Bad Drafts May Mean Bad Things for the Lions

Nick_Fairley_2012The Bears aren’t the only ones who have blown a lot of draft picks recently. In fact, its amazing that the Lions have had the recent success that they have, given their dismal record. Josh Katzenstein at the Detroit News notes that with the departures of both Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley (above), they have no draft picks left on the roster from either the 2010 or 2011 draft classes. I’ve maintained in recent years that off field concerns are overrated, noting that players like Ben Roethlisberger rarely miss too many games after notorious off field incidents. I may have to reconsider that stance given the state of the particularly dismal Lions 2011 class:

“‘I think ’11 wasn’t a good draft for us. I didn’t do a good job in ’11,’ Mayhew said. ‘I think I was overly aggressive. I learned a lot from that, and our drafts have improved since then.

“Mayhew declined to explain what he meant about being overly aggressive.”

“Four of the five picks all had off-field problems early in their careers — Fairley, [Mikel] Leshoure and [Johnny] Culbreath were arrested on marijuana-related charges — as well as dedication issues. Fairley’s commitment issues are well documented, particularly with his consistent weight problem.

“[Titus] Young thought he was better than Calvin Johnson and became moody when he didn’t play. Leshoure was late or inattentive in meetings and showed no signs of improvement during his time in Detroit.”

Michael David Smith at points out that the next three players taken after Fairley were Robert Quinn, Mike Pouncey and Ryan Kerrigan. All made Pro Bowls. Young is now facing prison after a string of arrests.

This all points to one fact – Suh was such a hit that he was likely a good part of the reason why the team was winning despite the fact that general manager Martin Mayhew otherwise totally botched two straight drafts. The other reason – Johnson – is still with the team but you have to wonder if the Lions aren’t going to take a serious fall down to the level of where the Bears were last year in the division.

Another Example of How Statistics Lie


John McTigue at ESPN Stats and Information thinks that Oakland should give up on quarterback Derek Carr and draft Marcus Mariota:

“On the surface Carr’s rookie campaign compares favorably to other recent seasons by rookie QBs. He threw fewer interceptions (12) and completed a higher percentage of passes (58.1 percent) than Andrew Luck did (18, 54.1 percent) and he was the ninth rookie since the merger to throw at least 20 touchdown passes (21).

“A deeper dive into Carr’s numbers suggest his 2014 season left a lot to be desired, however. Carr finished the season with a 38.4 Total QBR, which ranked 28th out of 33 qualified quarterbacks. His QBR didn’t rank favorably among other recent rookies, either. Of the 27 rookies to qualify since 2006 — as far back as Total QBR data goes — Carr’s QBR ranks 15th, sandwiched between EJ Manuel (38.4) and Geno Smith (35.9).

“Carr’s QBR suffered because of minimal gains made on his passes. He averaged a mere 5.46 yards per attempt last season, which was not only worst in the NFL last season, it was one of the worst all time.”

This seems to me to be a prime example of why stats are for losers. Can you name one wide receiver on the Oakland roster from last year? How about a tight end? Neither could I. A review of the list of receivers that Carr was dealing to at the end of the year includes such stars as Mychal Rivera and James Jones. Carr’s yards per attempt were so low because running backs routinely led the team in receptions.

I’ll tell you what. If the Raiders wat to take an unknown quantity like Mariota and then trade Carr and a second round pick to the Bears for their first round pick, I’m totally game. Bears fans may not have a good idea of what a quarterback looks like but we certainly know what one doesn’t. I think we’d take Carr in a second.

The Rich Get Richer. The Bears Don’t. Yet.

Dan Wiederer at the Chicago Tribune reports that the Bears once again received no compensatory draft picks.

These can be as high as third round picks depending upon the nature of the lost free agents the year before. For instance, the Lions could receive a third round pick in 2016 after the loss of Ndamukong Suh. The acquisition on Haloti Ngata after the loss of Suh was by trade and wouldn’t count against them in the formula used to calculate who gets what picks.

It’s easy to dismiss these often low round picks as being unimportant but they’re not. As has been said many times, the draft is a crap shoot and the more rolls of the dice you get, the more likely it is you’ll come up with a good player. The rich get richer in this respect because the good teams tend to be the ones that lose the good players. The Broncos, Chiefs and Seahawks all received four compensatory picks and the Ravens and Texans were awarded three apiece.

Meanwhile the Bears are stuck in what amounts to a catch 22. They have to sign free agents to make up for misses in the draft and they’re more likely to miss in the draft because they don’t have enough picks. Last year the Bears signed a slew of players – defensive ends Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston and Willie Young plus safety Ryan Mundy. This year they’ve already signed linebacker Pernell McPhee, safety Antrel Rolle, guard Vladimir Ducasse and wide receiver Eddie Royal. As Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune points out, they’re likely to sign quite a few more as they bargain hunt in the secondary free agent market:

“One veteran agent described it as a stare-down between clubs and players. Clubs are looking for budget buys with the goal of signing many players to minimum-salary-benefit deals. Players who thought they would be in line for something more are still trying to wrap their minds around the idea of playing for less. Both sides are waiting for the other to blink.”

“The Bears need to add defensive linemen. Jeremiah Ratliff and Ego Ferguson are likely to line up at nose tackle. The options at defensive end are not quite as clear. Coach John Fox said the ideal player for the scheme is a ‘longer three technique.’ Of course, the model for the position is the Texans’ J.J. Watt, but aspiring to find a player with his skill set and actually doing it are two different things.”

The Bears are also said to be interested in center Stefen Wisniewski.  They will need to sign a considerable number of other players to fill out the depth chart as well. Some of those signings could come at the league meetings which are currently being conducted – Adam Jahns at the Chicago Sun-Times points out that agents are working the hallways and courtyards of the Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix.  All of these signing could count against them.

No one is suggesting that teams aren’t being penalized when they lose a free agent – the compensatory draft pick is never close to the same value as the free agents lost. Nevertheless, the draft is the life blood of every team and those picks can become valuable players acquired for a cheap price. I look forward to the day when the Bears will be getting more chances to hit the lottery in this respect because it means that they will be ranked amongst the elite franchises. The only way that they’re going to get there is to start consistently hitting on the few draft picks they have, alleviating the need to run out and sign free agents to fill holes all over the field.  They also have to resist the temptation to make the splash signings that can often look better on paper than on the field.  Fortunately general manager Ryan Pace seems to be avoiding the temptation to do that. Again, fro Jahns:

“The win-now pressure that seemed to drive Emery isn’t as prevalent. Pace, who will meet with the Chicago media on Tuesday, is widely regarded in league circles to have a big rebuild on his hands, and the draft is the best way to do that.

Until the Bears are finished rebuilding, fans just have to be patient and wait for success to come their way.  Fortunately, this time it looks like it might be the proper way.

Digital NFL? I’m Game.


Patrick Finley at the Chicago Sun-Times reports one of the more under the radar moves from the league meetings in Arizona:

“It was one of two major broadcasting changes decided at the Arizona Biltmore on Monday. The league announced that the Bills-Jaguars Week 7 game, to be played in London, will be broadcast over an as-yet-unnamed digital site and not on the league’s Sunday Ticket. The two home markets — Jacksonville and Buffalo — will still get the game on their home televisions.

“The move could be the first step toward a new digital strategy for the league.”

We can only hope.

Like most American, one of the few reasons I still have cable television is for live sports. In my case, that really means the NFL. I’m pretty sure I’m not alone when I say that I would gladly pay a reasonable fee – hopefully less than the “Sunday Ticket” package – to be able to watch the games online. It would be a risky proposition and there’s considerable doubt about whether the revenues would cover what they would lose in the value of network television rights. But my gut feeling is that it would work.

Covering Up the Theft

Patrick Finley at the Chicago Sun-Times reports on the “rewording” of the definition of a catch at the league meetings in Arizona:

“The NFL Competition Committee has not changed the rule of what constitutes a catch, but tweaked the wording. Rather than “making a football move,” a receiver must “establish himself as a runner” in order to register a completed pass. If he is falling to the ground, the receiver must hang onto the ball.”

Finley makes it sound clean. But most reporters on the spot were still so confused about what a catch was going to be going forward that they said that they didn’t know what to write.

In any case, here’s what’s really happening. The league is trying to fix what was actually a total disaster after the fact. In a playoff game last year, Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant made a catch in the fourth quarter against the Packers that would have effectively won the contest. The ruling on the field was a catch, as Bryant had lost the ball when it hit the ground while extending the ball towards the goal line, what virtually everyone – including the referee on the field – considered to be a “football move”. The NFL Vice-President of Officiating, Dean Blandino (below), effectively overruled the referee from New York and declared it a non-catch. When asked about it after the game by FOX analyst Howie Long, Blandino said that extending the ball towards to goal line wasn’t “the type of football move that the rule covered”. The problem? There’s nothing in the the rule that actually said that.


So now, after the fact, the league is trying to “clarify” the rule and cover up the fact that Blandino imposed his own bias and overruled the referee’s interpretation on the field, effectively declaring the winner of a playoff game.

Blandino is lucky. Had I been commissioner, “rewording” of the rule or not, I would have forced his resignation. As it is, the Cowboys simply have to live with the fact that the game was shamefully stolen from them.

Hard Things to Say About Soft Facts

zRyan Pace

I’m a Bears fan. But every once in a while, I have to write a post that really angers other Bears fans. This is going to be one of those. Consider yourself warned.

What is getting me started today is a post by Brad Gagnon at the Bleacher Report. In it he tries to figure out why the performance of quarterback Drew Brees has declined since the Saints won the Super Bowl in February, 2010. Or, more accurately, why his apparent performance has declined. Here’s what he concluded:

“This is a team sport, and quarterbacks are often affected greatly by the circumstances surrounding them. That could mean weapons (or lack thereof), support from the running game (or lack thereof), pass protection (same deal), defensive efficiency (which alters scenarios and forces quarterbacks to take more or fewer chances), play-calling (i.e. balance) and the offensive philosophy under which they’re working.

“And the reality is, there are some rather strong indicators that Brees has mostly been just as strong as he used to be.”

“[B]rees has to be held at least partially responsible for what has happened to the Saints since that 2009 Super Bowl, but a lot of the time it feels as though he’s forcing things merely to compensate for the issues those around him have been experiencing. “

“Quite simply, the Saints are getting worse by the year. So it shouldn’t surprise anyone to see Brees struggle in certain areas, particularly when it comes to trying to make things happen all on his own.

“Consider all the losses the Saints have suffered in free agency the last couple years (Jermon Bushrod, Sedrick Ellis, Jonathan Casillas, Brian de la Puente, Roman Harper, Will Smith, Lance Moore, Malcolm Jenkins, Patrick Robinson, [Pierre]Thomas, [Kenny] Stills, [Cutis] Lofton, [Jimmy] Graham), their inability to hit it big in key draft spots, and that they basically lost an entire season due to the penalties handed down and the distractions from the bounty scandal.

“Consider all of that, and you begin to see Brees as a victim. “

Perhaps Bears fans should also consider that Bears general manager Ryan Pace has been their director of pro personnel and, more importantly since 2013, the director of player personnel.

To be fair to Pace he became director of pro personnel in 2007 and undoubtedly helped build that Super Bowl team. And, as pointed out by Gagnon above, there are a lot of factors behind the decline in the Saints since, some of which Pace couldn’t have had anything to do with. But there’s no denying that some of it is the football players surrounding Brees and a lot of it has to do with misses in the draft that forced the team to lose some veterans and over-pay to keep others. Was Pace making all of the personnel decisions? No. Saints head coach Sean Payton has final say. But, as former NFL general manager and Bears consultant Ernie Accorsi pointed out, a good part of the reason Pace was hired was because it was believed that Saints general manager Mickey Loomis was a finance guy and that Pace was the driving force behind many of the personnel decisions:

“I always look at who’s making the player personnel decisions on a team, and do they have players they’re getting in the middle rounds they’re winning with? You have to do that today. You only have seven picks, and the draft is still your lifeblood.

“And I look at the Steelers — that’s why I think (GM) Kevin Colbert is so good. They have third-, fourth-, fifth-, sixth-round draft choices that they’re winning in the playoffs with every year. And New Orleans rebuilt that team in a hurry, and that’s how they rebuilt it. Listen, Brees was a big pickup and all. That’s fine. But you look all through that line, and you have players playing all through those two lineups that they picked in the middle or lower rounds. So, on paper, I thought, ‘Someone has to be making the right decisions here.'”

Or the wrong decisions.

Payton is widely believed to be remaking the Saints roaster this off-season because he thought that the players that they have are talented but too soft. That’s led him to make deals like trading away Graham to get tougher on defense and along the offensive line and to improve the running game. The question is, why were they soft in the first place and who was advising him to take these talented but ultimately flawed football players in the first place?  And where are all of the drafted players that were supposed to step in for these veterans that every good team loses and needs to replace to sustain success?

It’s hard not to think that the responsibility is partly, if not largely, Pace’s.  And further it’s not a stretch to wonder if all of these professions of sorrow at seeing Pace go by members of the Saints organization aren’t hiding small sighs of relief.  Given the make over that the Saints have been forced in to partly by poor personnel decisions, practically speaking the loss might not have been all that great.

I’m not passing judgment on Pace before he even gets a chance with the Bears. He’s a young guy who has a lot to learn. The indications are that he’ll also have some support from other, experienced, well-accomplished people, not the least of which will be Bears head coach John Fox. But all we have to go on right now is recent past history. And that means facing some ugly facts no matter how much it pisses people off.