The New Orleans Saints must try and find value this offseason, whether it be in free agency or the 2016 NFL Draft.
Over the last couple of years that I have been blogging about the New Orleans Saints, both here and at thesaintsnation.com, I have noticed that a particular term is thrown around a lot by fans, and especially during the offseason.
This term is value, and in today’s article I want to clarify how I think this word can be misunderstood in the context of professional sports. While I have no doubt that anyone can understand getting an item worth fifty dollars for five is a great bargain, or value if you will, that kind of math doesn’t generally apply to sports.
Value in an economic sense is comparative and static. Once the value of an item or service has been agreed upon by the market it will stay in that range except in the case of extreme outliers or ‘specials’. However, at the end of the day the ‘value’ of football is the same in California, Louisiana, or New York.
A lot of the time this kind of logic is applied to sports and it is this area where I find myself at odds with many fans. Now to be CLEAR, this is my opinion, and you all have the right to disagree with me, but first do yourself a favor and read all the way to the end. What I am about to attempt to do is show you how NFL organizations view and understand the term value and why they sometimes make moves that most of us don’t agree with.
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To start: What is ‘Value’?
Value is subjective in sports as a particular player can be great on one team, and garbage on another (see: Meachem, Robert). But at the end of the day it’s really quite simple. A player has value if they can play and be effective. The end. Teams use draft positions, trades, and contracts as a way to fill spots on their roster, and at the end of the day, the method of acquisition is irrelevant.
Only production matters in this league. Here are a pair of examples of that point: In 2009 the Saints drafted a punter in the 5th round by the name of Thomas Morstead. That’s right folks…a PUNTER in the draft. Oh, the temerity! Oh the insanity! Oh…he’s still on the team, still productive, and one of the New Orleans Saints most valuable players.
Instead of focusing on what other teams got in the 5th round, or what the Saints could have had, or any such silly revisionist history, the fact is that they got an elite punter who can flip the field in the fifth round. That is great value. Fast forward that to this year’s offseason and another player who relies on their feet to earn a living will likely be drafted, and hopefully fans will be smart and appreciate it.
If like Big Easy Believer Editor Barry Hirstius and Who Dat Dish’s own John Hendrix have repeatedly requested, the New Orleans Saints draft Roberto Aguayo, the Florida State place kicker who had a phenomenal college career. The outrage expressed by some fans stems from the fact that they have said (rightfully so) that they would draft him in the fourth, or even the third round.
This is also great value for the team (potentially), because if Aguayo turns out to be a 10-15 year starter as he seems likely to be, then the New Orleans Saints have hit a home run of a draft pick. In one pick they have just secured the services of a player for the next decade at a VITAL position of need. Does the defense need help? Absolutely, however, with only one exception, no hole on a team is truly greater than another. They differ only in their severity. If the Saints can manage to FINALLY fix their problems at kicker, it’s not just a good investment, it’s a great one.
But why is this great value? You can get a kicker as an undrafted free agents or in the later rounds? It is value because the player will play, and produce. The New Orleans Saints took Andrus Peat first in last year’s draft, and while a pass rusher or linebacker (such as Shaq Thompson) would have helped the defense, Peat is still a great value pick.
After watching his film from last season, it is entirely reasonable to believe that Andrus Peat is going to develop into a very good right tackle, and if he does so, the Saints have him locked in for the next four years. The real value in the draft is that unlike free agency, you don’t have to bid, and so the Saints filled a position that is far harder to get in free agency than the draft, and they filled it well.
The opposite can also be true though. Cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste was a horrible value pick. Not because his talent wasn’t worthy of the second round or nobody had mock drafted him there, but because he never produced and never will. The reality is that whether you get a quality starter in the first round, or the seventh, they have the same value to the team. And if you fail to fill a need, the impact of that failure is the same regardless of where you spent the pick.
I will admit that it is a little bit different in free agency, simply because of the methods used to acquire players (namely money) are different. Drafting is about ‘picking’ someone to be on your team and hoping they are what you think they are, but free agency is more like betting to see who gets to pick out of a box. You never know for sure if a player can replicate what they did for someone else (except in the case of special talents like a Von Miller for instance), but the players financial value is determined by the market.
Certainly, teams should avoid over-paying as often as they can — there is a salary cap after all. However, if say the New Orleans Saints were to somewhat over pay Danny Trevathan or Malik Jackson from the Denver Broncos this offseason nobody should complain. Either player is very likely to fill one of the team’s biggest needs and allow them to be much more conservative and crafty in the draft (where remember we get to choose who we get…there is no bidding).
The value of the players’ contract impacts the salary cap, but the value of the player to the team is what is far more important. If they fill a position of extreme need and allow the defensive scheme to be proactive instead of reactive (covering for a fatal flaw, or three) then they are worth every penny.
Essentially, what the value argument boils down to isn’t ‘were they worth what we payed for them’, but ‘did they produce enough for us to continue paying for them. Teams rarely pay out the end of large contracts because production rarely meets expectation.
That doesn’t mean that the players weren’t valuable to the organization throughout the time they were paid, merely that the teams believe they can get better value elsewhere. At the end of the day, the NFL is all about production, and if the New Orleans Saints can bring in productive players, I really don’t care how they go about getting them, and neither should you (within reason obviously).
The real NFL isn’t about mock draft value, where you could have gotten a player, or what you could have paid. It’s about whether or not they produce once you have them. In pure talent and value, the Saints were even with the Seattle Seahawks in the Jimmy Graham trade, but if you look back at the trade now, you can clearly see that New Orleans fleeced them.
The New Orleans Saints gave up a disgruntled prima donna to a team that can’t fully utilize him and acquired a top end center (position of need) and what looks like a future star middle linebacker (bigger position of need). Both players produced tremendously well last season and so the loss of Graham’s star power isn’t being mentioned anymore. If the Saints trade up and get a dominant pass rusher in this year’s draft, none of us will be lamenting the pick when he terrorizes the rest of the NFC South (that’s just an example…I hope they don’t trade up either, guys).
In closing (and I know I’m running at the mouth here), what I want all of us to try to do is determine the value of a move not based on how it occurs, but what results from it. We should all be very hopeful that the New Orleans Saints organization is as focused on production and value on the field as I am trying to be, rather than value relative to what other teams got. Because honestly, if they aren’t, this team is going to be a disaster for a lot longer.