horrendous for the team trading up, in terms of replacement cost-based value surrendered.
For a team like the Dolphins that has a reasonable option at starting quarterback, trading into the top ten should be out of the question entirely.
The writer of this "Voice of the Fan" story goes by Football Noob. Follow him on Twitter: @PhinsNoob
As they head into the 2018 NFL draft, the Miami Dolphins have multiple holes in their roster to fill: backup quarterback, running back (in spite of the Frank Gore signing), starting tight end, third linebacker, starting defensive tackle, and possibly others (depending on one’s view of the current players at positions such as starting quarterback and free safety).
At the same time, the Dolphins’ draft position (pick 11 overall) ensures that there will be high-quality likely starters available at every position, with the possible exception of starting quarterback. How should the Dolphins use their first pick to provide maximum value to the team?
Well, there’s a simple and reliable way to compare the values of draft candidates at different positions: replacement cost. Put simply, the value of a player is what it would cost to sign an equivalent player as a free agent.
To understand why, consider the situation of the Dolphins’ GM. The team is under a “salary cap” rule that puts a strict limit on how much the team may spend on players. The GM’s goal is therefore to acquire the best possible players for the team within that budget. Most of those players will be acquired on the open market, as free agents, at a price determined by the market. But every year, the team gets seven coupons, each of which allows the team to acquire a single player from a separate pool (draft-eligible college players) at a hugely discounted price for the following four years.
What’s the best way for our GM to use those coupons? Clearly, the optimal strategy is to maximize the discount they generate—that is, to acquire players whose total cost on the free agent market would be as high as possible. Every additional dollar saved this way, after all, is a dollar that can be spent on acquiring better free agents to play alongside the draftees.
This method explains why quarterbacks are drafted so early: given the high price of quarterbacks on the free agent market, drafting a starting quarterback provides the maximum savings compared to the replacement cost of signing an equivalent free agent. Place kickers, on the other hand, make less than just about any other position, so their replacement cost is very low, and drafting them provides very little value.
For other positions, the message is very clear: “high-value” positions—those that command top salaries—have higher replacement costs than low-value ones, and therefore should be preferred in the draft. Top defensive linemen, for instance, earn over $17 million a year these days, whereas the top tight end makes about $11 million, the top strong safety less than $10 million, and the top running back less than $9 million. So based on replacement cost, a team that has needs both on the defensive line and at running back would benefit about as much financially by drafting a fairly average starting D-lineman as by drafting an all-pro running back.
Things get a bit trickier when factoring in team needs. For example, drafting two top quarterbacks may save a huge dollar amount compared to signing free-agent equivalents, but since only one can play at a time, much of the savings from the second pick would be wasted on a backup. A couple of rules can help:
The other positions of need simply don’t meet the replacement cost test. Top linebackers, running backs and backup quarterbacks don’t cost nearly as much on the free agent market as top defensive tackles do. Free safeties cost almost as much, but since the Dolphins already have two highly-paid safeties under guaranteed contract, the savings from drafting a third one would be greatly reduced.
Another intriguing option involves high-value positions such as cornerback and left tackle where the Dolphins have starters on rookie contracts. If the team believes that it can obtain a high-value prospect at pick 11 at one of those positions, and recoup the current starter’s replacement cost via trade, then that option is worth consideration. Of course, the big “if” makes this option somewhat riskier than the defensive tackle route.
What about trading back? The “replacement cost” method can help there, as well. We could calculate the average savings on replacement cost obtained by every pick in the draft, using, say, the last five or ten years’ worth of draft data, and estimating the savings accrued for each draftee per year as the fifth-year salary of that draftee. We could thus come up with a definitive answer to the question, “how much is a given draft pick worth to a team?”, and use it to compare values of picks for trading purposes. A selection of lower picks that results in an overall equal or greater savings in replacement cost would be a good trade, while one that reduces the total savings would be a bad one.
The writer of this "Voice of the Fan" story goes by Football Noob. Follow him on Twitter: @PhinsNoob
Organizational structure should be developed before anyone is hired and remain consistent throughout ownership of franchise. Not having a documented organizational chart, and/or not following the chart leads to confusion, dissension and inevitably a power struggle. The most common organizational structure for NFL teams is:
Another possibility for organizational structure is shown below, where the G.M. would report directly to the head coach and the head coach to the owner:
I am in favor of the first example but both examples have proven to be successful for franchises.
Distinct responsibilities need to be assigned to each member of the organizational structure. For the purpose of assigning responsibilities, I will do so based off the first example of organizational structure. Responsibilities will be set as follows:
Head Coach –
Director of Scouting –
To elaborate on the aspect of this system that will lead to greater team success, it begins with applying accountability in player contracts. Players who are seniors in their specific units, (O-line, WRs, RBs, TEs, QBs, D-line, LBs, Secondary, Special Teams) should become part of the player management team and receive incentives based on the production of their overall unit.
The player management team should meet with the head coach weekly to discuss issues/players preventing greater success. All players should receive incentives based on the success of their unit but not to the degree of the players that are part of the player management team. The head coach will review the recorded results of measurable player expectations from the week before with the player management team as well as conveying the expectations for each of the team units for the upcoming week.
The player management team is responsible for working with players in their unit to improve overall success of the unit as well as players individual success. This system will instill the value of players holding each other accountable at all times.
Players taking part in conduct on or off the field that results in outcomes detrimental to the team will be held accountable by their fellow players due to the effect on contract incentives. The end result will be continual improvement in each unit and over team success.
To ensure players recognize management’s commitment to the players accountability/management system players should not be replaced by high salary free agents. For example, if a starting QB is injured in preseason, management will not dive into free agents to replace the injured starting QB, rather the next QB in line will replace the starter and management will evaluate if a backup QB addition is warranted.
Elite free agents will avoid being added except in a situation where the team is a contender missing only a piece or two to get them over the top, (i.e. Patriots brought in Darrelle Revis as a 1-year rental and won a SB with him). Generally free agents should be slightly above average players coming off their rookie contracts who have steadily improved over their rookie contract.
This free agent strategy leads to the possibility of free agents reaching elite level while under a low salary. Again, free agency should be limited to addressing gaps and when needing a missing piece to win Super Bowl. This system will also lead to additional compensatory picks and less salary cap issues.
This system can be implemented through a complete rebuild only, including front office, scouting department, coaching and most importantly the owner must buy in and convey his full to support when hiring department heads. Additionally the incoming GM must be committed to ridding the team of current high priced contracts.
This Voice of the Fan story was written by Curtis Knisley. Follow him on Twitter: @CurtisWKnisley
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