Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Best Player Available? Absolutely Not.

Given that the draft is now just 9 days away, you can see the adrenaline building for those of us who love the draft.

You see the columns written and the interviews on the radio.

Everyone has a strategy and some long-thought concepts of how to best do the drafting process.

People have sent me emails detailing some interviews from some really well-respected football minds in the area. Brad Sham, Babe Laufenberg, Rick Gosselin, and Norm Hitzges have all said the same thing over the last few weeks - according to many of you.

It is the concept of "draft the best player available".

Without having heard the interviews, I want to be careful with how I argue against their specific points (although Norm and I argue about this every year). Instead, allow me to argue against the concept. Personally, I don't agree that you take the "best player available" when we are discussing the most important pick the Cowboys have had in years.

The Cowboys have not selected a pick as high as pick #9 since 2003 when they had the #5 pick to select Terence Newman from Kansas State.

So, this is a rare occasion where the Cowboys should be able to select a player with a rather unique skill set and ability. If they do this right, you would certainly hope the player they select at #9 will not be a stranger to the Pro Bowl nor the far-more exclusive All-Pro team.

First, some context; Many wise men are saying at #9, the Cowboys should simply "trust their board". Whoever they deem the best player left when the first 8 teams have finished with their selections should be the Cowboys pick. Regardless of what position he plays. Regardless of how you finished last season as a team. You should simply decide who the best football player is, and take him.

I do agree with this concept later in the draft. Just not in the 1st Round. Or, at least, not this high in the first round.

Let's talk financials.

In 2010, the #9 pick in the draft was RB CJ Spiller from Clemson. He was drafted by the Buffalo Bills and signed to a Five year, $37 million contract ($20.8M guaranteed). Without knowing how the NFL is going to change the rookie pay scale, let us continue to operate under the annual notion that rookie salaries grow up to 10% a year. So, our knowledge of history tells us that the #9 player in this draft will cost Jerry and the Cowboys a deal of about $40 million, with about $23 million guaranteed.

This, as we know, is a giant chunk of money. A $40 million dollar deal with $23 million guaranteed is a pretty aggressive free agent contract many years (Michael Huff, anyone?).

Now, in free agency, would you just sign the best player available for that amount of money? Or, would you carefully tailor your signing to the perfect need and situation for your team? Who has ever heard of a team with money just signing the best free agent available? That makes no sense on any level. Nobody would ever make the claim that you should just sign a Free Agent LB even if you are already set there.

But, for some reason, in the draft, people are constantly falling back on this cliche. Even if you have a proper stable of Wide Receivers, if Julio Jones is there, they tell you to take him and ignore your problems at many different spots. Tell me, can Julio Jones play Right Tackle? Because I need him to.

Now, let's look at pick #40 in last year's draft. The Dolphins selected Koa Misi at pick #40. The Linebacker from Utah signed with Miami last season at a price four-years, $4.73 million contract. The deal includes $2.7 million guaranteed. As a comparison, Cowboys deep-snapper, LP Ladouceur signed a five-year, $4.25 million deal to join the team. Pick #40 will make more than the deep-snapper, but not too much more.

And that is why in Rounds 2-7, I understand the concept of "best player available". Let's face it, if you need a Right Tackle or a cornerback, by pick #40, the best players are gone and you are picking players with flaws. You are also picking players that will not cost your franchise a major asset if you get it wrong (although, the Cowboys obviously need to get #40 right). If in the 3rd Round the best player left is Andy Dalton or another QB, I am fine doing something like that. But, not at #9.

At #9, the players are all thought of as remarkable talents. They come at a remarkable cost. I do not buy for a second that the Cowboys should take a QB or a WR because they have a slightly better grade than the DE or RT on the board.

Anyone who watched the Cowboys play in 2010 knows that the team has severe needs. Those needs need to be addressed right away. I am not saying take a ridiculous reach at #9, but I am saying that to ignore the Cowboys unique and special situation would be insane. Are those who want the "best player available" at every pick willing to take 7 Tight Ends if the best player available at each pick is a Tight End? Of course, not. Right?

This is a $40 million dollar gamble. The Cowboys must get this right. And to take Blaine Gabbart or Cam Newton instead of players that they desperately need at positions that must be addressed is just not smart. Trading down makes sense because you are giving your draft an extra premium pick or two that can further enhance your team's haul.

But, let's be smart. Spending $40 million and a pick higher than you have had in 8 years on a player who plays a position you already have covered would be a ridiculous way to improve this team. If you are 0-16, take the best player available. But, you are a good draft and a decent free agency period away from competing for the playoffs and the NFC East crown.


shawn said...

The last statement here is one that I think needs to be examined further: I'm not sold on the fact that the Cowboys are a draft away from contention--we need to look at the holes and age on this team and ask: how many drafts will it take to fill them--and I think the answer might be closer to three.

The Beerleys said...

3 drafts away? No way. Maybe 3 drafts away from impacting this team 5-7 years down the road. But this team is very serviceable with a few upgrades in today's parity filled NFL. Protect the QB. Rush the QB. Pretty much the name of the game.

Kyle said...

I had never thought of it that way, and you make a good point. However, your argument is based on a flawed assumption--that you set an amount of money to spend in free agency and then pick a player, rather than the other way around. This is what makes the draft fundamentally different. Your spot, and therefore your money, are set first, and then you pick your player. The reason people say to draft talent over need is because, given that you are "forced" to spend X amount of money, and have a guarantee of Y quality of player based on your spot in the draft, the most efficient pick is grabbing the most talented player.

Having said that, I think the best strategy is to identify maybe the top two or three needs, and then pick the most talented player out of those with your top pick. The odds are that, if you have a lot of needs like the Cowboys, the most talented player left will be a position you need. You won't reach and you still get an "efficient" pick in a position of need.

Anonymous said...

You are leaving out the "and a decent free agency period away" portion of Bob's arguement. Thus, your respective arguements are flawed.

All for not, as the Cows are almost certainly to frustratingly trade away the #9 pick anyway.

DiscoverLearnPlay said...

I'm a P1 with a nominal sports brain - but I can't see anything helping the cows enough to make them serious playoff or sb contenders - it seems they, like the stars (and perhaps the mavs this year as well) may be stuck in the middle of their prospective packs... tired head and frustrating months ahead for sure...go rangers