Thursday, March 31, 2016

Team Building Strategy

Coming into the off season, Giants were sitting on a boatload of salary cap space and when they cut Beatty and Schwartz, they opened up even more cap space. As fans, we all looked at the enormous number - estimated at around $57M and salivated like Pavlov's dogs at feeding time imagining all the players NYG could "buy" with all that cap space. In the first wave of FA buying, the Giants didn't sit idle; Reese went out and bought four premium (we hope) players for the defense. After those acquisitions, the Giants still had somewhere around $22-25M in cap space to spend. That's a fairly hefty upper limit on the credit card, and we fans were hoping that they would bring in a S, one or two OL-men, a WR and maybe even a LB. Just some back of the envelope calculations - NYG needs to save about $6M for the rookie pool, so for that approximately remaining $16-19M we could have filled some of those needs with some pretty good players. What's the point of having the salary cap space if you're not going to use it?

I think the takeaway from this approach and from the fact that NYG did not spend all the cap money they had is that this was an organizational decision coming directly from the owners. They imposed a strategy on the team as an organization and are clearly adding a business filter on player acquisition. When I say business approach, I am not just talking about saving money and limiting its spending; I am referring to organic growth of the team and the organization as a business over a several year time frame, not just tactical, immediate success in one particular year. While we as fans only care about win-now, the owners care about sustained success.

Mara very famously and publicly said the roster was deficient of talent and it's up to Jerry Reese to fix it. This is clearly a make or break year for Reese. Mara gave him some rope to play with and let him sign some players to jump start the reload, but Mara wants to see the full body of work and the overall roster construction before he gives Reese all $57M in cap space to spend. Mara wants to save some cash and cap space for next year. If Giants under-spend this year, they can carry some of the unused cap space over to next year. If Reese's FA players don't work out and if his draft is not good, that unused, carried-over cap space will be available for the next GM to use. I think that also is the reason Giants did not sign a veteran S and are whispering that the roster currently has three young S on it, one of who they expect to emerge as an NFL caliber starter. That seems rather hopeful and not necessarily practical, doesn't it? Let's not forget - this is a test for Reese and Mara may be genuinely unsure if Reese is the long term GM. He wants him to succeed of course. But if he fails, he needs to have an alternative plan so the franchise doesn't go down in flames next year also, if Reese's acquisitions this year prove flawed. It is likely that Reese had told Mara that his drafts were good and were hurt by injuries, some of whom were the S that were drafted last 2 years: Berhe, Taylor, Jackson and Thompson. No doubt, Mara is responding - if your drafts were so good and if you think one of these S will emerge, then don't sign one now and let's see if they really do work out as you promised. If they do - great for NYG and Reese. If they don't work out, it might be another black mark on the debit side of Reese's ledger.

Obviously, this upcoming draft is really important for Reese.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

The Roster

I have written here a few times about the need to get some S help for this defense. Giants invested in the defensive front and in a CB. To me, it doesn't make sense to expose the back end of the defense with a weak S to undercut the investment elsewhere. Even if they acquire  a young S talent that they think will be good, we don't want him learning on the job. There should be a veteran, solid S to manage things and control things until a new younger player comes along - so goes my logic.  Giants apparently don't completely agree. Word creeping out of NFL team meetings and coaches' meetings is that the Giants feel that they have enough talent at the S position on the current roster so that one of them will emerge as the starter. Between Nat Berhe, Bennett Jackson, Mykelle Thompson and Cooper Taylor, one will step up and show the talent to play. I have no doubt that one or maybe two of them will show more ability and will beat out the others for a starting position. But just because one is better than the others, that doesn't mean that without any NFL experience they will demonstrate the ability to be a starting level quality NFL safety. These players were on the roster last year, and in Berhe's case, the year before that as well. So the Giants did get a good look at them in NFL environment. But they did not play in  an NFL game (again except for a precious few snaps by Berhe) and  there is absolutely no evidence that they can play S at the pro level. The S  position is one of the positions on defense where play is not formulaic - there are reads, instincts and intuition that the S has to rely on to make decisions on where to run, where to give help, whether to charge up and support a run play, drop into pass coverage on a play  fake, give help on the right side or left side, etc. While speed and athleticism are important, experience greatly plays into this decision making, perhaps more than any other position on defense with possible exception of MLB.

Let's hope the Giants are right and one S will emerge as a good quality NFL starter. But let's also hope the Giants have a backup plan and they can bring in a veteran, perhaps low cost,  S as a "hold-the-fort-guy" (Parcells-ism) until they develop.

Giants have said that they are not finished with FA and they will add more players. but it seems apparent that they are going to wait and try to get lower priced players later in FA, maybe after they see how the draft settles out. There are too many openings to presume that they will all be filled in the draft. In the past, the Giants would fill their obvious openings early with FA so that they could go into the draft with the ability to pick the best player available, without regard to position. The Ernie Accorsi-ism was always: "don't take your depth chart into the draft room". It looks like NYG is taking a slightly different approach now. They brought in lots of FA talent on defense but are clearly not filling ALL of their holes. My guess is that the they will see what they need after the draft, and finish constructing the roster after that. They may add some low cost, low risk players before the draft, but the roster is far from complete. Even if they decide that they don't need to pursue a S, they need to do something on the OL and at WR. We'll see.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016


Giants signed Brinkley as a backup MLB. That's the topper, the final piece - make your Super Bowl LI reservations, 'cuz NYG is on the way.

What was this about? I think it speaks volumes for their intentions for the year, their view of the team and their road map for the rest of the FA signing period. First: Brinkley isn't awful; he played OK last year. Not great, but not terrible either. Of course on this Giants defense, he stood out somehow as a beacon of mediocrity on a team that had the worst defense in the league last year and moreover, was the 3rd worst defense in the history of the NFL. NYG signed a designated MLB starter in Keenan Robinson and we needed a backup, so we signed Brinkley. We're not in love with either player, obviously, else we would have signed one of them for more than one year. We also picekd these guys off the bargain rack -  we didn't exactly have to outbid anyone to get them. In fact, Reese was quoted as saying "we hope it will be a bounce back year for Robinson". Maybe one or the other of them will surprise us, but in any case we will more than likely have a new MLB in the starting line up come 2017. Nice to rebuild the defense with DL help and with a new CB, but it certainly shows that Reese hasn't changed his mind about the limited value of LBs in today's NFL.

The other thing it shows is that the Giants ownership hasn't given Reese a blank checkbook to buy FAs. Rather, after the first rush of expensive signings, NYG is being much more prudent in throwing money around, even though we have enough cap space to sign 1 or 2 more premium FAs. NYG did not sign OL help, WR or S. I guess when Mara said it's on Reese, he wants to test him in the draft as well as get fat on the FA market. It's almost as if owners are willing to have a "pretty good" yea in 2016 instead of reaching for the brass ring. Instead they will go for it next year with Reese or some other FA driving the bus.

Why wouldn't the Giants make a play for Penn, Okung or one of the other OL FAs. Neither one signed for big money and Okung did not even demand a signing bonus. It's one thing to go into the season with an average right side of the OL and hope to improve in the draft or later in the preseason with other teams' cuts. But it's not the same when you don't have any players at all on the OL.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Salary Cap I

With a few days to catch a breath and evaluate the shopping spree that our GM Reese just went on, it is interesting to consider what an enormous change this was for NYG. The accepted, long standing wisdom is that sustained success comes in the NFL primarily from the draft. Free agency is for plugging some holes, for making short term acquisitions at specific positions that you may not be able to fill in the draft, but the core of your team needs to come from the draft. Giants have always been strong proponents of that philosophy. But in truth, Giants have made key FA acquisitions in the past that led to championships; specifically I am thinking of Kareem MacKenzie, Shaun O'Hara, Antonio Pierce and Plaxico Burress, to name a few, all major FA signings for big money (at the time) that jump started the team and primed them for a title run. In addition, there were some short term acquisitions that really helped - I am thinking here of Kawika Mitchell who had a huge, highly effective, if somewhat forgotten season in 2007. Even Sam Madison contributed greatly. These last two, Mitchell and Madison were more of the fill-in style FA that we are used to seeing from the Giants. But the others mentioned earlier were big ticket acquisitions. What makes this year's FA class different is that they all came in the same year, in the same day actually, and the money seems way higher. But - you really have to compare the salaries not to what other players, who signed pre-2016 have gotten, rather what the players are getting this year. It is really not enough to just say - this is what the market is today, without looking a little deeper at to why there is so much money to throw around today. The temptation is to look at it with a simple ratio of contract versus salary cap. As a simple example, Plaxico Burress signed a FA contract with the Giants in March 2005. The contract was for 6 years and valued at $25 million. I won't go into the details of what the signing bonus was, what was guaranteed, etc., let's just say that the average annual value of the contract was around $4.16M per year. The salary cap in 2005 was around $85.5 million; translating Burress' contract with a simple ratio to the 2016 salary cap of $155.27 M would make that 4.16 M be equivalent to $7.5 M in today's adjusted salary cap dollars. Not a bad haul, but not near what the top receivers and top players are getting today.

A more sophisticated look considers not just the ratio of salary cap from one year to another, but rather the trend in growth over a 2 or 3 year period. Take a look at the following graph:

As you can see above, in the period between 2009 and 2013 the salary cap was relatively flat, hovering at around $120M per year. This included one year, 2010 which technically was uncapped when the league and NFLPA were negotiating their contract. But the uncapped year was in name only - teams knew that they could not overreach in the uncapped year, because when the cap was re-instituted the following year, 2011, they would be in salary cap hell, with lots of players to dump. In fact the Cowboys and Redskins tried to evade the rules and were penalized by the NFL. My point is that during this 5 year period of 2009-2013 where the salary cap was flat, teams had to manage their cap carefully and had to keep player salaries controlled. Now look at the tail of the curve, the period from 2014-2016 where the salary cap grew by $32 M in those 3 years. It's not just the growth this year in 2016 - it's the sustained growth over last 3 years, compared to no growth for the 5 years before that. If you're a mathematics nerd like me, you talk about the derivative, or rate of change of the graph. The derivative was essentially 0 for 4 years and now the rate of change is approximately 8% per year, which when compounded over last 3 years is around 26% growth. The key factor that is encouraging teams to throw around money is that there are no indications that this rate of change will end. We can't be sure or course that it will be 8% again next year, but as TV rights continue to grow, we can be confident that it will go up. In the period of no growth of salary cap, if players salaries would rise as their contracts progressed, the teams would be more strapped cap-wise and unable to make moves. Now however, if teams back-load a contract, they can have confidence that the salary cap will continue to rise and they will have cap money to cover their outlays. In fact, it makes sense to sign top players to long term contracts, because natural growth in the cap will make their annual salaries seem small compared to cap growth in future years. It's kind of like borrowing money today in a period of high inflation - you're paying it back tomorrow in cheaper dollars.

Teams still don't love to shell out huge FA contracts, because the expensive FA contracts take cash out of the team coffers for signing bonuses. But when you're desperate like the Giants were this year, spending the money to get good players is an investment. When the team wins, the value of the franchise is increased. More on salary cap management in later posts.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Keenan Robinson

There is an upside to Keenan Robinson - he is really fast and a good cover LB. The bad side is his injury history, which is not good. If the Giants were trying to steer away from players with an injury history and keep guys on the field, it's not clear how K Robinson fits that profile. Giants have left the middle of their defense wide open against the pass for several years now. TEs and RBs have had free reign in those middle of the field zones. Some of the blame is on the pass rush, because even a good cover LB can not cover a TE for 5 seconds. But Giants don't have good LBs, so it's on them as well.

I think K Robinson signing is one of the typical Reese bargain hunting buys. Redskins didn't want him because of the injuries and because his performance dropped off towards the end of the year. Reese wanted him because (1) every team needs a MLB and we don't have one on the roster right now and (2) when NYG played Redskins in 2014, Robinson had a big game, making 14 tackles and getting an INT. I have been disappointed with the pro scouting since Gettleman, who was head of pro personnel scouting for us, left to become GM of Carolina. He nailed Reese in the Beason trade, and we took Beason because his stat sheet said that he had made a lot of tackles earlier in his career. Apparently, that's how we do scouting.... either we look at the statistics sheet or we look at the games the player played against us. Like I said, I am hoping Robinson plays well, and he does have good speed, but I don't think he should make flight reservations for the pro bowl in Hawaii quite yet. And NYG needs some insurance at the position in case he turns out to be a bust.

Second Day of FA

S is key position. I think it is specifically important to get a S with a  proven track record in FA rather than try someone out in the draft. Bad safety play can wreck a defense. I know what you're thinking - in 1986 Giants won a Super Bowl with Herb Welch at S, but it was a different game then. Landon Collins could be really good, I really like him, but there were times where he really struggled last year. With the investment we have made at CB, and in the DL, I don't want to waste it with questionable S play. The biggest risk signing was the CB Jenkins. He's very talented, but a gambler. Having a S on top that can cover for him occasionally is doubly important. I would not mind Walter Thurmond at S.

Giants signed the MLB from Redskins Keenan Robinson. Don't know if he's good, but you do need someone in the middle of that defense. Last time we signed a MLB away from Redskins it was Antonio Pierce and he worked out pretty well.  

As far as TE - I don't think Reese is going there. I think they will try to get a good #2WR and with Cruz and Beckham, he will go with the TEs currently on the roster. 

As far as the MLB - I am reminded of an old Casey Stengel story. He was the first manager of the Mets and his first pick in the expansion draft was Hobie Landrith, a catcher. When Casey was asked why he took Landrith, he said: because if you don't have a catcher, you get a lot of passed balls. I kind of feel the same way about this MLB. If you don't have one, you get a lot of guys running up the middle against your defense, but I am not sure how good this guy is.
OK, time to come out of retirement.

This blog has been sitting here staring at me in the face for a couple of years now, but I needed some motivation to actually take it out of mothballs. Instead of sending around my comments to friends in emails, which people find so annoying, i decided to resurrect this blog. Here goes:

First comments from March 10th:

Reese may have overpaid for these players and there are definitely some risks, which I will outline below, but the bottom line is that the defense was completely devoid of quality players and good athletes and needed an enormous infusion of athleticism/talent. They seem to have gotten some of that yesterday. 

One thing to like about all three players is that they are not aging, oft-injured players. In addition to getting new S&C coach, Giants are probably trying to steer clear of injury creating situations, such as signing older players or players with long history of injury. No doubt this went into the decision to cut Beatty and Schwartz and not to resign Prince. JPP is a different story - that was not an injury that was an accident. 

CB Jenkins is very talented, very athletic, but apparently a real gambler. He is boom or bust - gets beat deep at times, bites on fakes and double moves, but also makes big plays. He has lots of talent, so perhaps Spagnuolo can mold him and develop him properly. I like Prince, but I believe they were scared off by injuries. This guy has big upside and nice to have two dangerous CBs

Vernon is the best DE edge pass rusher left on the FA market, but that doesn't mean he's worth what we paid for him. The worry about him is the famous Leonard Marshall syndrome. Marshall played DE next to LT. He made a bunch of plays, even made pro bowl one year. Then he left the Giants and signed a big FA contract with the Jets who were hoping he would replicate the productivity he showed with the Giants for the Jets. Unfortunately they did not have LT playing LB for them. He was out of the league one year later. Vernon was playing next to Suh who attracted a lot of attention, leaving Vernon to face many 1-on-1 situations. So maybe his sacks and numbers this past year were largely a function of that. BUT ----- Vernon was also fairly productive the few years before Suh arrived; in total he had very good numbers over the past 3 or 4 years. he is young, maybe he is coming into his own, he has a real upside. 

The best signing may have been Harrison. He is an absolute stud at DT, maybe one of the best 3 or 4 DTs in football, especially if you just look at run stoppers. He did play in a 3-4 and now will be a 4-3 DT, which is an adjustment. Not everyone who is built for one canexcel in the other defense. But he is very good. Hankins and Harrison in the middle of the defense is solid and gives the DEs room to be creative. JPP had trouble closing the deal last year and actually making tackles because of the hand, but he was very disruptive and did get into the backfield to cause pressure. When he came back all of a sudden Ayers woke up and started making some plays because the OL had to pay attention to JPP. With JPP, Harrison and Hankins, even if Vernon's numbers were slightly inflated by Suh, he also has some protection on this newly reconstituted DL.

It's interesting that NYG did not go after a LB, also a need. But - there were no Kuchlys on the market and it's not worth overspending on a LB that is not a 3 down player. Very few LBs are nowadays - that doesn't mean you don't need LBs, you definitely need them - it's just that the LBs that can cover the TEs and the RBs or the zones in the middle of the field are often not big enough to stand up to the run; converse is also true of course. Many of the LBs have become situational players now. Makes it hard to find them and play defense because a team can still throw in down and distance and with personnel package that might indicate a run. It's probably why a great pass catching TE is so valuable. LB usually plays off and gives the TE free release and if he's a great pass catcher, that's all he needs to get going. Hard to defend. 

Bottom line is that if they had gotten only one of these defensive players it would not have improved the defense that much. The fact that they got all of them is possibly a huge upgrade because the opposing offenses can't concentrate on one. Spagnuolo has some work to do but he has some talent to work with now. Like I said above, they may have overspent, but even if these guys don't play to their contract numbers, but are still very good players..... who cares. I tried to find the TV rights fees for the next several years, but could not find it.... but I do know  that they're going up, which means the salary cap will continue to go up next year. So we may not be capped out next year by these big contracts this year.

BTW ---- with all this money being thrown around, how much of a bargain does Eli look like right now. Especially after Bradford, Flacco, Chase Daniels contracts!

Still need: S, LB, right side of OL, WR. Highest priority in FA I think is a S. The rest we can fill with draft choices, spare parts, value/bargain FAs. But after spending all this $$$ on defense, I don't want a rookie S who learns the position while getting beat deep 3 times a game.