What Would a New Contract For DRC Look Like?

I’ve opined before on giving Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie a contract extension, going as far as to call it an offseason priority. With Nnamdi Asomugha aging and only unproven recent draftees behind him, locking up Rodgers-Cromartie would go a long way to preserve continuity in the defensive backfield. Obviously, whether you want to extend him also stems from your impression of him as a player. If you’ve been following along, you know that I think DRC’s stellar play on the outside at the end of 2011 after he languished in the slot for most of the year suggests big things could be in store for him. (And reports out of training camp are stellar so far.)

But unless Howie Roseman is discussing things behind the scenes during training camp, it doesn’t look like he agrees, with either Rodgers-Cromartie’s value or his skill. Let’s go deeper and see what the difference in money might be based on letting DRC play out this contract year. Here’s a table of recent top cornerback contracts given out for players in his age range. Financial details are on the right and on the field stats are on the left (Pro Bowl appearances, games started, yards per attempt, interceptions):

Looking at the finances first, you can see there are different measures for large contracts. The total millions is a nice overall number, although it tends to overstate the “real” value of the deal (with fake years at the end). The yearly figure and guarantee may give a more accurate accounting of the contract.

It’s interesting to look at how the deals were structured and how they turned out. DeAngelo Hall and Dunta Robinson got massive contracts that turned out to be bad for their teams—although you can see why the Redskins and Falcons, respectively, were willing to dish out that kind of dough. For example, Hall was young, even for this group, and already had two Pro Bowl appearances and 22 interceptions.

The following year, Antonio “Headcase” Cromartie received a smaller contract than his number stats warranted because of his off the field problems. Leon Hall got a slightly larger and slightly longer deal. Johnathan Joseph made out like a bandit, with nearly $10 million a year and $24 million guaranteed.

This offseason, Brandon Carr and Cortland Finnegan both just bested Joseph’s contract. Eric Wright has had an up-and-down career, most recently in Detroit, and he signed a more modest five-year free agent deal. Meanwhile, Lardarius Webb, who had a stellar 2011 season with the Ravens, got the largest total amount. That figure is inflated by an extra year though; as you can see the guarantee is less than some of his peers.

So, where does Rodgers-Cromartie fit in? At 26 years old, he has fewer games started than anyone other than Webb, although his other stats are better than average. He has a low yards per attempt figure and a high interception rate. Even with his atrocious play in the slot last season, 2011 was much more in line with his first two seasons in the league. DRC’s 2010 letdown that prompted him to be traded might have been an outlier.

The question becomes what Rodgers-Cromartie would command in today’s market. Given his perceived inconsistency, lack of physicality, and a deficit of experience compare to his peers, DRC probably wouldn’t be in line for a Carr or Cortland-sized contract. Wright’s deal this year and Hall’s in 2011 look like better comparables: perhaps 5 years, $40 million, $16 million guaranteed.

Let’s say though, that Rodgers-Cromartie plays out this season, putting up his career averages, and enters the market in 2012. At that point, with 60 games started, 7.2 yards per attempt against, and 16 or so interceptions, he could make the case that he’s better than Carr or Finnegan. DRC would probably received $25 million guaranteed and upwards of $10 million per year on the open market—a substantial upgrade from his current value.

By not re-signing his second cornerback now, Roseman risks the price going up next year. He may be making one of a few calculated bets, though. Perhaps he thinks DRC simply isn’t worth a long term contract. He’s betting that Rodger-Cromartie will show that he’s not worth top money. Or Howie’s looking at the other backups and assuming that someone like Curtis Marsh will be able to slide in a year from now. Or maybe Roseman is willing to use the franchise tag (at enormous one-year cost) as necessary to keep DRC on hand in 2013.

Looking at the state of the defensive backfield and the market for cornerbacks as it stands now, I would buy into DRC long term. The potential rewards, both financially and on the field, are great, and the downside to not paying him could be severe next offseason. Get it done.

Photo from Getty.

A Real Linebacker? No Way!

DeMeco Ryans

It’s a year too late, but let’s not spoil the fun. The Eagles finally have a real linebacker. It’s a miracle.

The trade yesterday for Texans middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans is everything the Eagles needed and more. In fact, it’s a master stroke by the front office. While the best free agent linebackers have zero Pro Bowls between them, Howie Roseman and company went out and acquired a two-time Pro Bowler for basically the same money and the equivalent of a late third round pick.

There are obvious caveats to the deal, starting with why the Texans would be willing to trade the 27-year-old Ryans. The decision to move him probably amounts to three factors. First, Ryans was going to cost upwards of $6 million a year for the foreseeable future, and the Texans are not in great salary cap shape. Second, the linebacker’s production fell in 2011 playing in Houston’s new 3-4 scheme. Instead of playing virtually every defensive snap, he only was on the field 58 percent of the time last year (according to PFF).

With the Eagles’ salary cap wizardry and 4-3 scheme, neither of those should be a problem here. The only remaining question is whether he’s lost a step following achilles surgery in 2010. Ryans played all 16 games last season, but many observers called it a down year for him. Hopefully the injury won’t be a factor going forward.

Even with that potential drawback, getting Ryans is a big win for the Eagles. He instantly becomes the most talented linebacker in this city, probably since Jeremiah Trotter first left in 2002. And he doesn’t have to return to Pro Bowl strength in order to make a huge impact in the middle of the Eagles defense.

Moreover, Ryans was a team captain and by all accounts a tremendous leader. The Eagles have had problems in that area too, but it seems likely that the team has found it’s vocal defensive signal-caller for the foreseeable future.

Photo from Getty. Video h/t BGN.

The NFL vs. the Marklars

A fun, Space Jam-inspired look at the best NFL players.

Only one question for Jimmy: where is Chad Hall?

Time to Worry About the Eagles Linebackers?

For Eagles fans that I’ve talked to, the position of worry seems to have seamlessly migrated from cornerback to right tackle since free agency began. Even with promising training camp play by new addition Ryan Harris, there still appears to be more concern directed at that spot than anywhere else.

Yet I hear very little worry about another every-down position that seems even more tenuous: linebacker.

Perhaps people are dissatisfied with the position but have resigned themselves to mediocrity, given the  lack of resources that the Eagles have put into it in the Andy Reid era. But I get the sense that there is actually a lot of positive thinking about linebacker, where the Eagles are set to start a 4th round rookie, a sophomore 7th round pick who started less than a handful of games in 2010, and a third year 7th rounder who has done little of note during his time in Philly.

Casey Matthews, Jamar Chaney, and Moise Fokou are young and promising, and I understand the optimism. But then you look at the stats and you have to wonder.

64 linebackers were drafted between the 3rd and 5th rounds over the last five NFL drafts. Exactly zero of them started a full season their rookie year. Only three players even managed to start more than six games, and the player who started the most was former Eagle Chris Gocong, with 12 games. That doesn’t inspire confidence in Matthews.

Here’s a depressing stat for you: out of all the rookie to third-year linebackers drafted in the 3rd through 7th rounds playing in the NFL during the last five years, their combined Pro Bowl appearances is one. How about another? The Eagles are set to start two former 7th round picks. No linebacker drafted in the final round in the last ten years has ever made a Pro Bowl - in any year of his career.

None of this proves anything about the three guys the Eagles have lined up to start. Maybe they can buck the trend. Maybe the scouts have found three diamonds  in the rough. But all the linebackers who came before them say that the ceiling is pretty low. No one should realistically hope for Pro Bowl seasons from these guys, nor should anyone even count on Casey Matthews to start the whole season - and who is his backup?

At best, temper your expectations. They could be average or above average linebackers, although that seems like an optimistic result right now, not a statistical likelihood. At worst, be prepared (yet again?) for linebacker to be the weakest link on the Eagles defense.

How to Draft a Pro Bowl Quarterback: Pick Early

Michael Vick Cam Newton NFL Draft Quarterbacks Pro Bowl 1st Pick

The history of the NFL draft is filled with quarterbacks: the high picks, the big expectations, and the heartbreaking busts. Finding the gem can lift your team to the heights for a decade or more. Squandering your chance can keep you in the basement for just as long.

This year will be no different. A bunch of star college quarterbacks — Auburn’s Cam Newton, Missouri’s Blaine Gabbert, Washington’s Jake Locker, and others — will be picked later this week with high hopes for their success, and only a few will succeed in their transition to the NFL. Are there any guides we can use to bring some order to the chaos? Any ways to sort through the dozen quarterbacks who might get selected and figure out who will make it? Not many.

We do know one thing: it’s essential to get a great one. No team the last 24 years has won the Super Bowl without a quarterback who’s been to the Pro Bowl at least once in his career.

I went back and analyzed all the quarterbacks drafted from 1995 to 2006 to see who turned into a Pro Bowler and who flamed out. Check out the graphs to see what I found.

Pro Bowl Quarterbacks by NFL Draft Pick

The first chart above organizes the quarterbacks by draft pick, with markers for the last pick in each round (32, 64, 96…) at the bottom. The percent chance of that player making the Pro Bowl is measured on the left.

As you can see, taking a quarterback with one of the top picks is a huge advantage. You’ll get a player who has a greater than 50 percent chance of making at least one Pro Bowl. But the probability falls off sharply after that. By the time we’ve reached the end of the first round, the chance of getting a future Pro Bowler drops by more than half to only one in four. At the start of the third round things are even worse: it’s only a 10 percent chance of striking gold. Oddly, there isn’t much more decline the rest of the way. Quarterbacks drafted in rounds three through seven have roughly the same chance (or lack thereof) to make it to a Pro Bowl.

Pro Bowl Quarterbacks by NFL Draft Order

We see a similar trend when the quarterbacks are arranged in the order they were selected, even though this only ranks players against the others in their class. For example, it doesn’t show that five quarterbacks were taken in the top 12 picks in the 1999 draft, but zero made it that high in 2000.

Again, there’s the 50-50 probability for early quarterbacks and then truly long-shot chances later in the draft. Interestingly, though, there’s no difference between quarterbacks drafted first and those picked second. Often those guys are so close that it’s unclear who’s really the best — this data backs that up.

What’s the big picture?

There are constraints inherent in the this data. For example, early draft picks get more chance to prove themselves as starters, and a Pro Bowl season doesn’t necessarily make a player great (see: Young, Vince). But overall this analysis shows how inherently difficult it is to find a Super Bowl-caliber quarterback in the draft if you don’t take one early on. With the first few picks at least you have a coin flip chance of success, in the second round you’re delusional if you expect better than three-to-one odds, and later on you might as well try the lottery.

Originally published at NBC Philadelphia. Photos from Getty.

Vick’s Value to Eagles Goes Beyond Touchdowns

Michael Vick

Let’s just assume for a minute that football decisions aren’t always, purely, football decisions. As the impending player lockout shows, the NFL is a business. At its most basic level, the game is just a form of entertainment that exists for the sole purpose of filling stadiums, selling jerseys, and getting massive television contracts.

Regarding the quasi-quarterback controversy the Eagles face this offseason, on the field the choice looks to be Michael Vick over Kevin Kolb. And as the weeks go on we’ll delve more into the actual quarterbacking differences between the hash marks. But what about from a business perspective?

The Eagles as an organization certainly don’t have trouble making money. They’ve been selling out all their games for years and Lincoln Financial Field brings in tons of revenue. Plus, the team has consistently dominated Philly sports talk radio and local TV ratings.

But with the recent emergence of the Phillies as a legitimate World Series contender year in and year out, the Eagles no longer have a monopoly on the city’s sports attention. And even on a national level the team isn’t as big a draw as the Redskins, Cowboys, or Steelers. As a business that wants to continue to grow its audience and profits, Jeff Lurie and company know that they need to keep their fans excited.

When you look at the quarterback choice from that point of view, there really is no choice at all. Vick is your guy. Say what you want about negative press and a polarizing personality, but there simply aren’t many players who can raise the profile of an entire organization the way Vick can.

Just look at the numbers we have to gauge fan interest. Google searches for Vick’s name trumped Kolb even while he was just a back-up, and Vick even out-polled the Eagles organization for most of the season. Not even Donovan McNabb in his prime could command that kind of attention. In Vick’s first year as a starter since going to jail for dog fighting, he also had the NFL’s sixth top-selling jersey. And Vick came second in Pro Bowl voting only to Tom Brady.

The Eagles organization sees all those numbers, and the fact that television networks wanted to showcase Vick as much as possible — the team played six games in prime time last year. Furthermore, they can sense the special excitement that Vick (along with his fellow star DeSean Jackson) brings to each game. Those qualities are irreplaceable, even if the on-the-field production is. When you’re trying not only to put the best team on the field, but also the best product, there’s really no comparison between Kolb and Vick.

One’s a football player, and the other’s a national sensation.

Originally published at NBC Philadelphia. Photo from Getty.

Get in Mike Vick’s Head

This is cool. Vick gets hooked up to a helmet cam during Pro Bowl practice.

See what he sees:

Vick-Jackson Connection Broken in 1st Half

The first half of the Eagles-Vikings Tuesday Night Football showdown was exceedingly sloppy in all areas, but that theme was especially evident in the most explosive connection on the field: Michael Vick to DeSean Jackson.

Up to this point in the season, the Vick-Jackson link has been perhaps the best thing the Eagles have had going for them. Jackson has six receiving touchdowns and has averaged over 22 yards per catch this year, a career high, even for the most explosive wide receiver in the NFL. The long-ball heroics just earned dynamic duo starting nods for the NFC in the Pro Bowl.

But Tuesday night? DeSean was targeted nine times — more than any other Eagles player. But instead of exciting, the results were disastrous in the first half…

"Tell Me About Your Childhood"

Best interview of Donovan McNabb ever. If only 11-year-old reporter Damon Weaver had asked about the Eagles Offseason QB Clusterf%$k™.

Eagletarian: McNabb going to Pro Bowl

Quarterback Donovan McNabb and safety Quintin Mikell were officially added to the NFC Pro Bowl roster this morning.

It’s McNabb’s sixth Pro Bowl selection and the first for Mikell.