My first thought when this deal was announced -- "I can't believe it, what a disastrous trade for the Falcons". The history of highly selected WR's is (typically) such an awful return on investment...or as a return on anything, that I couldn't comprehend it at first. *If you don't agree with that, please consider our following previous research article -- NFL Draft 2011 - Why are you so sure Julio Jones and A.J. Green are NFL "Locks"? A Look at the Comedy that is WR Draft Picks in the NFL - Fantasy Football 2011
After I thought about it more, an odd thought came across my mind...the history (of success) of draft picks in general is so bad/mixed, that maybe in a weird, "Jedi-mind trick" way -- this is not as bad as I first thought. If the Falcons would just screw up the picks anyway (and it's not just the Falcons, it could be most any team), then did they really give up anything that valuable?
I'm picking on the Falcons, but I suspect I could do this with most teams...just to look at recent history, I went back and looked at just the 2009 Atlanta Falcons draft selections (I know, their 2008 was much better...more on that is a second). I did not look at 2010, because it was too recent. Looking at just 2009 may not be fair, but I thought it was interesting. The Atlanta Falcons 2009 draft was:
- Peria Jerry, DT (#24)
- William Moore, S (#55)
- Christopher Owens, CB (#90)
- Lawrence Sidbury, DE (#125)
- William Middleton, CB (#138)
- Garrett Reynolds, OT (#156)
- Spencer Adkins, ILB (#176)
- Vance Walker, DT (#210)
Not a lot of household names on there. However, in the NFL, that doesn't mean they weren't valuable picks...just because we don't recognize their names. Honestly, I remember Peria Jerry...and no one else. I decided to look at each player to get idea of their value in terms of games started over the past 2 seasons. A few numbers on this collective group over the past 2 years, from the best I could gather:
- The Falcons have played 33 games over the past 2 seasons (1 playoff game)
- 8 players x 33 games played possible = 264 games
- This collective Falcons 2009 draft class has participated in 135 games (51.1%) in the past 2 seasons
- This collective Falcons 2009 draft class has started 28 games (10.6%) in the past 2 seasons
- 3.3 games started per player in 2 years, 1.6 games started per player, per season on average
- Only 1 player has started more than 10 games total = William Moore
Not a ton of productivity so far. Basically, 1 starter out 8 selections (to date) from the 2009 Falcons draft class. Injuries (like Peria Jerry) are unfortunate, but it's is still a lack of team productivity or lack of return on investment. Speaking of investments/money, let's look at the cost of the 2009 Atlanta Falcons Draft class (I rounded numbers, and trusted various places for this info...hoping close to right):
- $11M in guaranteed money (I know this is amortized, but it is money spent/committed none the less; no matter what)
- Approximately $3.0M in payroll over 2 seasons
- $14M total investment (so far?, signing bonuses, etc paid upfront)
- 135 Falcons games participated in by the 2009 draft class / $14M = $104,000 spent per player, per game actually participated in (so far)
- 28 Falcons games started by the 2099 draft class / $6.7M = $500K spent per player, per start (so far)
It would appear that the Falcons have landed 1 starter (Moore) in the 2009 NFL Draft, and it wouldn't appear that they have landed any future NFL superstars. Payroll and guaranteed money of $14M spent/committed (so far), and they have (to this point) landed a starting Safety (who has started for 1 of his 2 seasons). How valuable are draft picks anyway?
It's unfair take just one draft class selectively and make big assumptions, but I thought it was an interesting dose of reality to look a more decent draft class as an example of what could be judged -- a waste of time. We get all worked up about our favorite team's draft...and it could turn out like the Falcons 2009. However, look back another (2008) and you find a "home run" Draft by anyone's standards. In 2008, the Falcons "knocked it out of the park" yielding -- Matt Ryan, Sam Baker, Curtis Lofton, Kroy Biermann, Thomas DeCoud...5 starters out of 11 draft picks, and a potential elite/franchise QB included. Now how valuable are draft picks?
*Yes, I have seen the "trade value matrix" that assigns points to each pick/slot. I would argue that it is wildly out of date, obsolete, and lacks no business/payroll reality. it assumes a #1 pick is worth more than all other picks, but from a business sense most teams are trying to do anything to get rid of the #1 pick...so what is a #1 pick really worth?
What the Falcons/Browns trade really looks like:
Let's look at this trade after assigning the proper names to the trade, including one twist -- the Browns received both 2011 and 2012 picks from the Falcons in this deal. For 2012, the Browns received the Falcons 1st and 4th Round picks. I theorize that they will use these picks to acquire Kevin Kolb -- who I think is a potential franchise QB, your thoughts may be different. Also keep in mind, the Browns flipped the Falcons #27 to move up to take Phil Taylor, so we have to factor in the ramifications of that. For fun let's insert Kevin Kolb into this deal...and it would look like:
BROWNS gave up (ATL, KC):
- Julio Jones, WR (#6) to ATL
- Justin Houston, DL (#70) to KC (an extra pick given to move up in the 1st Round)
- Kevin Kolb, QB (for fun, with both the 2012 picks of ATL)
- Phil Taylor, DT (moved up from KC)
- Greg Little, WR (#59, was ATL's 2nd Round pick)
- Owen Marecic, FB (#124 was ATL's 4th Round pick)
Let's say for a moment that the 2 DT's (Taylor and Houston) wash/cancel/equal each other out (that may be unfair, and who knows in reality). If the deal is condensed to Kolb, Little, Marecic for Julio Jones...who got the best of that deal? If all the other players selected by the Browns "washed out", would you do just Kevin Kolb for Julio Jones? I absolutely believe Kevin Kolb is a potential elite QB, and well beyond any QB taken in the first 2 Rounds of the 2011 draft....so for me just Kolb for Jones straight up, I would do in a heartbeat. Franchise QBs are the rarest of commodity, really athletic WRs are available all over...and are usually more trouble than they are worth; and are usually a bad return on investment on a number of fronts...even if great players.
The Falcons didn't need to gamble on, or otherwise maneuver for, a QB, but is all that draft pick value given up really worth Julio Jones? I would argue Greg Little may be as good, or better, or just close to a WR as Julio Jones in terms of potential NFL productivity. If Little is just really good and Jones is a pro-bowl WR, then all it takes is for one other player in the deal to be good for the Browns and this deal made sense. If several players are good for the Browns, then the deal may be a home run. If they ultimately walk away with a franchise QB for the next 5-10 years, it would be legendary.
When I put the names to this deal and stare at it, it doesn't look as daunting (or dumb) as I first thought. However, as an NFL GM, I would much rather have 5 "lottery tickets" than just the 1. Julio Jones would have to be a transcendent type player for me to even consider a deal like this, and for me he is not. If the Falcons wanted to balance off Roddy White, they could have selected Leonard Hankerson in the 3rd Round, Greg Little in the 2nd Round, or Torrey Smith in the 2nd Round...and maybe none of these other 2011 WRs wouldn't have been as good as Julio Jones, but I think they could be...and so did a few other analysts, and if so -- then the relative value of Jones (supply and demand) was not worth what the Falcons spent on it.
Better to pick high one time, or several times later in the NFL Draft?
Many of you will understand this next point (especially the entrepreneurs, business operations managers and money managers out there), a few readers might have a bad knee-jerk reaction initially...but take a second a second to think about the full business aspect of this next statement (and we don't know what the new NFL draft pick payroll rules we be, so think of existing rules). From a business sense, I could/would make the argument that a #27 pick overall is more valuable than #6 pick overall.
Most people equate a high pick with a better "opportunity". I look at it from a business/return-on-investment aspect -- for what you have had to spend in payroll for a top pick (and the relative value they bring), it (to me) makes a ton more business sense to pick later in the 1st Round -- it's cheaper, and just as often the actual real best players are sitting available. I would suspect that in their "heart of hearts" -- Bill Belichick, Scott Pioli, and Bill Polian (just to name a few) would trade a #6 overall pick for a #27 overall pick straight up (they wouldn't in reality, because in reality they'll get more/additional picks to do it...like the Browns just extracted). Consider the 2010 Draft picks and contracts (contract data from various reporting agencies, hopefully close to right):
- #6 pick in 2010 Russell Okung, $48.5M over 6 years, $29M guaranteed
- #27 pick in 2010 Devin McCourty, $13.2M over 5 years, $7.3M guaranteed
Is Okung $35M better than McCourty over 5-6 years (time will tell)? $22M guaranteed money better? Will the Patriots find a offensive lineman as good/close to as good as Okung in the 2nd or 3rd or 4th Round of any draft...or off the waiver wire, for much less payroll?
It's why Belichick is always trading back in the NFL Draft, it's not that he has an awesome track record of players selected as of late...the NFL Draft real genius may actually be measured in the near "un-measurable", measured in players not selected/over-paid for; and that's harder to see/conceptualize. Belichick/Polian, etc squeeze great return on investment from their roster, they don't typically fall in love/lust with prospects in the top-10 and impulse spend their way up in the draft order. Example...They get a Randy Moss when he's cheaper, they trade a Randy Moss before he costs them too much, and/or right before his skills erode, and pressures their overall payroll flexibility.
In the long run, the story and names involved in this trade will write itself...but philosophically (actual names aside), 5 later picks for 1 "high pick" in the modern day business of the NFL is a deal you almost have to make every time (unless an absolute elite, Andrew Luck type QB is the "one" pick they are coming after). When you consider the value of the payroll spend and talent available later in the Draft, it is the smarter money. If Julio Jones is the next Jerry Rice, then it won't be judged as wise for the Browns...it will be mocked. Names aside though, this is a great deal for the Browns; and not so swift for the Falcons...philosophically.
I would be happier when my favorite team makes great "value", long-term business savvy moves that most people would hardly notice, and I'm not as excited when my favorite team makes a top-10 overall pick that ESPN and NFL Network slobbers all over, showing me a 20 second/5-play highlight reel loop in which the player selected looks "awesome" (don't all the players look great in their 20-second highlight loop?). It somehow seems all those "awesome" top-10 picks are being made over and over by the same teams every year....
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