The threads on the Samuel negotiation, Rodney restruction, and the Seymour salary revelation got me to thinking in more detail about the Pats salary schedule and the key words to describe it. I think the best words are "replacement value". What is it going to cost the Pats to replace the talent on the field.
Pretty simple you say?. I think not. I think there are many factors that probably go into the calculation. Let me try and break down the more obvious ones and others can add their thoughts.
1. The Pats play a rather unique defensive and offensive systems. While most teams commit to a single system like some version the "tampa 2" or some version of the West Coast offense; the Pats are committed more to there specialized techniques (especially on D) and recognition, than any set alignment. And even though the Pats ARE a basic 3-4 team, we should know by now that THEIR 3-4 is radically different the one used by SD, and Pittsburgh.
Basically BB has designed a system that allows him the possibility to scheme radically different alignments every week, because within those vastly different scheme the players are using the same techniques week to week, only their alignment and keys are different. Sounds easy but is extremely difficult. It is ANOTHER reason that defense seems to be able to survive DESPITE the many injury hits its taken over the past 4 seasons. It is also another reason why the Pats value certain elements of a player's skills that many other team don't. Which leads us to #2.
2. Versitility - That has become a catch phrase for all Patriots teams during this 6 year run. In order to make #1 work, you need players who can play multiple positions. This is in stark contrast to what other teams do. For example.
The Tony Dungy school of thought is polar opposite to BB's. He believes in lining up in the same alignment with the same keys (relatively speaking of course) and even though the defense will KNOW where you are and what to expect, the defense GAINS more than it loses because the players will rarely make mental errors, and their play recognition will improve because they always know where they are supposed to be and are seeing the play develop from the same positon play after play. Same for their offense, Wayne and Harrison ALWAYS line up on the same sides. That HAS to help their execution. Obviously history has shown that, though vastly different, BOTH systems will work under the right circumstances and the right leadership
Getting back on point. Because the system requires players who HAVE to learn and play multiple positions a player who might have fewer physical measurables might be more valuable because of his ability to fit into this system, than a player who is a better athlete, but finds it hard to adapt to all the shifting around. A Key example of this I think, is Antrell Hawkins. Here was a journeyman CB, AT BEST, in Cinci no less, who come here and has been more than effective playing both safety spots
On the offensive side you see almost all the OLmen being able to play both sides and BOTH G and T. All the WRs generally have to learn to play all three WR positions. (see the side note) TEs have to learn to play the tight, flexed, & spread positions, PLUS learn all the motions used in the Pats running game as virtual pulling Gs. AND don't get me started on special teams.
SIDE NOTE: one of my concerns for early this season is the communication and timing of our new WRs. First because of all the reasons we have talked about before, but also because it was reported that in the OTA's Moss and Stallworth were both playing both outside WR positions, plus the slot. I'm not sure that either guy was asked to be that versitile before in the other systems they ran. If I remember correctly in the WC offense the WRs usually line up in the same positions most of the time. Just something to keep an eye on.
BOTTOM LINE here is that in the Pats system versitility is paramount to the success of the total team effort, thus it is an important factor in figuring out a players total value to the team in its salary structure. Players like Corey Dillon who only do 1 thing have to do that thing VERY WELL in order to be on this team long term. On the other had a much lesser talent like Patrick Pass lasted 7 seasons BECAUSE he could do a lot of things.
3. Rarity - certain positions are harder to find than other positions. The hardest positon is QB - A "franchise" QB is the hardest to find. With all the so called talent, all the coaching and training, etc; the QB position has evolved over the last 20 years to become perhaps the HARDEST position to excell at in professional sports. If you were hard pressed to rank them, it would be difficult to find 15 QBs who you would rank as a Franchise QB... and that's probably stretching it. So it becomes apparent that in your salary structure, if you have a QB who is truly a "franchise" player, then you pay him accordingly. On the other side, if you are paying a player LIKE a franchise QB and he isn't producing at that level, it can REALLY hurt your team on the field as well as the salary structure..
The other truly rare find is the elite DLman, regardless of what type of defense you play. The good lord has created very few human beings who have the size, speed, strength, and competitive nature who can play the DL at an elite level. When you find one, you pay him at the top level. We happen to have 3 and that will cost us. It will be interesting to see if we can keep all three LT.
After that I think CB is the next toughest. I don't think its that tough physically, however finding the guy who has the right mental outlook is very hard. Think about how mentally tough a CB has to be when the average QB in the league is completing 6 of 10 passes. ERGO, it is tough to be a DB when you KNOW that MOST of the time you are going to lose the battle.
Lately it seems that the S position has had much more of an impact on the game that just 5 years ago. Watch the effect that guys like Ed Reed, Rodney, and last season, Bob Sanders, have on the game. It makes me start to wonder if finding the elite S is starting to become even more important than finding the elite CB. Look what the Colts accomplished with 2 very pedestrian CBs and a great S
Another position that BB seems to value is TE. Clearly a guy who has the sizen and toughness to block NFL DEs and DT, and threaten a deep zone and be able to catch the ball in traffic is a hard nut to find. However I get the feeling that BB is willing to invest a lot of draft picks to fill this hard to find position, but BECAUSE the TE isn't one the field every down these days, he isn't be willing to pay market value (OVERPAY) for a FA TE, hence the departure of Daniel Graham.
I know we all crave them, but the reality is that LBs are a dime a dozen to most teams, simple because there are just more of them coming out of college every year. Perhaps a case can be made for the Pats who seem to look for a LB type that is different from a lot teams. Its why the Pats look to proven Vets and low draftees that they hope they can develop over time. However that is more a fuction of the amount of time that it takes to learn the techniques and get comfortable in the system, than it is finding players who have the physical attributes
BOTTOM LINE, that is why you might pay a A Thomas big bucks because of his PROVEN, UNIQUE skills, however by and large LBs are in the middle class of the Pats payscale. The best example of that is Rosey Colvin. He was the AThomas of 2003, but his catastophic injury has turned him from a "unique" talent into a very competent solid vet OLB. No one here will be shocked when next year Rosey will be asked to renegotiate that contract down to the middle class level inorder to pay the likes of Warren and Wilfolk. He's been fortunate the the Pats have had enough cap room the last few years that it hasn't been necessary to ask him to take a well deserved pay cut.
Even more available are the WRs. There are ALWAYS several proven vets out there EVERY YEAR, plus another 20 guys who will be there in the draft who have great measurables. Just look at what the Pats did this off season. Even BEFORE the Moss trade, they essentially were able to revamp their WR corp, WITHOUT picking a WR in the draft. You pay the best of them market value, BUT NEVER OVERPAY. Over paying their WRs has hurt the Seahawks in a lot of places.
SUMMARY - I think the main factor in identifying the way the Pats build their salary structure can be summed up in the phrase "replacement value"
Just food for though. I look forward to your additional thoughts, because my offerings were just a starting point.....and there are STILL 3 more weeks before camp opens up. :D
Re: "Replacement value"...
Excellent post, as your long ones always are. :)
Re: "Replacement value"...
Excellent analysis, to which I would add one more thing.
Defensive linemen. After the franchise QB, I believe the defensive line is a teams most important asset, regardless of scheme. Even the Colts defense, which was awful at times last year, has a defensive line that is tremendous at what it has to do.
The Patriots version of the 3-4, while it thrives on its versatility, requires big, space clogging defensive linemen to operate properly. When we switch from a 3-4 to a 4-3 (or more exptic scheme) it is rarely a defensive lineman, but a linebacker that fills that 4th line position. Remove Seymour, Wilfork or Warren from the rotation, and you've put a significant hole in the defense (case in point, the AFC championship game).
If there's one position worth "overpaying" for, it is defensive line.
Re: "Replacement value"...
D-line is definitely next in line to QB... I second that post!
Re: "Replacement value"...
Nice post, PFank. I'm going to boil down and extrapolate here, which you can feel free to say "isn't the idea at all..."
I. The Versatility Theorum
1) versatility trumps pure physical tools in the Pats' system
II. The Value Hypothesis
1) the Pats system is a sufficiently odd (and flexible) bird that the training put into a player, and the player's fit with the system, may in fact be the greater part of the player's "true worth" to the Pats.
III. Various Corollaries
1) Although the individual players can not be physically inept, success at the NE Patriots system is not necessarily the result of gifts that will allow them to excel in another system.
1a) The Givens Corollary Caveat Emptor, when you are buying a successful Patriot's negotiating rights. He might only be selling half of what you think you're buying.
1b) The Branch/Samuel Corollary When a player goes past the Pats' FO dollar value in his self-estimation, he is in large part attempting to sell back to the organization the system dynamics and training that made him marketable in the first place. This is the case with any free agent -- but to the extent that the system is unique, the ploy is less successfully transferable, at least in terms of moving the skills themselves.
1c) The Millen Corollary For any given bonehead personnel move an NFL FO could pull, there is a bonehead in charge of an NFL Front Office which will pull it (thereby cancelling the implication of Corollary 1b)
- It's hard to get a guy who is right for the Pats system
- It's hard to train that guy in the Pats' system
- Execution will be spottier unless the right coaching and training makes the versatility vs. familiarity tradeoff work well enough to allow flexibility without giving up performance. The "balance sheet" for this tradeoff gives you more tools at the coaching level, in exchange for a much more confusing ground-level responsibility
- A player who is good in the Pats' system -- to the extent that the system is truly an anomoly -- is likely to have more skill areas that do not translate to other systems. If the Pats' system is "different" beyond the degree that all systems are different from one another, this is a consideration in free agency discussions. If in fact we see the differences more clearly because we follow this team, this is not a consideration.
So the Pats will actually "overvalue" players in terms of the market, by considering how hard it is to replace them, even if other teams would value them less. "Unique"/rare talent, such as Brady, is a good example. The question of what happens with Warren and Wilfork also comes into play, but later.
The Pats will "undervalue" players in terms of the market, if they consider the skills necessary to be replicable through other sources... obviously the "more things you can do," the higher the Pats value you.
And every time we have this kind of system-wide conversation, it makes you wonder...
Which category does [Free Agent A] fit into?
More often than not, I end up thinking it's a shame that a good fit's been busted up. You think about guys who do well within the Pats system, try to sell that perception back to the Pats' front office, and fail to do so successfully. Givens.... Branch.... now probably Samuel.
But of course, players are free to use the terms at their disposal.
Another question this analysis bring up though -- Wes Welker is (as is shown by his contract,) a pretty good bet to excel in this system. But Stallworth and Moss, seem less good bets. Probably the Pats have shied away from "deep threat" name guys for this very reason. But the FO has found a way to "try them out" for the Pats system with little/no first-year commitment.
The possibility remains, though, that these types of guys are doomed to be worth more in the eyes of other systems, than in the eyes of the Pats, in the future. Being known for physical tools rather than versatility DOES translate. People will make their run at Moss, obviously. Stallworth might not be seen as worth 11M to the Patriots.
More rambling and wandering... excellent post, PFank, it started the gears turning.
Re: "Replacement value"...
Love this thread. Excellent post PFK.
One thing that I wonder about, is when the FO set's their "target price" in negotiations, do they account for "switching costs" as well? Undoubtedly, they look at a player, evaluate how rare is this individual's overall package as it fits to the scheme, and determine what level of an offer that person is worthy of. All well and good, but they need to tack on an extra 5% or 10% on top of that, to account for the value that the player is established in Foxboro, knows the system, knows his teammates, understands the rhythm of the week and BB's expectations. If they don't add a small premium for players like Samuel... and in prior years Ted Washington, Vinatieri, Law, Branch, Givens etc... then they aren't recognizing full cost of ramp up time and replacement risk involved in bringing a new player into the system. Washington in particular-- I think the negotiating difference was fairly small, and they didn't fully appreciate the ramp up time before Wilfork would be ready to take the reigns.
I did disagree a little with what you posted regarding "rarity". I agree that DL and TE are premium positions in recruiting, because the combination of physical skills are very rare... soft hands, route running, run blocking, blitz protection all in a body that is 250-270#...?
But I dont think that CB or S are particularly rare talents to be successful in this scheme. Randall Gay, Asante Samuel, Ellis Hobbs... these were not highly recruited individuals. The question is a matter of mental agility coupled with physical agility... but the demographic pool of 5'11 200# atheletes is much larger than the pool of 6'3 320# monster-men. The result is that BB has chosen to invest Day Two picks and UFAs to fill his roster. 2007 was the first year he really upgraded his secondary with rare talent in the form of Merriweather. And the reason is because his roster was already stacked at DL and TE.
And your claim that 3-4 LBs are a dime a dozen... I completely disagree. They are the rarest of the rare. This is the most mentally demanding position on D, playing alternately in coverage, in run support, in pass rush-- all predicated on what happens when the ball is snapped and how other players act and react. BB expects his LBs to be coaches on the field, diagnosing each play in real time and getting to a spot before the O does. The reason that BB hasn't taken a LB early in recent drafts is because none of them meet his criteria, which are so strict that I wonder if he'll find more than one of two in any draft class that he's interested in. Very few 255# players actually play LB at the college level. Three approaches: (1) grow your own, which means take a college DE and try to convert him-- Bruschi, (2) sign someone from the Bears or Ravens who have already made the conversion--Rosie, Adalius--at top dollar, (3) draft the finished product-- Lawrence Taylor... good luck finding another one like him. After passing on Harris and Posluszny this year, I'm more mystified than ever in what BB expects to see from a rookie LB prospect.
Re: "Replacement value"...
Great thread, manna for a football fan impatiently waiting for training camp.
Re: "Replacement value"...
Short note here on talent:
Fast -- straight-line speed: 40 time (Bethel J.)
Quick -- agility: cone drills (Branch, Hobbs)
Tall -- I think we know what that means :)
Big -- wide and strong, relative to position: Wilfork, Dillon
Football smart -- ability to quickly see plays develop (Bruschi, T.Brown, Harrison, Brady)
Book smart -- can learn the playbook, recognize static formations and their meaning (Brady, Harrison)
Then there are specific skills: kicking, blocking, catching, throwing.
CBs are exceptionally fast and quick. To be a top CB you have to stay stride for stride with the top WR's, anticipate cuts, out leap them for the ball, catch the ball. They need unusual physical gifts. They also have to be football smart, to study film and recognize when a QB is staring down a WR versus looking off the safety. That's why top CBs are worth tens of millions.
Different systems call for different sets of physical talents. The Pats don't rely on a tall #1 WR, preferring a mix-it-up offense that pressures the defense into leaving someone open. That's why a quick, football-smart slot receiver is worth a 2nd round pick. The same offensive strategy wants a versatile TE who can block and catch, rather than a pure pass-catching TE.
What makes a Pats OLB tough to find is that they need the size and speed and blocking techniques of a 4-3 DE, with the agility to cover in the short zone, as well as being football smart and book smart. Draft picks need so much time to develop that they're out of their rookie contracts by the time they're ready. Which means you need someone with Koppen's or Bruschi's attitude to re-sign for a reasonable price.
Apparently, BB hasn't yet seen the right combination of talent, intelligence and attitude at the right place in the draft and has preferred the security of veteran LBs. He'll have 2 first-round picks next year, so we'll see what happens.
Re: "Replacement value"...
Couldn't agree more. I was going to post something similar but you nailed it with one possible exception - strong safety. He's nearly on a par value/significance wise with Bill's LB's. We've only won when we had a special one on the roster and active including without his head stuck up his ass (where Lawyer's got stuck in the afterglow of XXXVI).
When Belichick has talented young defensive linemen and heady veteran linebackers backed up by a savvy SS, he can coach up willing young or aging CB's with just sufficient talent to get their job done.
Not to say he doesn't appreciate ultra talents who play the position. He told Ed Reed at the pro bowl after a particular play, "if I had you and those two corners (one of whom was Champ) that's all I'd need - ALL". He also realizes with three of those on the roster it's all he could afford.
I think the fact that we got Rodney for a song (compared to Reed - who Bill still laments passing up in the 2002 draft which is one reason why he didn't pass on Merriweather this year) reportedly entering his dotage, and Tedy is an agents nightmare negotiating from the heart, and Vrabel is a 'tweener who appreciated the opportunity he got here and renegotiated accordingly, has skewered the financial perception that we don't/won't pay for ILB's or Safeties. We just got lucky in that so far we haven't had to. They and Tom (another guy who chose not to squeeze them) are the true foundation of the dynasty which was built as much on brains as brawn.
As for adding a little premium to retain guys who fit, remember during the time when most of those negotiations were underway we were right up against a pre 2006 cap and impending labor uncertainty. I do think Bill underestimated the value of the unique skill set it takes to be a really good WR here and has learned a tough lesson - yeah, they don't have Randy Moss like physical talents but they have to be pretty darned adept mentally as well as personally driven to master a sight adjusted offense. I think he paid a premium to acquire Troy Browns replacement this offseason because he now more fully appreciates that. Injuries and the flu ultimately did his team in in the AFCC, but I guarantee you it gnaws at him that had they had Branch on the field or a youthful Troy Brown they probably would have found a way to make just one or two more plays that would have kept a crumbling defense off the field and fate out of the Colts hands and in their own. He hopes he's recitified that with offseason moves this year.
But I also think after 2002 he determined that some level of turnover and infusion of either sheer talent or veteran hunger are requisites for teams determined to win multiple championships. Too much comfort in the system (or too many comfortable players or players mulling their next deal or concerned about how the system impacts their pro bows profile on the roster) can lead to an almost subconscious teamwise malaise or lack of focused urgency, while an infusion of new wide eyed talent or aging veteran talent with a burning desire to win a ring before it's over can be necessary to re-energize and re-focus even the most successful of teams on the opportunity at hand. You just need to pre plan for those replacements better and not let yourself get caught off guard when you lose someone you hadn't apparently anticipated losing.
Re: "Replacement value"...
Also findind a true "shutdown CB" allows a defense to become INSTANTLY more dangerous because of the things you can do schematically, BECAUSE you have a "shutdown CB". This might be the sticking point in the Samuel negotiations. The Pats MIGHT think that while a great playmaker, Samuel ISN'T a true shut down CB, a la McAllister and Baily, yet is a premium CB within the Pats system.
So its not that these players aren't there, they just require a very long (relatively speaking) time to get ready to play the position in a Patriots system. I think BB feels that the colleges don't product LBs that can fit that mold. However they do have a number of DEs who can be MADE into what the Pats need, but the development time is too long to justify a high draft pick....in most cases. That's why I think he feels he gets better value letting OTHER teams train college DLmen to become LBs or draft them low and hope they get another AD or at least a TBC.
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