[Editor's Note: The following is a guest post from Colts Authority Reader Matt Shedd. I hope you enjoy his approach to analyzing the Colts' free agent signings. Let him know in the comments below!]
I’m a Colts fan, and it’s free agency. That typically means that I should be doing nothing but reading mock drafts, preparing to see the new stock of talent that the Colts will bring in and develop. Of course, that was the pattern of fandom under the Old Regime.
This off-season, however, is filled with excitement—whether that is good for the team or not remains to be seen. Free agency is exciting this year. The Colts are actually going after people. Jim Irsay is throwing money around like he is buying up real estate in a game of Monopoly. The new excitement comes with a new set of questions.
What are the Colts actually getting out of all their money spent? How do you even judge a GM during free agency? How do you actually decide the value of a free agent?
That is the question I set out to understand. You can judge FA acquisitions from a few different viewpoints, such as player talent, market, or raw numbers. The question I wanted to seek, though, was what value each of our new players brought to their last team, and compare that to what we paid them.
Value is important. Two guys on two different teams can both catch 100 passes and have the same yardage, but the value that those catches brought can be entirely different. Pro Football Reference has a system for judging these values—called approximate value (AV)—that I used for this test. You can read the entire formula for how AV is determined on their website, but allow me to say just a couple things about it.
First, AV includes team success. A good team offense has more AV points to divvy up than a poor offense. This means that a more valuable team will have more value given to their role players.
Second, AV is hardly perfect. According to this year’s AV ratings, RG III was the 2nd most valuable QB on their team, while Peyton Manning sat around 10th. I am willing to say simply that that is simply not an accurate description of their respective value.
With these things in mind, lets go through our new guys one at a time:
Laron Landry (AV 9)
Landry posted a nice AV on a less than great team last year, meaning that he was a very valuable player. How valuable? Landry was responsible for 5% of all the AV that the Jets earned in 2012. If he brings the same value to the Colts, he will improve the Colts defense drastically.
If Landry earned 5% of his teams worth, that should mean that he is worth about 5% of the cap as well. That would put his cap hit on a new salary at about $6.2 million. Considering the Colts are actually spending about $5.7 million per year, signing Landry was actually a steal. The key is whether he will actually continue to be as valuable to his new team as he was to his old.
Gosder Cherilus (AV 8)
Cherilus represents the reality of Free Agency quite nicely. His AV of 8 was on a team with more overall value than the Jets, but still not a great team. It ended up being worth 4% of the Lions total AV, which would place a fair contract for him at $4.9 million.
The reality, though, is that you would not have been in contention to get Cherilus at that price. His $7.5 million per year is a massive overpay and is common in Free Agency.
Donald Thomas (AV 5)
Thomas, according to this simply percentage of value system should be worth about $2.3 million a year. His contract has him making a little bit more than that per year. The key here is that he will certainly bring more value than his replacement, and he will also have more opportunity to bring value on this team than in New England. Overall this contract is pretty close to right on.
Erik Walden (AV 5)
Remember now that this system is based on a percentage of overall team value. Erik Walden, while having the same AV number as Donald Thomas, did so on a team with less total AV points available. Therefore his percentage is slightly higher.
Walden’s contract, according to my numbers, should be about 2.3 million per year. His first year salary of $3.2 million per year, while a slight overpay, is not disastrous based on this model (Though PFF might disagree with the value he added to the Packers in 2012).
Greg Toler (AV 2)
Toler’s contract is built completely on the assumption that he can play a more significant role than he did in 2012. We signed him based on what we hope he will bring, not on what he did bring in the past. His 2 AV points was worth 1.1% of the Cardinals total last year. A contract to reflect that would be about 1.3 million per year. What did the Colts give him? $4.3 million this year alone. As fans, we better hope Toler starts, and plays well all season to earn that salary.
Ricky Jean-Francois (AV1)
We come now to the worst contract the Colts signed BY FAR. The first year of Francois’ contract is worth 2.3 million dollars. This doesn’t seem too bad for a guy that we are counting on fortifying our D-line, and it isn’t if he comes through.
However, the problem is that for the 49ers last year, he just wasn’t very valuable. In fact, he was completely expendable. His AV of 1 was worth a minuscule .4% of their total AV, which would translate to a contract of $400K per year. He has done nothing to prove that he is worth the type of contract he was given. In fact, in four years with the Niners he has yet to display much value to their team.
What does it all mean?
The reality is that these numbers only point to something that any alert fan already knew. They tell us that the Colts paid a lot of money for guys who have not yet proven they are worth it. The odds are that at least a couple of these guys prove their worth in the next year, and a couple of them will be the next Zibby or Booger and fail to live up to their contract at all.
Looking at the numbers, I would guess that the guys that will succeed in living up to the number will be Thomas, Landry, and perhaps Walden. Francois seems doomed to failure, as does Toler. Cherilus may never earn the big money he is being paid, but he will probably bring enough value to the team that nobody will bother to question the size of his contract.
Why does Toler seem doomed for failure? When he was on the field he played very well. I read somewhere that opposing QBs had the second worst QBR throwing towards him out all CBs in the league. I do agree that we paid him for what we assume/think he can do, but he has shown alot of promise and upside. He very well could end up being a steal at 4 mil if he ends up being a starter, which unless we draft a CB in the first round.. its looking like he will be.
@MaxScull Simply that it will require a very large value improvement to merit the contract he signed. I think he will upgrade our cornerback situation, but the odds of a guy that was unable to earn a starting job in Arizona becoming a top tier corner is very difficult for me to accept. Thanks for the comment!
Cassius Vaughn just posted this on twitter. I had to share it with someone:
Cassius Vaughn @CassiusVaughn31m
"While your working to be average I'm hurting to be a champion"
Cassius, we're hurting for you to just be average. Please don't be an unstoppable freight train of suck anymore.
what i would love to know is what other teams were offering these players before they signed with the Colts. Was there a bidding war? etc
I didn't realize that AV was based on team success! Thank you for pointing that out. I really don't like AV, but I did enjoy your take on the contracts and using AV as a tool to judge contract worth. I would love to see a comparison of our free agents to other free agent signings who play the same position and their past history and contracts.
@rogcohen Let me just toss out that Levitre would have been worth 4.7 million according to this method per year. That means that his contract, worth an estimated 7 million a year, is very expensive for this value.
Interesting look at the signings. AV isn't my favourite, but it at least provides a different perspective to the same stuff we've been hearing.
Good stuff. Hope you continue to write more.
Thomas, Landry and Walden have the most value, eh? That's a bit of a surprise given the all the negative press around Walden.
On question. Does AV have any metric for dealing with difference players on the team? Or does it simply average the teams overall value I'm a bit confused on that point.
@hankster http://www.pro-football-reference.com/blog/?page_id=8061 This is the way they build this metric. It takes into consideration the position they play, the productivity within that position, and overall team productivity. It is a quite complex formula, and an imperfect one. However, it is one of the only systems we currently have to rate players value across positional boundaries.
@mattshedd I tried to read through that to figure out how any measure could have RGIII's season ranked ahead of Peyton's... and I still had no luck. Oh well, perhaps I am not as clever as I think I am. (No that can't be it.)
@DougEngland I think it has to be the added value that they gave him for his rushing yardage, but that still doesn't accurately reflect reality.
What is the maximum downside with any of these players based on projected 2014, 2015 & 2016 dead cap space if they are total busts? Key to managing risk is diversification. The Colts have not placed all their eggs in one basket.
You will add the yearly abount X number of yrs left when cut per season.
Cherilus - 2 mil a yr thru 2017. (If cut would count 8 mil next yr, then 6, then 4, then 2)
Walden - 250K a yr thru 2016. (a very Colt friendly contract. only 4mil guaranteed which includes '13 base)
Landry - 1.75 mil a yr thru 2016.
Toler - 333K a yr thru 2015. (5 mil was guarnteed)
Thomas - 250K a yr thru 2016.
RJF - 1.375 mil a yr thru 2016.
This is not what they make, just the cap hit if released. Plus, I am not a lawyer, so............
@MarcusDugan Thanks for the link sir! You are a good man
Oh, one more point on stats technique. If I had the time, what I'd like to do is go beyond just last year. I'm interested in how much does AV bounce around for a player? Is it common for a guy to go (0.3, 0.8, 9.4, 1.2), or are more guys like (3.7, 4, 3.5, 2.8). Both those players would have similar AV over four years, but I'd probably have more faith in the second one. Then again--maybe it makes sense to swing for the first guy.
In any case, I bet that the reason FA is such a bad idea in general is that you pay for guys who are like (2, 2, 2, 9) cause you think they're on a good trajectory, when really what you just paid for is a guy who in a few years will look like (2, 2, 2, 9, 2, 2, 2). It sounds like, with the exception of Landry, that Grigson got a bunch of guys who are (2, 2, 2) but whose situations suggest that their numbers are deflated--eg, Francois (a possible 8 sitting behind Aldon Smith, a 10), or Thomas (same situation). I actually really like this approach because, even if Grigson is spending a lot--which, again, is irrelevant because of the Colts' cap situation--it shows that it's in a thoughtful way. Grigson might still be wrong about all these guys, but he's not just going out and signing Albert Haynesworth to make the fan base happy.
@dansvirsky This is exactly what I would like to do. Take things for their career and see what their average value has been, see whether that value is steadily rising or falling, etc. Landry is a great example. His first couple years in the league were solid, followed by 2 years in Washington where he gave very little value to the team, followed by a great year last year. What do you do with that?
@mattshedd @dansvirsky Thinking about Landry. I wonder, were the defensive systems he played in that different? Troy Polamalu, for instance, is a great player, but he also plays in a system that caters to his strengths. Further, he is surprisingly less effective whenever he plays in Denver (without his fellow safety Clark).
@mattshedd Yeah, that's what's so hard about this (and the draft)...the only thing you really can do is wait to see how it pans out. There's just now way to predict things. The draft is probably worse in this regard.
That said, I think we can use stats like you do, to at least see if Grigson's behavior makes much sense. If common patterns pop out, and they reflect what could be good, solid reasoning, then that makes me feel better about the organization. If it's all over the place and self-contradictory, that would make worried. No matter how Landry pans out, I'm okay with the strategy here.
Great post...I liked the technique. It's not perfect, but no technique will be, and this strikes me as a good, rough way to get a sense of things.
I think your takeaway is right--the Colts got a bunch of unproven, young guys. Lots of upside. But most importantly--there's almost zero downside. Given all our cap space and Luck's rookie contract, it just doesn't matter all that much if we blow a lot of Irsay's cash for the next three years. We have to spend this money anyway...and I don't think there are plausible alternatives. If we spent less money, we wouldn't get the best people available. If we wanted "marquee" guys like Jake Long or Mike Wallace, we'd have to spend even more money (and probably guarantee cash well into Luck's second contract, which would be the only big mistake you could make).
So, the only question is, did Grigson roll the dice on the wrong guys? Should he have gotten Vollmer instead of Cherilus? Kept Freeney instead of Walden? But as you rightly point out--we just don't know yet, and at this point, it makes sense to give Ryan "I found Jerrell Freeman" Grigson the benefit of the doubt. FA rarely works out well, but if you have extra cash, doesn't it make sense to blow it and see? It's not like you can use cap space to buy first round draft picks...
@dansvirsky The more I think about it, the more I really appreciate Grigson's approach to free agency this year. Instead of investing most of your cap in 1-3 big name guys (like Levitre/Wallace/etc.), you're better off investing your money in 5-10 mid-range guys, especially since we have so many holes. If 1-3 of those guys don't work out, but the rest do, then you can cut the ones that don't and move on without too much of a cap hit. Meanwhile, if Wallace, for example, tears his ACL in the first game of the season, he's still due his money and you can't really cut him later without a severe cap hit. It's a much bigger gamble than you only want to take on guys you REALLY know (like Luck, Wayne, Mathis, etc.) that are probably more home-grown.
I enjoyed the article. Fun read. Just two counterpoints. Cherilus isn't 7.5 per year, although he is a 7.5 cap hit this season. Next year he is only 3.0 against the cap, and 6.0 the following year. Jumps to 9 for last two seasons with only 2 guaranteed in each. Francois only signed for like 750k. I think league min is somewhere north of 500K (not sure and too lazy to look up) so this is just a value pick up. Colts hoping to catch a player with intangibles on the cheap.
Critique my own comment. Francois is not cheap like the article I read this AM (could point out where but what the point). He is making 2.375 this year, 5.875 next, 6.875 the last two per another site. I don't know Ricky so unfortunately he hasn't confirmed any numbers with me. :)
This column is very poorly written and the guy doesn't even know how Cherilus' name is spelled. When you lose credibility by not knowing what the players' names are, you lose credibility on all else. I'd have to go back and check all of his work to make sure his admittedly subjective analysis is even accurate. I have neither the time nor the desire.
This also doesn't say much for the editor. Did you even read his post? Part of your job is to review submissions and make corrections to egregious errors like name misspelling. But then, I suppose you did me a favor since I know I can't put faith into this column.
@SGV Hey, SGV, thanks for the heads up. I'm the editor, and you're right, it's totally my mistake. I'm sorry for not correcting the typo and I'm really sorry that that detracted from your enjoyment as you read it.
However, I would like to point out that knowing someone's name and knowing how to spell someone's name are two different points.
For example, I think you're a pompous ass and a troll. My opinion of you isn't guided by my ability to spell that opinion, but instead my ability to form it based on your actions.
I make it a point to not delete posts like this. First, I don't want anyone to think I/we hide from criticism. It's important to take the constructive criticism, learn from it, and improve as a person. Second, and most important, I believe preserving posts like this are important. Like statues built in honor of blind rage and stupidity. Thanks for doing the groundbreaking work and erecting this monument.
@SGV If you're willing to judge an article by a typo, then you're clearly an idiot. Grow up and contribute something that you consider to be better if you're that fussed - though the same time limits that allow you to create an account and make a comment will no doubt prevent any progress on that score.
@SGV Bad day, huh? Your first comment refers to how little time you have, yet you took the time to create an account and then rant about how "egregious" it is to insert an extra letter into a new player's name. Welcome to Colts Authority.
Great stuff, Matt. I will remain worried about how much value these guys will add to the team, but I appreciate your effort to shed some light on how much value they had on their previous teams. Unfortunately, I had a "WTF" moment when the Colts signed RJF and this analysis leaves me with another reason to be concerned.
FWIW, Matt, your most egregious error was to not share this awesome link: http://shop.nflpa.com/Detroit-Lions-Gosder-Cherilus-Home-Decor-_1881251538_PG.html
I'm thinking about the mouse pad, myself.
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@mattshedd Dude--your post is good, and a spelling mistake isn't a big deal. The guy's name is Gosder Cherilus!!! That name already looks misspelled!
Also, the idea that "oh, now you have no credibility and I have to verify all your stats". Um--reading blogs is always about trust--no one can verify all this stuff. I choose to place my trust in people based on if their analysis seems sound and carefully thought out. Your post is a good example of that. Spelling counts for very little with me--I believe it's a poor proxy for statistical inference.
In sum: rock on.
@JonathanCaldwell At first I was gonna respond to the guy, but I think I'm better off if I imagine that SGV is a really good friend of the writer and that this is a big joke. It makes me happier to believe that, so I'm just gonna do that.
This is a very interesting write-up. One of only a few (more) positive spins I've seen on Walden.
The Colts have spent a ton of money. Many feel that they are wasting money, but I would like to point out a few things. 1. Grigs and co. obviously wanted THESE guys – they got them! Right now there is no reason NOT to trust Grigson/Pagano. 2. FA is a crapshoot. Nate has shown us that in his good work. So if you are going to overpay anyway, you may as well take a chance on guys you fill fit what you are doing, not just the big name. 3. These contracts seem to be frontloaded. Should they not work out, they can be cut in a year or two with little extra damage. 4. These contracts are scheduled to expire about the time Andrew Luck will be due a 7 yr / 155 mil contract!
Are the Colts spending money? Yes. Are they taking risks? Yes. Are they taking smart risks and minimizing said risks? Absolutely. I’m anxious to see how this works!
Here is the way I look at it... while Luck is under his rookie contract, is the time to try and find some instant contributors. If you miss, so what, it's only Irsay's money. Once Luck starts earning 20 mil a year, there will be much less flexibility.
This is somewhat of a new era. Previously, teams like the Redskins that were big in free agency, tended to fail because they did not have a franchise QB and were trying to make a big splash elsewhere. However, with the new salary cap for rookies, a team like the Colts can have a franchise QB and for the first three or four years pay him like a like a Cardinals backup.
We can only cross our fingers that the Colts pciked the right players to overpay. (And that they continue to do great work in the draft.)
@DougEngland Well put. As was written on here earlier in the year (I don't remember who wrote it), the rookie contracts should benefit the Colts, Seahawks, Redskins, and (sort of) 49ers for a few years. We all know the Seahawks and 49ers are contenders, hopefully if wGrigson hit on Walden or Francois maybe the Colts can join them. Whatever happens I'm looking forward to next year.
p.s. any word on the WR Irsay says the Colts are getting?
@DougEngland "pay him like a Cardinals backup"
Booger helped us win a Super Bowl. Not really his fault he had a career ending knee injury in training camp the following year. Kinda like how it's hard to blame Polian for Simon's polyarthritis, less so Ed Johnson's off field behavior or Pitcock's bout of, um..... depression and video game addiction (sigh).
@Payton Booger was helpful, but his value never equaled the value we gave up in a 2nd round pick to get him.
@mattshedd That's definitely true, but I don't remember any knee injuries from when he was in Tampa. Colts just had a couple of freak injuries/illnesses with Simon and Booger. It's not like we could have gotten someone as good as Booger that late in the 2nd round anyway.