Home > FNQB, NFL > FNQB: How Much $ Is a Draft Pick Worth? Part I

FNQB: How Much $ Is a Draft Pick Worth? Part I

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At the point when the Redskins signed DT Albert Haynesworth to a contract worth in excess of $12 million a year, guaranteed over the first three years of the deal, it actually seemed like a bit of a steal.  When it comes to acquiring an elite player, you either have to develop him yourself, or you have to pay well above what many would consider a “reasonable” price tag.  The Redskins realized that a truly elite player qualifies for free agency once every eight to ten years.  Reggie White was an elite free agent.  Drew Brees was a pro bowl quarterback in free agency, but many feared he would never play effectively again because of a surgically repaired shoulder.

Then Redskins VP of Football Ops Vinny Cerrato has a pretty simple team building philosophy: younger, and better.  He wasn’t concerned with matching players to any scheme, figuring he had coaches to make it all work.  Haynesworth was perfect.  He was younger than incumbent no. 1 DT Cornelius Griffin, he was younger than linemates Phillip Daniels, Renaldo Wynn, and Andre Carter.  And he was a highly regarded defensive tackle…players like this simply never hit free agency.  The Redskins acquired the league’s best defensive tackle without so much as giving up a seventh round pick.

Of course, they gave up a lot of dollars, and as it continues to play out, the team now looks like the one guy caught holding the bag when the cops come.  Haynesworth had a typically strong 2009 season — he was awesome in short yardage situations — but he ended up light in the statistical categories by which fans (improperly) grade DTs: sacks, tackles, and forced fumbles.  And the team finished 4-12, meaning that they didn’t get all that much out of Haynesworth’s dominance.  Haynesworth then decided that the team’s methodology for training players in the offseason didn’t work, and that he would have to work out on his own to get himself back in the best shape.  Of course, the Redskins decided the same when they fired their coaching staff and brought in Mike Shanahan — who stressed and then demanded full participation in offseason work.  Haynesworth didn’t show up, and now has requested a trade, and while he figures to show up for training camp, this money situation is going to get very ugly before it’s settled.

One thing that everyone can agree on now is that the Redskins would have much less of a headache if they had simply avoided the player-friendly price tag and went forward trying to develop their own talent at the position.  That’s easy to save now.  The bigger question is — without the benefit of hindsight — how much money did the Redskins save by signing Haynesworth, and saving themselves a draft pick at the position?  In another FNQB edition, I’ll attempt to take the next step and answer the question of how much money a typical draft pick is worth.

To start, let’s propose a hypothetical: a sign and trade.  However, to better illustrate a point, I’m going to avoid using the Redskins altogether.  Most teams aren’t in the financial situation the Redskins are, and most teams value their draft picks better.  One team that we know, for sure, was in on the Haynesworth bidding, probably at a number greater than what Washington had offered, was the smaller market Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

If Tennessee had decided to trade Haynesworth to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in an agreement to use their franchise tag on him, he probably would have brought future (in this case 2010) first round considerations, as well as a mid round pick.  This is big because it would not have impeded the ability of the Bucs to draft their quarterback, Josh Freeman, and really, it wouldn’t have changed much at all except the make-up of the DT position in Tampa right now.  For that package, a third in 2009 and a first in 2010, the Bucs would have had Haynesworth for the 2009 season, and the right to negotiate an exclusive contract with him over the next year.  Since, reportedly, the Bucs had offered Haynesworth more than the Redskins did, we’ll work off the assumption that the market rate for Haynesworth was $42 million guaranteed over the first three years, and then a relatively cheap fourth year up to 4/$48 before some meaningless non-guaranteed money in his age 32, 33, and 34 seasons.  Those are just the numbers we have, and the more speculation I can cut out of the analysis, the more accurate this effort will be.

Nnamdi Asomugha actually bested the Haynesworth deal, getting a $45 million deal for just three years, in part because the Raiders had little leverage with him other than crazy bucks.  Other recent defensive extensions of note include: Texans LB Demeco Ryans is going to get about $9 million over the first three years of his deal from the Texans, Colts DE Dwight Freeney who got $10 million/year for the first three years of his deal, NTs Vince Wilfork ($8+ million) and Marcus Stroud ($7 million), Saints LB Jonathon Vilma (just under $8 million), and Steelers LB James Harrison’s deal which is worth about $7 million per year.  Cowboys LB DeMarcus Ware’s deal is for just a fraction under Haynesworth: $40 million (compared to $42) in the first three years, and 4/$45 before the renegotiation point (compared to 4/$48).  Patrick Willis’ deal is similarly frontloaded, and worth more than $10 million per year in the first three years, as are recent cornerback extensions of Dallas’ Terence Newman and Carolina’s Chris Gamble.

The consensus is that elite players that aren’t especially young can seem to pull in between $7 and $10 million a year unless they have the benefit of the open market and free agency to drive up the price.  DeMarcus Ware and Nnamdi Asomugha are the exceptions: they asked for the same kind of money that Haynesworth and Julius Peppers requested, but managed to get their organizations to pony up for their services w/o having access to several offers.  Ignoring the outliers, I can argue that going back to the Bucs hypothetical, a sign and trade type deal would save them — at a cost of $10.3 million/year — about $3.7 million dollars in guaranteed money per year over the first three years of the deal for the exact same years of Haynesworth’s career.  In other words, the money premium that that Redskins paid to get Haynesworth over a similar player who would have costed draft pick value to earn negotiating right over is equal to $11 million dollars prorated over three years.

That $11 million offers no increase in player skill, but merely keeping the draft pick(s) offers the ability to add another player (or two) at a rate below market, which theoretically cuts into the value of that $11 million by some amount.  Our third round pick is going to average about 1 million dollars annually on his rookie contract.  Using some comparable second contract values for players already on your roster, it appears the going two-year rate for players already on your roster — but who aren’t drawing much, if any, free agent interest — lies in the range of $6-$7 million over the first two years of the deal.  New Orleans WR Devery Henderson, Washington QB Todd Collins, and Steelers S Ryan Clark all fall in this range.

There’s no direct monetary advantage to having the extra first round pick — as in our Bucs scenario — so the prorated annual money saved number for avoiding the free agent market premium for an elite defensive free agent is going to be about $8 million dollars, prorated annually over the first three years of the deal.  It’s meaningful, but not a crushing amount.

It would be wrong to conclude there and suggest that the only kind of value in professional football comes from dollars, however, this is going to be our baseline for next Friday’s analysis: if, instead of trying to outbid the Washington Redskins for Haynesworth’s services, they were able to negotiate a sign-and-trade deal with Tennessee, the Bucs could have expected their elite free agent plus $8 million dollars additional to spend on football operations at some point between 2009 and 2011.

Next Friday’s analysis will center around two things: how the Tampa Bay Bucs franchise would be different if they had acquired a player such as Haynesworth in 2010, and whether or not they are just better off with Gerald McCoy as their first round choice in 2010.  Specifically, I’ll look at player value outside of the money, and see if the total package really makes acquiring an elite free agent a move that doesn’t always make a lot of sense, and the value of young talent with developmental upside over the allure of the players who are already dominant.

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