Free Agency Recap (Day 2)

No additions, but two subtractions– each worthy of a couple of sentences.

1. Washington Signs Terrelle Pryor. It’s a one-year deal for up to $8 million. If Pryor has another good year, he can hit the market and make a lot of money. If he turns out to be a flash in the pan, it’ll cost him a lot of money.

The story I linked to has what I think is the proper take: “Receivers take less than they anticipated.” It is, I’m pretty sure, the result of teams beginning to move towards analytics.

I’ve said it a couple of times, and I’ll hit the point again: Wide receivers are by far the least valuable members of the offense. They can’t begin to do their job until two other things happen:

  • The offensive line has to protect the quarterback until he can throw the ball.
  • The quarterback has to deliver a catchable ball.

Running backs are more valuable because they only need one other thing to happen– the line has to block. (Most quarterbacks who are not wearing Browns’ jerseys can take the snap without fumbling and hand the ball off.) Tight ends are more valuable because they can block members of the front seven or catch passes.

The only position less valuable than a receiver is a fullback who does nothing but block.

Another point that any analyst can spot: Of the three types of receivers, teams are currently undervaluing two. Everyone is looking for tall, fast receivers, for obvious reasons.

Short, fast receivers are being substantially ignored. In addition to Taylor Gabriel and Antonio Brown, the list includes Doug Baldwin, Odell Beckham, Randall Cobb, Brandin Cooks, T.Y. Hilton, Emmanuel Sanders and Golden Tate. Tall receivers who can’t run a 4.4 in the 40 are also getting overlooked.

The first question an analyst will ask is “What is the player’s productivity?” You can only give the football to one person on a play, so the most important issue is the number of times he gets the ball and the number of yards, first downs or scores he produces.

Now that “targets” (the number of times someone was the intended receiver) are in the stat sheets, two new stats– Catch Percentage and Yards Per Attempt– become very important.

You could, if you tallied the number of interceptions on balls intended for a receiver, calculate a passer rating for receivers. Some teams do. A friend whose team does it says “We don’t blame a receiver for every pick– just the ones where we feel like the guy did nothing to prevent the turnover. It’s very useful.”

In this example that just played out with the Browns, let’s compare the career numbers for the two players:

  • Kenny Britt: 309 catches on 566 targets (54.6% Catch Percentage) for 4,881 yards (8.62 yards per attempt).
  • Terrelle Pryor: 79 catches on 149 attempt (53.0%) for 1,071 yards (7.18 yards per attempt).

Of the 25 players who reached 1,000 receiving yards last year, Pryor was 25th in catch percentage and 22nd in yards per pass attempt (which the site calls targets). Britt was 18th and eighth, respectively.

Britt was willing to take $8 per year for four years; Pryor was not. Britt also has a track record; Pryor does not. If you could only pick one, which one do you sign?

And, no, you do not sign both. You don’t sign both because you spent a #1 on Corey Coleman last year– he has to get the opportunities. You also drafted Ricardo Louis, Jordan Payton and Rashard Higgins. They have to get a chance to play– and you can’t do that if Terrelle Pryor is getting targeted nine times a game.

You can argue that the comparison isn’t fair to Pryor, because he’s only been a receiver for a couple of years and Britt has been doing it since high school. But if you claim that, you also can’t claim Pryor should be getting $12 million a year (as his agent, Drew Rosenhaus tried to claim).

And maybe this shouldn’t matter, but Rosenhaus also represents Puff Gordon. Agents who have a sizable client list (not just one or two) tend to attract certain types of players. Rosenhaus clients tend to be bad citizens.

I’m not going to Lesmerisisize this development and claim the Browns are geniuses, because “They has The Maths.” Perhaps they made a mistake.

But I don’t think they were wrong– and nobody else rushed to give Pryor the money he demanded, so it isn’t a bad deal.

2. Cleveland released Robert Griffin. I called that some time ago. It was obvious– his salary was about to double. Griffin played badly last year— a 2-3 TD-INT ratio, 6.0 yards per pass and he got sacked on 13% of his pass attempts. And for most of the year, he didn’t play.

I’m not a Brock Osweiler fan, but paying him $16 million makes a hell of a lot more sense than paying Griffin $10 million. At least he can stay healthy– and he’s thrown only 815 pass attempts, so you can claim he’s still developing. Even when his career was on the line, Griffin couldn’t learn to throw the ball away– he ran out of bounds, meaning the Browns lost yardage.

3. Cleveland did not trade for Jimmy Garoppolo. Which doesn’t shock me. If I were Bill Belicheat, I wouldn’t make the deal until I had a better backup for Tom Brady than Jacoby Brissett.

The Patriots, thanks to the charitable donation by Kyle Shanahan and Matty Tank, are reigning champions. Other than Dallas, there don’t look to be any teams poised to make a run at a championship. If New England can hold things together, they can repeat.

But not without Brady.

Plus, Brady is 40. He could decide to retire at the end of the year; he could deteriorate. Brissett looks interesting, but he isn’t ready to carry the team. Garoppolo might be ready to play Aaron Rodgers to Brady’s Brett Favre.

Knowing Belicheat, he’d trade Garoppolo for the right package. But that would be a price the Browns would most likely be foolish to pay.

4. Poke Cameron retires. Not much of a surprise to hear this. I nicknamed him “Poke” because it was blatantly obvious that he didn’t like to block– that he tended to shy away from contact.

He went to the Dolphins because he didn’t like to play in cold weather, and they said they’d use him to receive. But when Adam Gase was hired, stories about Poke being unhappy with his role began to emerge.

His contract was up– since he missed most of the year with a concussion, they weren’t going to retain him. Clearly he decided that he’d made just about all the money he was going to make

A surprising number of athletes don’t like to play the sport they play. They do it because they’re good at it and they can see the potential benefits. Cameron was one of them.

5. Buffalo signed FS Jordan Poyer. This departure was not a shock. Poyer’s contract was up. The Browns let Tasahaun Gipson go after 2015, and handed Poyer the starting job. He lost it by going on injured reserve in week 6.

It’s a very common situation. The player thinks he’s a starter who was injured– and deserves a starter’s pay. The team sees him as a guy who’s played 48 games in four years and started only 10– who ought to take whatever they offer him. Both sides think their negotiating position is the correct one– that the other side is being ridiculous– and they can’t find a compromise than makes either one happy.

This is the reason why the Browns wound up with J.C. Tretter and Marcus Martin. It’s not really a loss– but it means they have journeyman Ed Reynolds and no backup. They have to sign or draft someone– a statement that could be said about any of the four positions in the defensive backfield, actually.


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