Friday, April 24, 2009

Giants: Braylon Edwards trade

On again - off again. Reports are that the proposed Braylon Edwards trade, assumed to be inevitable earlier, is now completely off. The word is that the Browns wanted a 1st and 3rd from the Giants, or a first and a player, specifically Kiwanuka and that this price was way above what the Giants were willing to pay. So, the current thinking is that the deal is dead unless one of the two parties blinks and undigs their heels from their entrenched positions. Either the Browns have to compromise their demands for Edwards or the Giants have to sweeten the offer in order for the deal to have any chance of being consummated. Because football players are filled with testosterone and presumed to all be alpha males, "compromise" or "undigging their heels" are not considered to be part of their behavior patterns or even part of their vocabulary. The deal is dead.

Except.... I don't think so. Just like I didn't think the deal was a 100% slam dunk earlier when everyone was sure that it was inevitable, I also don't think it is 100% dead now when all the analysts and experts say it is dead. I am not going to handicap it and predict what the probability is that it will happen; I'm just saying - don't believe anything you read at this time of year. Compromise may not be part of the football player's modus operandi, but it is definitely part of the GM's bag of tricks. In fact, compromise is all that they do. Because of the salary cap, every signing that the GM makes, whether for a low priced undrafted free agent or for a 1st round stud qb represents a compromise between what is paid to this player and what can be paid therefore to other players who could potentially join the team. They evaluate what a player is worth and make judgements. They compromise between needs, desires and salary. If you pay 100K more to one player, you might not be able to get that other player that wants an additional 100K.

From both teams' perspectives, there should be room for compromise. From the Browns' point of view, now that they have advertised that Braylon Edwards is on the trade market, that Mangini wants to remake the team with his own type of players, what kind of motivation or performance are they going to extract from Edwards. The rumor on Edwards is that he is a me-first player, more interested in his own numbers than team success. Well, if you thought he was that kind of player before, what kind of player do you think he's going to be in his contract walk year? Is he going to dive over the middle and risk injury to make a tough catch in a crucial situation to help the team? Or is he going to show the alligator arms, avoid the contact and let the pass fall to the ground, avoiding a hit by a safety. Don't answer that, it's a rhetorical question. If he gives up his body, the team may get the crucial first down, but he may get dinged and miss a few plays or even a game or two. Worse still, he could get seriously hurt and completely mess up his chances for a big FA contract. If he protects his body, he stays on the field an extra series or an extra game and gets to pad his statistics with extra catches and yards. Those stats are what will get him the big FA contract in the off season from the Daniel Snyder type owners of the world interested only in yards and receptions. The tough catch on 3rd and 7 won't make an impression. Instead of keeping an unmotivated Edwards, the Browns could lower their demands and get some players that actually want to play in Cleveland and will be motivated into a team first attitude. If they keep Edwards, they will have an uncommitted player guaranteed to leave as FA after the season. They get to rent that player for one year.

Conversely, from the Giants' perspective, it is clear that they want a play maker at the WR position. The offense needs some more weapons to balance out the running game. Are they going to get a stud WR at the 29th slot in the draft? Probably not. If they want to improve their draft position and get a better player than one that would be available in their 29th slot, they would have to give their own 1st round draft choice and another, say their 2nd or 3rd round to move up to around 15 in order to have the pick of the litter of WRs available at that slot. So if the Giants have to give up their own 1 and 3 for a draftee that has at best a 50% success rate for his entire career and a much lower chance for being an impact player in his first year, why would they not package that 1 and 3 and get a proven commodity in Edwards. To be sure, that would be contingent on Edwards signing an extension with the Giants, because otherwise, they would be giving up a 1 and 3 for a player that they have control of for only one year, which does not make sense. There are salary cap implications towards having a veteran versus a rookie on the team and that may weigh into their decision, but from a pure talent perspective, logic and history dictate that they will not get a WR that will have the kind of impact that Edwards will likely have, especially for the 2009 season. Giants are built to win in the next few years and you want to strike while the window is ajar. (Sorry for mixing metaphors - usually you strike when the iron is hot, but I think you know what I mean). The window of opportunity to compete for championships closes quickly in the NFL. There is certainly strong motivation for the Giants to compromise on what they will give up in order to obtain Edwards.

It may still have a low chance for happening, but when the trade seems to make sense for both teams, there should be room for compromise on both sides and my strong feeling is that this deal is not dead yet.

Actually a reasonable compromise would be: Giants give up the 2 they got from new Orleans this year and if Edwards signs an extension with the Giants next year, they give up some additional compensation, like a 1 or 2 in next year's draft.

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Giants: draft strategy

Ask any Giants fan, NFL analyst/expert or draftnik and the accepted wisdom is that the Giants primary overriding need in the draft is to secure themselves a stud WR. The rumors in the press have been bubbling that the Giants will package some of their picks together and/or a player or two and pull the trigger on a trade for Braylon Edwards with the Browns. I have read some reports in the papers and heard some reports on TV and radio that assert that the deal is all but done. John Clayton of ESPN implied that it was obviously going to get consummated right before the draft. It is possible that the deal or the parameters for the deal are already set and the teams are waiting until draft day to announce it so that other teams in the league will not have advanced information and will not be as prepared themselves for the draft. This is not dissimilar to what happened on draft day in 2004 between the Chargers and Giants in the Rivers-Manning trade. The parameters for the trade were worked out in advance, but it was not executed until that day. I don't think this is the case and I think th chances for an Edwards trade are slight - if I had to handicap it, I would say perhaps 1 in 5.

Let's assume for a moment that the Giants do not trade for Edwards from the Browns. The Giants will still have an opening to fill for a #1 WR and logic would seem to dictate that the Giants should trade up from their 29th slot and nab one of the talented WRs in this year's draft. I am not sure that this would be such a great strategy. Everyone assumes that the Giants do not have a player currently on the team with the talent to become a #1 WR, which is the motivation to step up and draft a star. The other factor to consider about WR rookies is that first year players almost never have a huge impact on their team. In the last 10 years, only 4 WRs have had more than 1,000 receiving yards in their rookie years. If that is the case, with the Giants looking to get a player that can help them as championship contender in 2009, why would they move up to draft a WR? Furthermore, the success rate for first round WRs is even lower than first round qbs, with about 4 in 10 achieving the success expected of a first round pick. If rookie WRs are less productive than they are later in their career, doesn't that bode well for the productivity that the Giants can expect from Hixon in the future. Maybe Hixon can be the go-to playmaker that the Giants need. Hixon, who has been a WR in the NFL for only 1 year and Manningham, who has a year of studying NFL defenses under his belt may emerge as very productive players.

It might be reasonable for the Giants to stay where they are at 29 and take the best athlete available. As George Young used to say: "don't bring your depth chart into the draft room". If Giants move up high enough from 29, they should take a stud LB or LT and add WR talent later in the draft. If they stay put at 29, they should package their picks and move up to get another 2nd round pick rather than keeping all 10 picks. They could even trade some of their low picks this year for higher round picks next year.

It is also possible that the Giants could steal a play making TE in the draft. There are so many possibilities and options, it is difficult to handicap. I don't think that Reese and the Giants will overreact to the loss of Burress. I also don't think they will be desperate and overpay for Boldin or Edwards. My guess is that they want to keep their 1st round pick. If the Browns lower their demands, the Edwards trade might happen. If they don't lower their demands, I have a feeling the Giants will not cave, will stick to their guns (sorry for the gun metaphor, Plax) and will add talent to the team though the draft.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Giants: WR talk

Let the trade rumors, draft rumors and trade-draft rumors begin. Again. Just when we thought the trade rumors for available pro WRs were dying down, that Boldin was off the market and that the trade talks for Braylon Edwards had been exposed as false and just chatter, they get fired up again. First, the Cardinals announce that they have officially put Anquan Boldin on the trading block and will consider trade proposals for him. Of course, they don't want to give him away cheap, so to keep his value up and maintain leverage in trade discussions, they announce that their preferred course is to keep him and negotiate a new contract with him. Of course, if they can't do that or if some other team wants him badly enough to blow their socks off with a ridiculous offer, they would consider accepting it. This is a fairly transparent ruse by the Cardinals. If they really wanted to negotiate a deal with him, they would have done so already. To be honest, every team wants a situation like this cleared up before the draft so they can have their priorities set and they maintain their leverage with existing players. If they were to draft a WR, for example, it would be pretty apparent that they are going to dump Boldin and other teams would not be incented to offer much. If they can keep up the pretense that they want to keep Boldin, then teams that are interested will have to sweeten the deal in order to entice the Cardinals to give him up.

The other player that had been rumored to be on the trading block and that also had been considered to be a player of interest to the Giants was Braylon Edwards of the Browns. Rumors were flying a month or so ago and got detailed enough to have the specific package of players and draft choices that were purportedly discussed in the proposed trade. The specific packages were all denied by NYG GM JR as to their contents or even that any specific players were discussed. Of course that probably means that it is precisely and completely accurate, but it matters not. All Reese would admit is that he had discussions with the Browns GM about Edwards. After the rumors were apparently squelched a few weeks ago, the fires got stoked again with reports in various media outlets that the trade talks had picked up again. It's funny how these things get started. There's one report that pops up somewhere, in this case it seemed to be on yahoo sports; and all the other media outlets pick up on it and report it. They are not reporting based on direct interviews with people involved in the management of the teams, they are reporting on other rumors reported in other media outlets. It's reporting on the reporting, rather than reporting on the facts. You could call it meta-journalism and it is becoming more and more common in the modern information age. So what starts out as one reporter speculating and giving an opinion that is nearly baseless, gets reported by 12 other media outlets and all of a sudden, the story has some legs.

My opinion is that Boldin could be a good match for the Giants, depending on how the Giants evaluate their current class of WRs. If they think Hixon, Manningham or Moss can be a serious deep threat, then Boldin might be a good match to provide experience, toughness and consistency to a young receiving corps. If however, they like their WRs but don't think they have a true deep threat among them to stretch the field, then Boldin who has very-good-but-not-burner speed might not be the fit that they need. If they decide that Boldin is a match, the question becomes how much compensation the Cardinals want for Boldin. By this measure, I know Edwards is an attractive WR, attractive player and seems to fit the need for a deep threat, but he will require a much more expensive package from the Giants to land him.

The gossip, by the way, is that Edwards, while enormously talented, was not well respected in the Browns locker room. The Giants may not want to experiment with another high maintenance player after the Burress experience.

Giants salary cap is a bit stretched and they may not want to give Edwards a big contract. By the same token, they will not give up a big package of picks for a rent-a-player and Edwards contract is up after this year. Unless a player is locked up for a few years, he is not worth a huge ransom to pry him away from his current team. So the Giants have two negatives going in any potential Edwards deal: Browns want an expensive package of compensation and Edwards will want a big contract to stay. If the Giants do not sign Edwards to a contract extension, a large package in a trade for him is not worth it. Conversely, giving him a big contract up front before they have learned whether Edwards is their kind of player is not good business. Consequently, I don't think it is a likely trade. They could negotiate an incentive based contract with all kinds of conditions and escalators, like they did for Burress, but there is no reason for Edwards to sign a contract like that with a new team. He would be better off waiting through the year and becoming a FA. Of course, the Giants would not make a trade if that were the case.

There is another possibility - the Giants could make a conditional trade with the Browns, similar to the one the Saints did with the Jets for Vilma. Give the Browns a draft pick now, and if Edwards signs with the Giants at the end of the year, the Giants would then give the Browns additional compensation. If he becomes FA and signs elsewhere, the Browns keep only the compensation that they will have gotten this year. That works for the Giants, but the Browns may not like that deal, because they get less in return.

My personal guess is that the Giants will stick with the young WR group that they have, will draft a WR to augment the group and sign an experienced pro that becomes available to provide some stability. The pro may be someone like Matt Jones, recently cut by the Jaguars who will not cost them much but will give some security, reliability and predictability to the WRs.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Giants: draft talk

We look at the Giants season last year with disappointment, largely because the Giants lost 4 out of their last 5 games, including the awful playoff loss to the Eagles. I share in that disappointment, but it should not color our judgment of how good this Giants team was and how good a season they had last year. The Burress injury and the match ups against good defensive teams that could take advantage of the Giants weakened offense resulted in two bad losses to the Cowboys and Eagles towards the end of the regular season and a crushing loss to the Eagles in the playoffs. The meaningless loss to the Vikings in the season finale was more like a preseason game than a regular season battle, so I'm not concerned about that one.

The Giants were 11-1 following an impressive win against the Redskins in their first game without Burress. Burress was injured and was questionable for the game, but the Redskins had to prepare for the Giants as if he might play. The shooting accident occurred too late in the course of the weekend for their defensive game plan to change radically. Zorn and the Redskins defensive coaches are not sharp enough to take advantage of this absence anyway - but it was a dominating performance by the Giants.

After that game, the Giants were 11-1 and were the highest scoring team in football. Without Burress, their offense slumped in yards and points. But here's some points for you to chew on that measure how good a season the Giants had last year:

  • Giants are the only team to have beaten the two Superbowl teams, Cardinals and Steelers; and they beat them on the road, in their home stadiums.
  • Giants also beat the two conference finalists, Eagles and Ravens, one on the road and one at home.
  • Overall, the Giants regular season record against all the teams that made the playoffs last year was a very impressive 5-2, which includes the meaningless last second loss to the Vikings, when the Giants gave the starters off in the 2nd half.
The decline in the Giants offense was completely due to Burress; there is no denying that, based on statistics and results. So all of you that shed a tear for poor Plax and wish the Giants hadn't treated him so harshly by cutting him, I say: he cost the Giants a sure run at the Super Bowl last year. No guarantee, of course that the Giants would have won and gotten that far, because they were beaten badly by the Eagles, but my gut feeling is that they would have gotten to the big game if Burress had played.

Consider this: Giants are a strong team coming off a 12 win season that strengthened itself significantly in the off season by signing three very strong free agents. Furthermore, besides Burress, they lost no player of great significance (RB Ward was very good player but not the starter and S James Butler is a decent player, but definitely replaceable). As I proposed a few times on this blog, with that strong a team coming back, the Giants have to plan carefully what to do with their draft picks. Giants have 10 draft choices, 5 of them in the top 100 picks, and there is no way that 10 draftees are going to make the team. Giants would be best off to package a few of the picks and move up in the first round, above the 29th slot that they no occupy.

The sweet spot in the first round is picks 10-20, because the drop off in talent from the top 5 picks or so may be small, especially this year where the draft class is considered to be very deep and strong. While the drop off in pure talent is not that great to slots 10-20, the drop off in the compensation package that you have to pay these players is enormous, so your team does not get burdened with salary cap constraints in the future. I would almost rather be in slot 10 than in slot 1. Last year, Parcells was trying to trade down and get out of that first slot with the Dolphins, but nobody would take it.

The sweet spot in the whole draft is the 2nd round, IMHO, applying the same logic as above: huge drop off in salary commitment to the draftee and the team can still find very talented players. This is especially true if Jerry Reese and the Giants scouting department are running your draft. The obvious strategy that I outlined above is to package some of these picks and move up around 14 or 15 in the 1st round, but an alternative might be to keep the 29th slot in the first round and package some of the lower round picks with the Giants own 3rd round pick (not the compensatory pick which cannot be traded) and move up to nab another 2nd round pick. If what I asserted is true, that the 2nd round is the sweet spot in the draft, i.e. the optimum balance in favor of the team between talent received and compensation paid - then maybe the Giants should maximize their 2nd round picks. Take a package of 4 picks that includes their own 3rd, 4th, 5th and the 5th from New Orleans and they might be able to squeeze out a 2nd round or early 3rd round pick. Alternatively they could modify that package and replace the 3rd round pick with their 6th round pick, to get another 3rd rounder. This last alternative is not particularly exciting - moving earlier in the first or into the 2nd seems smartest to me.

At the end of the day, it is all about talent evaluation by the GM and the scouting department and matching talent to need. There are a lot of good WRs in the draft this year as well as some good OTs, both areas that would improve the team. There are some play makers at the LB position as well and the WR pool is deep enough so that if the Giants can get a great LB, they may just wait until the 2nd or 3rd round to draft WR. Giants have the advantage of not drafting for great need, which always compromises the talent that you bring onto the team.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Giants: Burress released

Unless you are not truly a Giants fan or have been sleeping all Friday afternoon, you have already heard the news that the Giants released Burress.

The timing is a little strange in my opinion and it leaves several questions up in the air. First we should examine the reasons that the Giants decided to cut Burress instead of waiting to see how the legal process might resolve itself.

There is only one set of circumstances under which the Giants would have taken Burress back:
  • The legal case against Burress was settled with incidental or no jail time, mostly probation
  • Burress showed a willingness to blend back into the team and participate in off season work outs
  • Burress promised that he had turned the page on his rebellious team behavior and agreed to abide by all team rules of Colonel Coughlin's regime
  • NFL suspension was to be moderate, allowing Burress to miss only a small portion of the 2009 season.
If you're into Boolean algebra, these conditions have to be "anded" together. All of them had to be true in order for the Giants to take Burress back. If you're not into Boolean algebra, consider them lights on a Christmas tree where if one goes out, they all go out. Everything needed to fall into place perfectly in order for Burress to come back. In fact, in my opinion, nearly all of them will break the wrong way and turn against Burress. Let me explain:

  • It was apparent from the delay in the March 31 court date and its postponement to June 15 that the court case is unlikely to be resolved quickly, thereby preventing Burress from participating in workouts with the team. Furthermore, the reason that the case was not resolved is that the Manhattan DA is not willing to make a deal that does not have some significant jail time in it - at least 6 months to 1 year. This knocks out the first two conditions above. Burress will likely get a fair amount of jail time and even if his lawyer is successful at limiting it, resolution will not be swift. The wheels of justice grind very slowly... throw a penalty flag against the DA for delay of game.
  • As far as Burress turning the page on his rebellious behavior, getting in line and being more compliant with team rules, it is apparent from his conduct that not only is he not becoming more conciliatory, rather he is becoming more intransigent and difficult. Specifically, Burress is contesting the fines that the Giants levied against him and filed a grievance with the league to try and recover the withheld bonus payment. It is certainly a reasonable action for Burress to take - he has a right to protect his compensation. But apparently, the Giants were trying to negotiate a settlement with him on some of these matters and Burress was completely inflexible, refusing to budge and showing great anger at the organization for attempting to do this. Furthermore, the email that his agent, Rosenhaus sent around to all the NFL teams informing them that Burress could be available in a trade, while not illegal, certainly left a strong message to the team that Burress himself was not interested in staying with the team.
  • Finally, the Giants may have had a little birdie from the league whisper in their ear that the NFL suspension would not be slight and would be as long as the jail sentence, which means that Burress would probably not be available for the entire 2009 season.

If the Giants are reading the tea leaves correctly on this matter, they probably did the right thing by cutting him. The only question I have is: why do it now? Why not wait until these matters actually resolved so they could deal with facts on the table instead of assumptions. If they are not resolved by the time training camp comes around, the Giants could cut him then, but what is the advantage of taking this action now? While the Giants ownership and management want to win, they also want to win with some class and dignity. Imagine the circus that would revolve around the team if Burress were to show up at mini camp in June with this still unresolved. It probably wouldn't have been much better if they cut him right before that mini camp, because that's all people would be talking about... and I'm not talking about the press and the media, I'm talking about the players and the coaches. Giants probably wanted to resolve this now and get the hoopla and craziness out of the way, so the team could concentrate on the off-season conditioning program, on their needs for the draft and on preparing for the season.