Home > Draft, NFL > Brady Quinn to Denver and Why Everything You Know is Wrong

Brady Quinn to Denver and Why Everything You Know is Wrong

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On Sunday afternoon, the Browns dealt quarterback Brady Quinn to the Denver Broncos for a 6th round pick in 2011, a conditional 6th rounder in the *conditional* 2012 draft, and fan-favorite fullback Peyton Hillis.  For Cleveland, this trade is nothing more than a glorified release.  For the Broncos, it could make their franchise (or, you know, it might not).

The first premise of this trade that needs to be stated is the fact that, with the playoffs on the line for the final four weeks of the 2009 season, the Broncos took the offense out of Kyle Orton’s hands.  This is a pretty simple premise, but necessary to understand why the Broncos are looking to address the quarterback position.  If you look at just the raw numbers in a direct comparison between Brady Quinn in Cleveland, and Kyle Orton in Chicago/Denver, it is difficult to support an argument that Quinn is better.  Kyle Orton has completion percentages the last two years of 58.5 and 62.1%.  Quinn has produced at 50.6% and 53.1% over the same timeframe.  For their careers, Orton and Quinn are stylistically similar in that their greatest asset is their ability to avoid turnovers in critical situations, and both tend to sport a reverse correlation between passing game yardage and winning.  This is to say, as opposed to a player like Peyton Manning or Philip Rivers, who win games on the quality of their passing, Quinn and Orton both tend to win on the quality of situational play (red zone, third down), passing yards be damned.

But if we go to the win percentage rate stats, available over at Brian Burke’s advanced NFL stats blog, it’s clear that the anecdotal evidence backs up the notion that Quinn and Orton aren’t all that far apart.  WPA is designed to be an anecdotal stat.  If you wanted to measure quarterback efficiency, you could use any number of conventional or sabermetric stats to do so.  Here, we’re just looking at the effect that plays involving a team’s quarterback have on winning and losing.  We’ve established that Brady Quinn hasn’t put together any meaningful passing efficiency in his professional career, however, when you compare his “winning” to Orton’s “winning”, we’re talking about two guys who are pretty close to the average.  Orton’s WPA/start comes out to about +0.1,  and Quinn’s WPA/start comes out to -0.05.  That basically means that, all else equal, Orton’s 2009 performance wins about two more games than Quinn’s over the duration of the season.

Of course, in making the trade, Brian Xanders and Josh McDaniels are emphatically stating that they don’t believe all else is equal.  And why would they?  Quinn badly outplayed Derek Anderson this season while they both tried to learn a new offense, and Orton didn’t produce at a fraction of the production Denver gave up when they traded Jay Cutler.  If you humor me and assume just for a second that Jay Cutler and Derek Anderson are equals (I’ll adjust for this obvious fallacy in a second), the differences between the pre-Orton/Quinn offenses in Denver and Cleveland respectively are stark.  In the past, the differences between the quality of the Denver offense and Cleveland offense has ranged from no discernible difference in 2007 all the way to 6 wins difference in 2008.

What I’m about to do is in no way scientific, or even good practice: if we regress that 2008 figure to the mean a little bit, I’m okay with establishing a difference between the pre-2009 Browns/Broncos offenses at 4 wins, and then we still need to adjust to take out the difference in quality of the quarterbacks that preceded Quinn and Orton.  Jay Cutler was in a terrible offense and produced about one-half win over 16 games in WPA, Anderson, also in a terrible offense, was just under -2 wins over the course of half a season.  To go any further in the calculation would be to compare apples to oranges, so I’ll just point at that spread and suggest that, at most, we should cut the difference between the Browns offense and the Broncos offense in half based on how their totals have been affected by the quarterbacks who played in the offense.  We’ll just say that any quarterback who leaves the Browns and goes to Denver should see a boost of about 2 wins over the course of an entire season.

This is a conservative estimate for change of offensive environment.  But it completely eliminates any statistical advantage that Kyle Orton has over Brady Quinn in WPA.  It’s impossible to use these fairly abstract adjustments to be able to forecast how either player will progress over the course of the offseason and into next year, but even if Brady Quinn doesn’t make a great improvement from his performance in Cleveland, he’s still likely to offer the same sort of productivity the team was getting out of Orton in 2009. Therefore, with Quinn’s untapped upside, Orton should only hold onto the job through strong improvement in the offseason.  If Orton can be a 64% completion guy who throws twice as many TDs as INTs and for more than 7.o YPA, Denver probably won’t be able to get that production out of Quinn.  But that would be a huge improvement for Orton, and the Broncos need to keep their options open.  Quinn will need to improve his dreadful completion percentage to ever be a productive QB, but a 3% increase from 2008 to 2009 given a scheme change is a positive sign.

The bigger picture is this: the Broncos are not limited from making a play on a first round quarterback with the 11th overall pick, and Jimmy Clausen figures to be there at that point.  The Quinn trade does not in any way limit the Broncos from pursuing an option they may feel is greater than either Orton or Quinn (though, anecdotally, if Clausen is this guy, I might be worried about the conclusions their scouts have made).  Clausen is a different kind of player who won’t throw underneath quite as much, but it makes little sense to draft Clausen and get rid of Brandon Marshall.

The Broncos have plenty of options, but replacing Chris Simms on the roster with Brady Quinn fills their biggest need as of right now.  Filling needs before the draft opens up the board towards the value as dictated to the decision makers by the scouts and information department, and that generally leads to successful drafting.

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