Sorry for the silence recently, haven’t had much time to get a post up. However, the draft is approaching quickly, and there’s much to do in preparation. I do intend to compile the PVM rankings again this year, with a few updates to the formula. For now, though, I want to look at things from a higher level.
Over the past few weeks I’ve seen a lot of mock drafts and projections. Many of them have the Eagles selecting a WR in the first round. I’ve spent a lot of time in the past explaining why it’s foolish to project a specific position for any team, assuming their drafting the correct way, but this particular projection has other issues as well.
First, there seems to be a pretty big inconstancy in some of the logic. The basic story seems to be: Without DeSean Jackson, the Eagles really need another weapon on offense.
To me, that makes very little sense. Perhaps if the Eagles were an incompetent organization. But they’re not. The Eagles did not NEED to cut Jackson. There was no deadline or legal problem or imminent salary cap issue. I disagree pretty strongly with how the team handled that whole situation, but I think it’s safe to say the Eagles would NOT have released Jackson if they felt it would create a huge hole in the roster.
The counter to that is to suggest that the Eagles felt comfortable cutting Jackson precisely BECAUSE they knew they could get a good WR in the draft. On the surface, it makes sense. At least it does until you remember that the Eagles can’t KNOW ANYTHING about the draft. It’s impossible to project who will and will not be available when the Eagles pick. Banking on a certain player or one of 2/3 players to be there when you pick is an absolutely terrible strategy. Nothing Howie or Chip has done to date suggests they’re that stupid.
Morevoer, if the Eagles felt they could replace D-Jax in the draft, why wouldn’t they just wait and make sure? Again, the Eagles didn’t need to cut Jackson WHEN they did it. To my knowledge (and please correct me if I’m wrong), there was no bonus or salary cap impact that would have ben different had they waited until draft day.
Put simply, if the Eagles felt that they needed to:
a) Get rid of Jackson
b) replace him with another weapon at WR
then they would have been much better served by waiting until the draft. There just isn’t a good reason to believe the front office wouldn’t have realized this or wouldn’t have cared. Therefore, it’s likely NOT an accurate read of the team.
Instead, I think there’s more credence to the asset allocation theory behind Jackson’s release. Basically, the Eagles may have decided that they do not wish to tie up a lot of cap space in the WR position. Paying Jackson $12 mil a year obviously kills that goal. Instead, Roseman might be looking to teams like the Patriots and Saints for a template. Of course, both of those teams have HOF QBs, so it’s a tough template to match, but the basic logic is sound when you consider the main point of today’s post:
Chip Kelly’s Alpha
Let’s start with a straightforward question: What is Chip Kelly’s competitive advantage (if any)?
The real answer, at this point, is “we don’t know”. However, we can probably all agree that if he does have an advantage, it’s the result of his offensive abilities. Assuming that’s the case, it raises another question: In a salary-capped league, what’s the best way to leverage that advantage?
If Chip’s competitive advantage is the ability to outperform on offense, does that mean the team should devote more resources to that side of the ball, or less? The answer, at least as I see it, is very clearly LESS.
Remember that each team, by virtue of the salary cap, has a finite allotment of resources with which to build a roster. Given the same allocation on offense, we’re assuming Chip Kelly can squeeze more production from it than an average coach.
This needs a more detailed treatment (which I intend to give it), but the key is that there is an upper limit to how good offenses can be. I will fill this in with data later, but conceptually, we’re talking about diminishing marginal returns. Adding a great player to a mediocre offense will have a larger marginal effect on production than adding that same player to an already great offense. There is only one ball, and only so many plays an offense can run (even when going at a high pace like the Eagles). Think back to the 2007 Patriots. Adding another Pro Bowl WR to that team would not have made much of a difference in terms of points scored; they simply could not get much better.
Applying that to the Eagles situation, it raises an interesting strategic question. If we assume Chip can utilize offensive resources at a higher rate than other coaches, what’s the optimal allocation for him?
As I said above, I need to revisit this point with data, but my guess is it’s a relatively low amount. The Eagles, because they have Chip Kelly, can achieve an above-average offense while spending just an average amount. That’s Chip Kelly’s alpha. If he’s as good an offensive coach as we hope, it could be a MASSIVE advantage. Every dollar saved on the offense can be applied to the defense.
The upshot is, the Eagles probably don’t need to be using 1st round draft picks on “weapons”. Naturally, the team needs to reach a minimum threshold of talent on that side of the ball, and perhaps they’re no there yet. But in theory, we should be seeing a lot more spending on defense than on offense.
Looking at it from that perspective, the Eagles should probably NOT take a WR in the first round of the draft. There’s certainly some BPA/relative-value analysis that has to go into that, but barring something crazy, a WR is unlikely to be the “optimal” pick.
That assumes the Eagles don’t think they’re far from the optimal offensive allocation point. We don’t know that, but the Jackson release might provide some insight here. Specifically, the Eagles just got rid of a star WR because he was a) an asshole and b) expensive. While rookie WR are much less expensive than Jackson would have been, the fact is in a few years they’ll be right back where they started. I think they avoid it and rely on Ertz’s development, Maclin’s return, and Chip Kelly’s alpha to get by on offense, allowing them to over-allocate to the defense.
That’s the theory at least.