Tag Archives: Rob Gronkowski

The initial Pro Bowl selections were announced last night in one of just many weird things about the “new and improved” Pro Bowl. The selection process now consists of votes from fans, players, and coaches, and without any conference affiliation considerations. The NFL announced the selections at 9 PM on a Friday night, for some reason. Later two appointed captains will pick two teams from the selections, schoolyard style, but live on NFL Network, with like, celebrities and stuff, maybe. Eventually they will play what presumably we technically have to call a football game, in that there will be players on the field, and also a football, and in those ways the event will resemble a football game.

The selections triggered the usual outrage in media about players who were “snubbed”. Like this. Or this. Or this. You get the idea. It is a little weird. If you want the best players, why let so many people, especially fans, vote? And if you want the fan favorites, then why get upset when the best players do not get in? A common counterpoint is that various Pro Bowl bonuses and incentives are in many contracts across the league, and the money at stake makes a difference to players under such contracts (either by getting more money, or not). That is short-sighted.

If teams want to incentivize performance, they can use other metrics: tackles, touchdowns, passes defensed, whether the team makes the playoffs, etc. In fact, teams already do this! But as pointed out many times in my mid-season Search for the Best (& Worst!) Contract in Football, players may provide off-field benefits: ticket and jersey sales, television viewers, radio listeners, and other boons of popularity. However one does it, making the Pro Bowl (and bringing more publicity to one’s team by doing so) is most likely worth a bonus. It makes sense theoretically, and, even better, teams keep rewarding it! The annual fuss over this is getting old.

One thing is clear: some of the very best players in the league miss out. As many, hell, most people wrongly regard Pro Bowlers as the best players in the league, it hurts (me, at least) to see lesser known, elite players fail to receive the recognition they deserve. But maybe that is not a problem with the Pro Bowl, but with the way some perceive it. Making the Pro Bowl is an honor, but doing so does not necessarily honor your play, but perhaps instead your personality, your popularity. Either way, missing out is “a snub”, apparently.

Most irksome is when announcers and other “experts” (or really just anybody) invoke Pro Bowls as proof of a player’s on-field excellence. That this is bound to happen about 47 trillion times throughout tomorrow’s games compels this special feature, on a Saturday (!), against the grain of the normal Crossroads schedule. The rest of this post will be setting the record straight (or at least, straighter).

Do dominating players really miss out? You bet they do. Following are the Pro Bowl selections, along with performance-based snubs, grouped by position. The experts at Pro Football Focus measure on-field performance, as they grade every player on every snap of every game. For consideration a player must have played 25% or more of his team’s snaps.

Without further adieu… (PFF position rank, and grade, in parentheses; Pro Bowlers in alphabetical order by last name; snubs ordered by PFF grade)


QB (6)

  • Tom Brady, NE (7th, 17.7)
  • Drew Brees, NO (3rd, 21)
  • Peyton Manning, DEN (1st, 39.5)
  • Cam Newton, CAR (15th, 8.4)
  • Philip Rivers, SD (2nd, 23.3)
  • Russell Wilson, SEA (3rd, 21)
QB Snubs (2)
  • Matthew Stafford, DET (5th, 18.4)
  • Aaron Rodgers, GB (6th, 18.)

Rodgers missed seven games. Rodgers still has the sixth-highest grade. If you think a player should have to be healthy/play more to earn a spot, but still want on-field performance to be the primary goal, just replace Newton with Stafford.

WR (8)

  • Antonio Brown, PIT (3rd, 21.2)
  • Dez Bryant, DAL (23rd, 10.5)
  • Josh Gordon, CLE (14th, 13.9)
  • A.J. Green, CIN (18th, 12.4)
  • Andre Johnson, HOU (5th, 20)
  • Calvin Johnson, DET (2nd, 22.5)
  • Brandon Marshall, CHI (1st, 36.2)
  • Demaryius Thomas, DEN (8th, 18.4)
WR Snubs (3)
  • Alshon Jeffery, CHI (4th, 20.1)
  • DeSean Jackson, PHI (6th, 19.3)
  • Jordy Nelson, GB (7th, 18.6)

All bow to the big names of Bryant and Green! Nelson is seemingly punished for Rodgers’ absence, Jeffery seemingly for being in just his second season, and Jackson because… he is an #$#hole?

RB (6)

  • Jamaal Charles, KC (2nd, 22.4)
  • Matt Forte, CHI (22nd, 6.2)
  • Frank Gore, SF (12th, 12.5)
  • Marshawn Lynch, SEA (6th, 16.1)
  • LeSean McCoy, PHI (1st, 29.)
  • Adrian Peterson, MIN (11th, 13.3)
RB Snubs (3)
  • Eddie Lacy, GB (3rd, 17.9)
  • Giovani Bernard, CIN (4th, 16.9)
  • DeMarco Murray, DAL (5th, 16.3)

This time it is the veterans Forte, Gore, and Peterson, at the expense of rookies Lacy and Bernard, and the still underrated Murray.

FB (2)

  • Marcel Reece, OAK (7th, 5.8)
  • Mike Tolbert, CAR (2nd, 11.1)
FB Snub (1)
  • Anthony Sherman, KC (1st, 16.1)

Reece and Tolbert run and catch passes more than other fullbacks. Sherman is by far the best blocker. All these things determine their final grade, but blocking seems unsurprisingly un-sexy and un-cared-about.

TE (4)

  • Jordan Cameron, CLE (47th, -5.6)
  • Vernon Davis, SF (11th, 6.3)
  • Jimmy Graham, NO (1st, 13.5)
  • Julius Thomas, DEN (22nd, 1.3)
TE Snubs (3)
  • Rob Gronkowski, NE (2nd, 12.4)
  • Ben Hartsock, CAR (3rd, 11.5)
  • Jordan Reed, WAS (4th, 10.3)

Jordan Cameron, everybody, with the first truly bad season to make this year’s Pro Bowl! Thomas presumably benefits from Manning’s 6,000 touchdowns, and with another solid season Davis’ reputation gets him in, over a Gronkowski who earned the second highest grade in only six-and-a-half games, a tremendous blocker in Hartsock, and the rookie Reed aboard that train wreck that is Washington’s football season.

C (3)

  • Ryan Kalil, CAR (8th, 10.8)
  • Alex Mack, CLE (1st, 16.6)
  • Max Unger, SEA (20th, -1.8)
C Snubs (2)
  • Manuel Ramirez, DEN (2nd, 15)
  • Travis Frederick, DAL (3rd, 14.9)

Max Unger joins the ranks of players with bad seasons to make the cut. The former backup Ramirez and the rookie Frederick fail to do so despite their excellent play.

G (6)

  • Jahri Evans, NO (15th, 9.8)
  • Ben Grubbs, NO (8th, 15.7)
  • Mike Iupati, SF (33rd, 0.7)
  • Logan Mankins, NE (21st, 8.5)
  • Louis Vasquez, DEN (2nd, 28.9)
  • Marshal Yanda, BAL (20th, 9.2)
G Snubs (5)
  • Evan Mathis, PHI (1st, 42.9)
  • Josh Sitton, GB (2nd, 28.9)
  • Larry Warford, DET (4th, 20.9)
  • Matt Slauson, CHI (5th, 17.9)
  • Travelle Wharton, CAR / Andy Levitre, TEN (16.7)

Iupati has been injured and was not playing too well before that, although he sure did last season! Mankins and Yanda also get in on their reputation. The true disgrace here is Evan Mathis, nine-year veteran, long-time dominant blocker, whose grade is 14 units above the second best guard in the league, missing out. Even among linemen, popularity, or something, reigns over actual performance.

T (6)

  • Branden Albert, KC (28th, 10)
  • Jason Peters, PHI (5th, 26.2)
  • Tyron Smith, DAL (8th, 23.3)
  • Joe Staley, SF (4th, 28.1)
  • Joe Thomas, CLE (1st, 34.9)
  • Trent Williams, WAS (2nd, 33.1)
T Snubs (2)
  • Jordan Gross, CAR (3rd, 32.6)
  • Jake Long, STL (6th, 25.8)

Curious that, by and large, the new voting system actually selected the best tackles.


Some notes before getting into the defensive side: defensive positions are much harder to classify, as defenders can pretty much line up wherever and however they want, and often exercise that right to confuse offenses. Also the position responsibilities for edge players in the front seven of a 3-4 defense are different from those of a 4-3 defense. For example, 3-4 outside linebackers generally rush the passer, while in a 4-3 usually defensive ends do. To account for these differences, PFF classifies 3-4 and 4-3 outside defenders separately. The NFL Pro Bowl appears to embrace these problems by making them much bigger. The Pro Bowl selections lump all defensive ends together (disregarding different scheme responsibilities), all outside linebackers together, and also improperly classified some players. Oh, and even though free safety and strong safety responsibilities are quite similar, such that PFF does not bother distinguishing between them, they are listed separately for the Pro Bowl.

For defensive ends and outside linebackers, per the NFL they are all together, respectively, with a note of which scheme the player’s team uses (in parentheses.)

The selections list Mario Williams as a defensive end, though he mostly plays 3-4 outside linebacker; Kyle Williams as a nose/defensive tackle though he mostly plays 3-4 defensive end; Justin Smith as a nose/defensive tackle, though he mostly plays 3-4 defensive end; and Vontaze Burfict as an inside linebacker, though he mostly plays 4-3 outside linebacker. These players are included among their official Pro Bowl position peers before determining their position ranking.1 As PFF does not classify strong versus free safeties, both positions’ players are ranked among all other safeties.

Okay, defense!

DE (6)

  • Greg Hardy, CAR (9th, 20.8, 4-3)
  • Cameron Jordan, NO (4th, 33, 3-4)
  • Robert Quinn, STL (2nd, 71.1, 4-3)
  • Cameron Wake, MIA (7th, 24.5, 4-3)
  • J.J. Watt, HOU (1st, 103, 3-4) (!!!!!!!!!)
  • Mario Williams, BUF (29th, 10.2, 3-4 outside linebacker)
DE Snubs (3)
  • Calais Campbell, ARI (3rd, 37.7) 3-4
  • Sheldon Richardson, NYJ (5th, 30.5) 3-4
  • Michael Johnson, CIN (6th, 25.1) 4-3

J.J. Watt is so freakin’ good. Mario Williams is so famous (apparently). Calais Campbell is so unappreciated. Oh and Sheldon Richardson is a rookie.

NT/DT (6)

  • Gerald McCoy, TB (1st, 56.2)
  • Haloti Ngata, BAL (16th, 13.7)
  • Dontari Poe, KC (9th, 23.5)
  • Justin Smith, SF (19th, 12.5, 3-4 DE)
  • Ndamukong Suh, DET (2nd, 42.5)
  • Kyle Williams, BUF (3rd, 36.1, 3-4 DE)
NT/DT Snubs (4)
  • Jurrell Casey, TEN (3rd, 36.1)
  • Damon Harrison, NYJ (4th, 32.6)
  • Randy Starks, MIA (5th, 30.3)
  • Brandon Mebane, SEA (6th, 29.8)

The star factor potentially helps Ngata and Smith, aided by appearances in last year’s Super Bowl possibly?

OLB (6)

  • John Abraham, ARI (17th, 6.3) 3-4
  • Ahmad Brooks, SF (57th, -4.4) 3-4
  • Tamba Hali, KC (8th, 22.7) 3-4
  • Justin Houston, KC (2nd, 31.8) 3-4
  • Robert Mathis, IND (5th, 25.7) 3-4
  • Terrell Suggs, BAL (13th, 12.8) 3-4
OLB Snubs (4)
  • Von Miller, DEN (1st, 40.3) 4-3
  • Elvis Dumervil, BAL (3rd, 31.8) 3-4
  • Lavonte David, TB (4th, 27.7) 4-3
  • Brian Orakpo, WAS (6th, 24.9) 3-4

49ers players are officially the “He plays on a good team/offensive line/defense/whatever, so he should go to the Pro Bowl!” guys of the year.2  In eight games, after returning from his suspension and before tearing his ACL, Von Miller recorded the best grade by far. Lavonte David has been getting the most press of these snubs, perhaps justifiably as the top 4-3 outside linebacker after Miller. If the Pro Bowl is not going to classify 3-4 and 4-3 guys differently, it looks like the 4-3 guys do not have much of a chance. Seldom rushing the passer, they are much less valuable and much less fetching than their 3-4 counterparts.

ILB (4)

  • NaVorro Bowman, SF (1st, 15.8)
  • Vontaze Burfict, CIN (6th, 13.3, 4-3 OLB)
  • Luke Kuechly, CAR (8th, 8.3)
  • Patrick Willis, SF (3rd, 14.6)
ILB Snubs (2)
  • Derrick Johnson, KC (2nd, 15.4)
  • Stephen Tulloch, DET (4th, 14.1)

Okay, THIS is where the 49ers earn it. Damn, but Bowman and Willis are the best. Now we get a 4-3 outside linebacker, classified wrongly… oh well, good for Burfict. Kuechly’s rewarded for his reputation after he earned Defensive Rookie of the Year last season, as Johnson and Tulloch (and five other guys) have actually been better this season.3

CB (8)

  • Brandon Flowers, KC (85th, -5.9)
  • Brent Grimes, MIA (4th, 14.9)
  • Joe Haden, CLE (16th, 8.4)
  • Patrick Peterson, ARI (12th, 9.8)
  • Darrelle Revis, TB (1st, 18.2)
  • Richard Sherman, SEA (6th, 12.1)
  • Aqib Talib, NE (66th, -2)
  • Alterraun Verner, TEN (11th, 9.9)
CB Snubs (5)
  • Tyrann Mathieu, ARI (2nd, 15.5)
  • Vontae Davis, IND (3rd, 15.4)
  • Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, DEN (5th, 12.4)
  • Captain Munnerlyn, CAR (7th, 11.3)
  • Tramaine Brock, SF (8th, 11.1)

Flowers and Talib, 85th and 66th respectively among all cornerbacks, both make the cut with impressive negative grades. Anyone want to bet how many times announcers mention their Pro Bowl inclusion tomorrow in a context affirming their, uh, “quality” play this season? Poor Honey Badger.

FS (3)

  • Jairus Byrd, BUF (9th, 8.7)
  • Earl Thomas, SEA (12th, 6.6)
  • Eric Weddle, SD (8th, 9.2)

SS (3)

  • Eric Berry, KC (3rd, 14.5)
  • Kam Chancellor, SEA (11th, 6.7)
  • Troy Polamalu, PIT (6th, 10.5)
S Snubs (4)
  • Devin McCourty, NE (1st, 18.7)
  • T.J. Ward, CLE (2nd, 15.1)
  • Will Hill, NYG (4th, 14.4)
  • Donte Whitner, SF (5th, 12.9)

In defense of Byrd, he earned his ninth-best grade in only 10 games. Of course, Will Hill earned his fourth-best in just 11 games, playing even fewer snaps than Byrd. Also Whitner made the Pro Bowl last season as the 53rd ranked safety. Now that he has stepped up his play (contract year coincidence?), he is snubbed? Or maybe less popular for that considered name change? Gosh the Pro Bowl is silly.

Special Teams

P (2)

  • Brandon Fields, MIA (11th, 11.7)
  • Johnny Hekker, STL (2nd, 32.8)
P Snub (1)

Shane Lechler, HOU (1st, 39.2)

Not much to add here, except Shane Lechler is Really Good, and while most good players on bad teams fall out of the spotlight, you would think the punter would be an exception, right?

K (2)

  • Matt Prater, DEN (1st, 58.2)
  • Justin Tucker, BAL (5th, 32.5)
K Snub (1)
  • Stephen Gostkowski, NE / Graham Gano, CAR (2nd, 42.4)

How could Tucker possibly not be the very best kicker EVER, especially this season???? Well, there are these things called “kickoffs” and this other thing called “opponent field position”, and even these other things called “touchbacks”, and the difference in field position after touchbacks compared to field position after non-touchbacks is worth about one point fewer for a team’s opponent for every touchback, so they are kind of awesome that way. Check it out. (And a more recent bit!)

PR (2)

  • Antonio Brown, PIT (4th, 6.1)
  • Dexter McCluster, KC (2nd, 6.8)
PR Snub (1)
  • Golden Tate, SEA (1st, 12.1)

Kind of sad Cordarrelle Patterson does not get anything, because he only does kickoff returns and now the Pro Bowl has no kickoff returns, and no kickoffs.

ST (2)

  • Justin Bethel, ARI (1st, 18)
  • Matthew Slater, NE (54th, 2.5)
ST Snub (1)
  • Robert Golden, PIT (2nd, 10)

And this is where the confusion really deepens. It seems it is unlikely you would get a consensus on Bethel unless people recognized his dominance– hard to make a case for a lot of popularity among special teamers whom even ardent fans have not heard of. But then how does Slater get in there, with 52 others between him and the top? #confused

Across the board, not a single position slot was filled by the top players in that position. If you replaced the current Pro Bowl roster with the actual best players, allocating the same number of slots for all positions, only 45% of the current Pro Bowlers would remain. 55% would see their status stripped in favor of those whom were snubbed on this basis. 19% of this year’s selections have not even performed in the top 25% of the players in their respective positions. See the chart below for additional breakdowns:

Position Slots Snubs % Snubs Pro Bowlers Below 75th Percentile % Pro Bowlers Below 75th Percentile
All 85 47 55% 16 19%
Offense 41 21 51% 10 24%
QB 6 2 33% 1 17%
WR 8 3 38% 0 0%
RB 6 3 50% 1 17%
FB 2 1 50% 1 50%
TE 4 3 75% 2 50%
C 3 2 67% 1 33%
G 6 5 83% 3 50%
T 6 2 33% 1 17%
Defense 36 22 61% 5 14%
DE 6 3 50% 1 17%
NT/DT 6 4 67% 1 17%
OLB 6 4 67% 1 17%
ILB 4 2 50% 0 0%
CB 8 5 63% 2 25%
S 6 4 67% 0 0%
Special Teams 8 4 50% 1 13%
P 2 1 50% 1 50%
K 2 1 50% 0 0%
PR 2 1 50% 0 0%
ST 2 1 50% 0 0%

Making the Pro Bowl is simply not an indication of elite talent, pure and simple. Most, but not all elite players do make it. Many Pro Bowlers are merely above average, not the best. And some Pro Bowlers reach Honolulu despite downright poor performances on the field throughout the season. Again, this is not necessarily a problem in itself, so much as how people perceive it. Pro Bowl appearances are a measure of NFL success, defined more broadly than mere quality of play, including popularity among fans and individuals (players and coaches) of the NFL. This is the way the league wants it (at least for the moment), not an accident. Blaming the voters for the results of any election is inferior to blaming the system. And we all know the line, so come on. Hate the game, not the player.

  1. This is kind of stupid, because they are not exactly graded on the same things, or the same situations, but there are not any better solutions. The Pro Bowl is dumb, basically. 
  2. Brooks is actually the worst-graded outside linebacker on the 49ers. Aldon Smith has a 21.2, good for 9th (but also DUIs and missed games), Dan Skuta (Smith’s rehab replacement) has a 7.1 for 25th, and bit rookie pass rusher Corey Lemonier has a 1.8 for 39th, among the 76 outside linebackers (both 3-4 and 4-3) who have played 25% or more of their teams’ snaps. 
  3. In fact, when tweeting at PFF Analyst Pete Damilatis, he mentioned that he was already preparing for the outrage on their site for when Kuechly does not make their annual Top 101 Players List, which is a definite possibility this season. 

Moving right along with our continuing series, ESPM Presents: The Search for the Best (& Worst!) Contract in Football. So far I’ve covered quarterbacks, wide receivers, and running backs. Today I look at how pay and performance compare across tight ends in the National Football league. Before jumping in, I wanted to expand upon something I mentioned at the close of my evaluation of running back contracts. I remarked that teams are overpaying nearly 50% of their players (or at least their quarterbacks, wide receivers, and running backs). One of my readers inquired as to whether or not that was really a big deal. His point was that even if teams improved their methods dramatically, it’s unlikely they would pay their players exactly what their performance was worth. Some would be overpaid, some underpaid, and wouldn’t that tend towards a 50-50 split anyway? Yes. So allow me to be more clear.

The inefficiency in the league lies in how much players are overpaid and underpaid, not how many are overpaid and underpaid. The NFL salary cap for this season is $123 million per team.1 One percent of a team’s cap is $1.23 million. Using this analysis, 46% of quarterbacks, running backs, and wide receivers are technically overpaid, based on their performance through the first ten weeks of the season. So is that a big deal? In economic research (albeit in slightly different contexts) we tend to care about two things: statistical significance, and substantive significance. 46% is an awful lot; it suggests that at least one, probably many NFL players are overpaid. But by how much?

Returning to the one percent, 15 of 37 quarterbacks (40.5%), 39 of 109 wide receivers (35.8%), and 16 of 54 running backs (29.6%) are overpaid by $1.23 million or more. That’s 70 of the 200 players (35%) I’ve looked at so far who are overpaid by one percent of the total amount their teams can spend this season. But hey, what’s a million dollars? Pro Football Focusperformance grades suggest that among those players, 28 (14%) are overpaid by $5 million or more. $5,000,000. Again, I can’t say for sure, but I think an NFL general manager wouldn’t want to waste $1,000, let alone $5,000,000. But it seems that, in more than one case, in more than a few cases, that’s exactly what they are doing.2

It will be interesting to see how those numbers might change as I get to looking at all positions on both sides of the ball. Perhaps these positions, among the most prominent in the league, are more likely to be overpaid.3 Certainly a phenomenal playoff performance and Super Bowl victory from Joe Flacco helped him to his new contract, which based on his play this season has him overpaid by more than $21 million4, dwarfing all other comers.

But enough. On to tight ends! Well, one quick reminder that these grades include all facets of the game. Run blocking, pass blocking, route running, catching, elusiveness after the catch, penalties, etc. Here are the Top 10 performing tight ends in the NFL among those who’ve played 25% or more of their teams’ snaps, through Week 11 (PFF grade in parentheses):

  • 1. Ben Hartsock, CAR & Jimmy Graham, NO (12)
  • 3. Jordan Reed, WAS (10.3)
  • 4. Rob Gronkowski, NE (7.3)
  • 5. Ben Watson, NO (7)
  • 6. Delanie Walker, TEN (6.4)
  • 7. Vernon Davis, SF (5.7)
  • 8. Tony Gonzalez, ATL (5.3)
  • 9. Coby Fleener, IND (5)
  • 10. Julius Thomas, DEN (4.3)

Hey, who’s that guy who’s as good as Jimmy Graham that I’ve never heard of? Why, that is Ben Hartsock, second tight end of the Carolina Panthers. He is just as good at blocking as Jimmy Graham is at receiving passes. While most teams may prefer Graham, and that’s fine, blocking is also valuable, and should not be forgot. Here are the Bottom 10:

  • 50. Vance McDonald, SF (-7.2)
  • 51. Gary Barnidge, CLE (-7.8)
  • 52. Michael Hoomanawanui, NE & Rob Housler, ARI (-8.1)
  • 54. Jared Cook, STL (-8.2)
  • 55. Heath Miller, PIT (-8.3)
  • 56. Jim Dray, ARI (-9.4)
  • 57. James Hanna, DAL (-9.8)
  • 58. Ed Dickson, BAL (-9.9)
  • 59. Jermaine Gresham, CIN (-16.6)

And a single tear trickles down my cheek as Vance McDonald becomes the first 49er to appear at the bottom of performance. The average performance among tight ends who’ve played 25% or more of their teams’ snaps this season is actually negative, at -1.6. The standard deviation for grades is 5.8, quite a bit larger and indicating what we in the industry refer to as “lots” of variation. Here are the Top 10 paid tight ends (average annual salary, from, in parentheses):

  • 1. Jason Witten, DAL ($7.219 million)
  • 2. Vernon Davis, SF ($7.118m)
  • 3. Jared Cook, STL ($7.02m)
  • 4. Tony Gonzalez, ATL & Jermichael Finley, GB ($7m)
  • 6. Rob Gronkowski, NE ($6.904m)
  • 7. Zach Miller, SEA & Marcedes Lewis, JAC ($6.8m)
  • 9. Antonio Gates, SD ($6.633m)
  • 10. Heath Miller, PIT ($5.883m)

Jared Cook and Heath Miller both have the dubious honor of being at the bottom of performance and at the top of salary.5 No tight end makes as much as the average quarterback ($7.818 million). Here are the Bottom 10 salaries among tight ends:

  • 50. Luke Wilson, SEA ($0.585m)
  • 51. Lee Smith, BUF ($0.575m)
  • 52. Mychal Rivera, OAK ($0.566m)
  • 53. James Hanna, DAL ($0.551m)
  • 54. Charles Clay, MIA ($0.538m)
  • 55. David Paulson, PIT ($0.536m)
  • 56. Allen Reisner, JAC ($0.51m)
  • 57. Jim Dray, ARI ($0.497m)
  • 58. Timothy Wright, TB ($0.495m)
  • 59. Sean McGrath, KC ($0.469 million)

The average annual tight end salary is $2.546 million, with a standard deviation of $2.379 million. As with other positions, there is much less variation among pay relative to performance. As even I haven’t heard of many of those guys, I’ll mention a few who almost made it. Jordan Cameron, Jimmy Graham, and Julius Thomas (Top 10 performers all) are 46th, 47th, and 48th in salary, respectively, with Cameron raking in the most at $0.629 million. So surprise surprise, ESPM awards the best contract among tight ends to Jimmy Graham. Congratulations to Saints’ General Manager Mickey Loomis, getting a contract quality of 3.17! (Contract quality is a player’s standard deviations above/below the average performance minus his number of standard deviations above/below the average salary.) Here are the Top 10 tight end contracts (so far) in 2013 (contract quality in parentheses):

  • 1. Jimmy Graham, NO (3.17)
  • 2. Ben Hartsock, CAR (3.05)
  • 3. Jordan Reed, WAS (2.85)
  • 4. Ben Watson, NO (1.87)
  • 5. Julius Thomas, DEN (1.84)
  • 6. Coby Fleener, IND (1.65)
  • 7. Jordan Cameron, CLE (1.47)
  • 8. Mychal Rivera, OAK (1.37)
  • 9. Zach Ertz, PHI (1.27)
  • 10. Kellen Winslow, NYJ (1.08)

The power of those still on their rookie deals continues. And here are the Worst 10 tight end contracts…

  • 50. Owen Daniels, HOU (-1)
  • 51. Marcedes Lewis, JAC (-1.28)
  • 52. Brandon Myers, NYG (-1.31)
  • 53. Jason Witten, DAL ( -1.51)
  • 54. Martellus Bennett, CHI (-1.63)
  • 55. Jermichael Finley, GB (-2.08)
  • 56. Antonio Gates, SD (-2.15)
  • 57. Heath Miller, PIT (-2.56)
  • 58. Jermaine Gresham, CIN (-2.86)
  • 59. Jared Cook, STL (-3.02)

… where the power of the egregiously overpaid veteran free agent continues! Returning to where we began, 21 of the 59 (35.5%) are overpaid by more than one percent ($1.23 million) of this season’s salary cap ($123 million). 4 of the 59 (6.8%) are overpaid by $5 million or more. And remember, there are multiple paths to the top. You don’t have to score touchdowns like Jimmy Graham to be valuable on the field. Even so, a number of players are paid well above what their performance merits. They earn it without earning it.

  1. In reality, teams may have a little more or a little less due to rollovers from prior years, penalties from prior years, and other such adjustments. 
  2. Again, the usual caveat about players being paid for things apart from on-field performance, such as selling tickets and jerseys by being popular, being a good guy to have in the locker room, having a history with the organizations coaches and/or players, etc. Still, are those things worth $5 million for each of those 28 guys? Or even one? 
  3. Or have added value outside their on-field play. 
  4. Actually, I’m troubled that using this methodology, the numbers suggest that Flacco, and a few other players as well, should actually receive negative payments. This is troubling because it has no sound interpretation, other than that he has really been stinking up the joint. Hopefully when I do this again at the end of the season I’ll have a solution. 
  5. For those keeping score at home, yes, at least one player at every position I’ve looked at has pulled off being tops in pay and bottoms in performance. I’m tentatively calling it “a Flacco”. 

It’s Tuesday, Week 11 is in the books, I lost fantasy football 107.22-105.52 (within the margin of a 17 yard Rob Gronkowski catch, or a Matt Prater field goal, or the Seahawks not getting a return touchdown, etc.), and my 49ers lost two games in a row for the second time under Jim Harbaugh, and the second time this season, and I’m still not sure I’m ready to talk about it. But a couple things Harbaugh did are bothering challenging me quite a bit. A couple challenges, as it were.

With two timeouts and 3:33 remaining in the first quarter of a 0-0 game, Harbaugh challenged that Drew Brees had crossed the line of scrimmage before completing an 8 yard pass to Darren Sproles on a 1st&10 from the 49er 25. Many people, including 49ers beat writer Matt Maiocco, have pointed out that the challenge was terrible, as replays clearly indicated Drew Brees wasn’t close to crossing the line of scrimmage. After the game, Harbaugh confessed “We didn’t have a video review [on that challenge].” Challenging a ruling that was obviously correct is, uh, obviously bad, and revealing that you challenged it without any evidence to the contrary, um, also obviously bad, but I wondered: why challenge this play in the first place? 2nd&10 is harder than 2nd&2, sure, but worth one of your two (or three) challenges and the risk of losing a time out? This isn’t the Jacksonville Jaguars of Week 8, it’s Drew Brees and the Saints of Week 11. Over the course of the game the Saints averaged 5.8 yards per offensive play. Even if Harbaugh had challenged on firmer ground, and the call was reversed… so what? The Saints were already looking at a 42 yard field goal (in a dome), and there were still a few yards between them and the end zone. To save the touchdown, the defense would need a stop either way, and it could come on a new set of downs. To shut them out, the defense would need to create a turnover. Both of these situations are quite possible whether the Saints have 2nd&10 or 2nd&2, so why risk it?

Surprise! The numbers from Brian Burke’s Advanced NFL StatsWin Probability Calculator suggest there is good value in challenging.1 In the Saints’ resulting situation, 2nd&2 from the opponent’s 17 in a 0-0 game with 3:22 left in the first quarter, their probability of ultimately winning was 0.65.2 If Harbaugh had won the challenge, making it 2nd&10 from the 25, the Saints’ win probability would have been 0.61.3 Increasing your chances of winning by 4% isn’t a lot, only actually it kind of is. (You may remember, this game came down to the final play, when the Saints’ Garrett Hartley kicked a game-winning 31 yard field goal.) In an article last month on, Kevin Meers, Co-President of the Harvard Sports Analysis Collective, laid out some neat work he’s done on coaches’ challenges. Using the difference in win probability resulting from winning the challenge minus that resulting from losing the challenge, which he dubs “leverage”, Meers charts all challenges in the 2012 season.

2012 Challenges by Leverage

Neat huh? That first challenge’s leverage was 0.04, and probably worth going after, again forgetting, as Harbaugh did, the replay which guaranteed the original call would stand. But you know, if what Harbaugh thought had happened had actually happened, it would have been an okay move. And that’s actually more than many NFL coaches can say. 15% of all challenges last season had zero leverage– whether they were successful or not had no discernible impact on the outcome of the game. In that article Meers also attempts to value timeouts, gauging them to be worth around 0.03 in win probability. I won’t get into his methodology (though I may try to build on his foundation in the coming weeks), and you can read it for yourself, but just take that 0.03 number for a moment. In terms of the lost timeout, it’s worth challenging when you yield 0.04 in win probability if you win the challenge 42.9% of the time. While I wouldn’t take that 0.03 number as a universal truth, and it’s worth mentioning again that these win probabilities are averages not personally tailored to a team’s own defense or offense, it’s still interesting. Mostly, it’s suggestive of the cool things we can learn once these types of models are further refined and improved.

Harbaugh’s second challenge was a similar story. Down 7-0 with 10:21 left in the second quarter, Harbaugh challenged that Kaepernick’s pass to Jon Baldwin in the end zone on 1st and 10 from the Saints’ 11, ruled incomplete, was in fact a touchdown. This was the ole’ Calvin Johnson rule about securing the ball for 547 minutes after you make a catch and go out of bounds, and while stupid, is a rule that coaches and players (and fans) know about. Under the rule, it was clearly an incomplete pass, leaving the 49ers with 2nd and 10. This was a little more troubling than the first failed challenge. Harbaugh said of the decision to challenge the play “I was talking to Eric [Mangini, our challenge consultant up in the booth]”. Cleveland Browns fans surely won’t be surprised by Mangini’s involvement, as he, uh, never really panned out as their head coach. Unfortunately he seems to have brought some similar failings to his new post. But failings aside, how often would the 49ers need to win this challenge for it to be worthwhile? 30% of the time.4 Given the replay (and the fact the game was in New Orleans), I’d say the chances of an overturn were zero, maybe 10% being generous. Nonetheless, that wasn’t Harbaugh’s area. Hearing the false possibility from Mangini, and not knowing the 49ers would score on the next play, this Harbaugh challenge was much more defensible.

  1. Assuming the challenges themselves aren’t completely hopeless. That’s still on Harbaugh. Well, actually the truth may be more complicated. More on that later. 
  2. Also, their probability of gaining a first down was 0.75; a field goal 0.41; and a touchdown also 0.41. 
  3. First down probability 0.52, field goal 0.37, touchdown 0.34. 
  4. The 49ers had a 0.48 probability of winning if they won the challenge, and a 0.41 probability if they lost, for a challenge leverage of 0.07. 

Lines from; home team in CAPS

BUCS (0) over Falcons

First time I’m keeping track of my picks, and there’s no spread. When in doubt, go with the good defense right? Or the home team?

Jets (-1) over BILLS

Maybe the defense more than the home team.

Lions (-2.5) over STEELERS

If they can beat the Bears in Chicago, surely they can beat the Steelers in Pittsburgh… right? Right??

The Washington D.C. Football Team (+4) over EAGLES

I’m still undecided on the whole racist names in sports things. I mean I recognize that the names are racist. But there was some article that talked about how some Native Americans don’t care about the Redskins, since the term originates from natives themselves, but rather want to see the end of the Kansas City Chiefs and stuff. He also talks about high schools in predominantly native communities with the same nickname, who love it. But I don’t think a lot of Native Americans are in the Washington D.C. Football Team organization. Anyway, I’m starting Nick Foles in fantasy football this week. Last time I started him the Eagles offense scored zero points. Plus Washington is going to play better after losing to the Vikings. Regression to the mean. You don’t just play at a level of losing to the Vikings week after week. You just don’t.

BEARS (-3) over Ravens

Chicago is down, but not out. Also, right now, in a vacuum, would you rather have Josh McCown or Joe Flacco as your quarterback?

Browns (+6.5) over BENGALS

Cincy is weird. Cleveland is weird. Geno Atkins is out for the season. Plus, wouldn’t it be great if neither of Cleveland’s two first round picks were among the first 16?

Raiders (+9) over TEXANS

So close to buying shares of Case Keenum stock. But not yet.

JAGUARS (+9) over Cardinals

Come on Jags, at home, you can lose by one possession or fewer. You can do it!

Chargers (-2.5) over DOLPHINS

It is entirely possible that Philip Rivers is better at playing quarterback (this season) than the Miami Dolphins are at generating headlines (this season).

Vikings (+12.5) over SEAHAWKS

Something about not thinking double digit favorites come in often against teams that are not the Jacksonville Jaguars.

SAINTS (-3.5) over 49ers

A concussion on each side of the ball. Michael Crabtree still not back. The Saints are coming off a blowout win, but still, I don’t think Drew Brees is going to throw two pick-sixes like he did last year. (Gosh that was nice.)

GIANTS (-5) over Packers

Is Eli Manning done throwing 3+ interceptions a game? Maybe? Thing is, Giants actually have an excellent run defense.

BRONCOS (-7.5) over the Kansas City Football Team

Alex Smith did beat Drew Brees once, in a playoff game. At home.

PANTHERS (-1.5) over Patriots


p>Turns out that Carolina defense is pretty good, especially against the run, and the Patriots can’t throw, or rather, the Patriots can only throw to Gronkowski in double coverage.

I suck at gambling!

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