Today will be a bit high level/abstract, but I think it’s particularly important (given the Eagles draft standing) to talk about one of my favorite current theories regarding successful sports franchise management, namely: The Bad GM Theory (name needs some work).
First, we need to understand what makes a good/bad GM. In general, it (like all multi-party actions in life) comes down to INFORMATION ASYMMETRY. I may have discussed this before, so I apologize if I’m repeating myself. In the NFL, every team is working within the same guidelines. Everyone follows the same rules (unless you’re the Patriots) and is thus on a “level playing field”. So how do teams get an advantage? Two ways:
1) Develop better intelligence (i.e. get better information than everyone else).
2) Interpret public information better than everyone else.
The first option is what scouting is all about. Teams hire staffs of professionals to go out and evaluate players. A better scouting staff = better information = a big advantage.
The second part is talked about less often, but is arguably more important. There is so much public information on every player, that the “better intelligence” angle is extremely difficult to pull off consistently. Everyone has similar access to players. Everyone watches the same tape. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that, for the most part, NFL teams are working with very similar information regarding individual player evaluation. The key then is interpretation; what does that information mean?
The Eagles (and every other team) should repeatedly ask themselves one very important question: “What do I know that the other side doesn’t?” In any particular deal/scenario, the team with the better information is likely to come out on top. Hence the importance of recognizing Information Asymmetry.
There are two ways to view this, though. The first and most obvious is to say: I need to be the best at interpreting and gathering intelligence, ensuring I have the advantage in every transaction.
Sounds simple enough, but it’s hard to be very good and only one team can actually be “the best”.
The other way to handle it is to look for teams with WORSE information. This, as you can probably tell, is where I think teams should focus more energy. Rather than try to be the absolute best, it seems far easier to me to just identify a subset of teams who are definitively WORSE at both gathering and interpreting information.
Once you’ve identified those teams, every decision should be made with an eye towards taking advantage of those organizations.
Think of it like poker. If two professionals sit down at a random table in AC, are they likely to play “against” each other? Or will they, for the most part, stay out of each other’s way and instead focus on the other 6 (or however many) people at the table? You know, the people who are DEFINITELY worse than them at poker?
So how do you put this into practice?
Step one is accepting the assumption that you are an “average” GM. It doesn’t matter if you are actually really good (in fact, by just accepting this first part I’d venture to guess you’ve made yourself above-average). Step two is identifying GMs that are DEFINITELY worse than you are at talent evaluation.
Then it’s just a matter of engaging them. For instance, you could call up one of these GMs and try to trade with them.
The key here is that rather than relying on something difficult/unlikely (you having the best information), you are relying on something far more reasonable (a bad GM making a bad decision). You don’t have to be “good”, you just need the other guy to be as “bad” as he usually is.
What does this have to do with the Eagles/Draft?
First, it means that there is a decent chance the Eagles have no interest in one or more of the players drafted in the top 3. It’s possible that, for the Eagles, the Jaguars and Raiders are both standing there like bodyguards, ready to “take a bullet” for the Eagles by making a poor draft choice. Especially in a draft like this, with no clear-cut top prospects.
For example, let’s say the Eagles really want Ziggy Ansah. The Jaguars take him. By shear virtue of the Jaguars taking him, his quality as a prospect falls, in my estimation.
Also, let’s say a team like the Cardinals wants to trade up for the Eagles pick. Do it, regardless of compensation. After all, what’s more likely:
A) A team with a history of poor player evaluations/roster decisions making a bad trade (i.e. being the “loser”)
B) A team with a history of poor player evaluations/roster decisions being able to correctly discern which prospect (from a tightly packed bunch) is going to be both the best player of the bunch and good enough to outweigh the additional draft picks given up as compensation for moving up a few spots?
I thought so. Now as I said at the top, this is very high-level and relatively abstract. Front offices change, so you can’t just count on a bad franchise continuing to be bad. Also, a bad GM can get lucky just like a good GM can get unlucky. Above all else, this whole idea assumes that Roseman is not one of the aforementioned “bad GMs”.
Regardless, which of these headlines would you rather see during the draft:
– The Eagles made a HUGE draft-day trade with the Baltimore Ravens.
– The Eagles made a HUGE draft-day trade with the Detroit Lions.
Pretty obvious, no? All I’m doing is extrapolating from that initial reaction. To distill this entire post into one sentence, let me paraphrase Sun Tzu:
When your opponent is making a mistake, get the hell out of his way.
Or to make it more applicable, when going against a mistake-prone opponent, maximize the amount of opportunities he has to make a mistake.
Most transactions in the NFL are zero-sum games. I’d rather bank on “losers” losing than on trying to out-think “winners”.
Come draft day, if I was Howie, I’d have the 5 worst franchises on the phone almost constantly, trying to act as their conduit for getting whomever they want. Move up, move down, whatever; if the other team loses the trade, there’s a good chance I won.