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Statistical analysis: Redskins' draft picks vs. free agents

Statistical analysis

Since my first post here, I've received several requests to do an analysis of building a team based on free agent players versus draft picks. Quite a few readers are looking for proof that the Redskins' habit of trading away draft picks and paying for overpriced free agents has led to their woes in recent seasons.

Fortunately, there has already been a thorough study that found draft picks, in all rounds, are bargains compared to a veteran player who could be expected to produce the same level of performance. In other words, $1 million spent on a draft pick buys a higher level of performance than the same amount spent on a free agent.

In 2005, economists Cade Massey and Richard Thaler completed their study of hundreds of draft picks and veteran players. Despite all the attention on the escalating salaries of the very top picks, drafted players in their initial contracts outperform veterans signed for the same price. Massey and Thaler found that the most "surplus value" of draft picks comes at the end of the first round and top of the second round.

Because the worst teams draft at the top of the first round, where the surplus is least, the paper was titled the "Loser's Curse." A couple of years ago, I summed up how each NFL team did in terms of surplus draft value from 2000-07. The Redskins came out third worst in the league, and the pattern hasn't changed much since then.

But there is also a "Winner's Curse" at work. Signing veteran free agents is like an auction, with multiple teams bidding on various players. In any auction, the winner is the bidder who values the prize the most. But because no one can perfectly estimate the future value of a player, each team will overestimate or underestimate all free agents to some degree.

Ironically, the team that is the least accurate in valuing each player will most often be the team that overestimates the highest, ending up as the highest bidder. This is the Winner's Curse, and the Redskins have been among its prime victims in recent years. It's why free agents are so often disappointments. (Perhaps we should call it Archuleta's Curse.)

With so much invested in high-priced players such as Bruce Smith, Adam Archuleta, Brandon Lloyd, Jeff George, Deion Sanders, Jason Taylor and now Albert Haynesworth, there was little cap room left to add depth. And to compound the problem, the Redskins had precious few picks remaining with which to add valuable, low-cost backups.


Brian Burke is a former Navy pilot who has given up his F/A-18 for the less dangerous hobby of football analysis. He is the creator of Advanced NFL Stats, a Web site about football, statistics and game theory.

By Brian Burke  | September 23, 2010; 1:39 PM ET
Categories:  Free agency, Statistical analysis  
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Comments

"In 2005, economists Cade Massey and Richard Thaler completed their study of hundreds of draft picks and veteran players. Despite all the attention on the escalating salaries of the very top picks, drafted players in their initial contracts outperform veterans signed for the same price. Massey and Thaler found that the most "surplus value" of draft picks comes at the end of the first round and top of the second round."

This is why you don't trade a 2nd round draft pick for Vincent Jackson.

Posted by: psps23 | September 23, 2010 1:48 PM | Report abuse

Don't forget the:

Baltimorons

Alaska Questions

Idaho Butyoureahooker's

Catskill Mice

Hamburg Helpers

Bahn Jovis

New Jersey Earl-Campbells

Jamaica Yer-Field-Goals

Posted by: No_Punt_Intended | September 23, 2010 1:51 PM | Report abuse

not an update on injured players...AH..AArmstrong...among others

not an update on the adjustments that the defense is going to make, from last week to this week....

not an update on how much KWilliams will factor into the game plan...

not an update on something CURRENT about the game plan for this week
but this...WOW...

Posted by: BeantownGreg1 | September 23, 2010 1:51 PM | Report abuse

There is an old Bob Dylan lyric that popped into my head as I read this post:

"I don't need a weatherman to tell me which way the wind blows..."

But I don't want to be an ingrate, so thanks for the info.

Posted by: WaitingGuilty | September 23, 2010 1:53 PM | Report abuse

Man, posting here in the morning is soooo much better. poopy and all his sock puppets take control of the board in the evening and early morning hours. Drives me nuts.

Posted by: hessone | September 23, 2010 6:54 AM |
--------------------

HAHAHHAHAHAHHAHAHHHAHAHAHHAHAA. We all knew hessone couldn't last long before he had to resort back to his old ways of bring me up.

And as scamp pointed out, he was doing that before 7 am. You know what I was doing when you were making your early morning post hessone? I was nicely snuggled in my bed, under the blankets keeping warm, as it got nice and cool last night here in So-Cal.

So while I was sleeping and dreaming big fancy dreams, you were on here posting about me.

ahahahhahahahahaha

Posted by: Poopy_McPoop | September 23, 2010 1:54 PM | Report abuse

Oh, and as far as all this "statistical analysis" is concerned, Homer Simpson summed it up best when he said, (in the episode Homer the Vigilante):

"Oh, people can come up with statistics to prove anything, Kent. 14% of people know that."

Posted by: Poopy_McPoop | September 23, 2010 1:56 PM | Report abuse

Good thing we now have a staff statistician to tell us that we have sucked for quite some time (an why).

Posted by: PlayAction | September 23, 2010 1:58 PM | Report abuse

Nice No Punt Intended... I must be blond though cause I don't get the New Jersey one....

Posted by: Rypien11 | September 23, 2010 2:02 PM | Report abuse

Winston-Salem Cigarette-Witches

Posted by: Rypien11 | September 23, 2010 12:52 PM


Nearly spat out my coffee. Nice one.

Posted by: freakzilla | September 23, 2010 2:02 PM | Report abuse

Wow. Stats that prove overpaying free agents while dumping draft picks is a loser move.

Great.

Posted by: SkinsfaninKaneohe | September 23, 2010 2:04 PM | Report abuse

"What I really love about Portis is that he doesn't block in pass protection...he HITS"

Maybe he should get switched to fullback.

Posted by: MistaMoe | September 23, 2010 2:05 PM | Report abuse

Poopy,

Ya gotta supply your own knobs!

Posted by: BurgwithaU | September 23, 2010 2:07 PM | Report abuse

What statistics cannot prove are just how massive my poo's are.

Posted by: Poopy_McPoop | September 23, 2010 2:07 PM | Report abuse

Nice No Punt Intended... I must be blond though cause I don't get the New Jersey one....

Posted by: Rypien11 | September 23, 2010 2:02 PM |

There are a million appropriate references for a new jersey but the first that came to my mind was a slow-mo replay of Earl Campbell, with a would-be tackler hanging on his jersey and Campbell literally ripping out of his jersey to break the tackle with only a remnant of the so-called "unbreakable" jerseys half on him, half off and partly around his waist.

I'm sure you can find it on youtube. It's effing epic. Duse was a straight up truck.

Posted by: No_Punt_Intended | September 23, 2010 2:08 PM | Report abuse

I'd love to join a drunken posse.

Posted by: Poopy_McPoop | September 23, 2010 2:12 PM | Report abuse

Nice No Punt Intended... I must be blond though cause I don't get the New Jersey one....

Posted by: Rypien11 | September 23, 2010 2:02 PM |

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tfJybuzkMT0

It's about 6 seconds in. I get chills every time I watch this and have to fight the urge to go straight up Terry-Tate on the fools in my office.

Enjoy.

Posted by: No_Punt_Intended | September 23, 2010 2:13 PM | Report abuse

Orlando ver theres
Puerto Rico Suaves
Hungary Hungary Hippos

Posted by: PAskinsfan17 | September 23, 2010 2:13 PM | Report abuse

No problems with the run game? Yeah, right. Clinton must be living in some alternate Bizarro universe, on some lonely asteroid floating aimlessly between the planets Denial and Delusion.

But what I’m really interested in is hearing more about Clinton’s impressions of “shorties in the hood,” and more specifically, the decision by Sesame Street producers to kick Katie Perry out of the neighborhood.

See
http://voices.washingtonpost.com/tvblog/2010/09/sesame-workshop-yanks-katy-per.html

Am curious to know, does Clinton believe she “waz axin fo it” because she showed up on set dressed as a female, or does he think that everyone’s favorite fuzzball (Elmo) lost it when he caught Katie “cutting an eye” on his package?

Posted by: Vic1 | September 23, 2010 2:14 PM | Report abuse

Fighter pilot nickname = Virgin

Posted by: mack1 | September 23, 2010 2:15 PM | Report abuse

Brian Burke = Nerd


Is this Pabrainiac in disguise?

Posted by: monk811 | September 23, 2010 2:15 PM | Report abuse

We all knew hessone couldn't last long before he had to resort back to his old ways of bring me up.

Posted by: Poopy_McPoop | September 23, 2010 1:54 PM

The old Hessmeister accused me of being you again this morning too Poopy...I think he has a crush on you.

Posted by: PlayAction | September 23, 2010 2:18 PM | Report abuse

I see that captain obvious rides again.

Posted by: DikShuttle | September 23, 2010 2:19 PM | Report abuse

Brian Burke = Nerd

Posted by: monk811 | September 23, 2010 2:15 PM

Hey monk...wonder whatever happened to that soccer blogger that you called a nerd and scared off?

Posted by: PlayAction | September 23, 2010 2:20 PM | Report abuse

BREAKIN NEWZ

@TBBuccaneers: Coach Morris just said rookie Cody Grimm will step in as the new starter at free safety. #Hokies

Posted by: 4thFloor | September 23, 2010 2:20 PM | Report abuse

I think 4th should be getting a stipend from the WP for posting actual football news up here....as opposed to the breaking news, signing Bruce Smith was a bad idea....

Posted by: BeantownGreg1 | September 23, 2010 2:24 PM | Report abuse

Beeps peeps

Posted by: manlius1 | September 23, 2010 2:27 PM | Report abuse

beeps

Posted by: BeantownGreg1 | September 23, 2010 2:27 PM | Report abuse

I read Massey and Thaler (well...its close to 60 pages so i actually scanned it). I might have missed it but I can't find in that link where they determined "Despite all the attention on the escalating salaries of the very top picks, drafted players in their initial contracts outperform veterans signed for the same price."

And if I did miss that, it is because that is NOT the focus of the study. Their study, titled "The Loser’s Curse:
Overconfidence vs. Market Efficiency in the
National Football League Draft", focuses almost completely on the draft and the value/performance of picks in the NFL draft.

In fact, the study assumes the following: "To estimate the value teams assign to various performance
levels we start with the assumption that the labor market for veteran players (specifically, those in their 6th
year in the league) is efficient... Players at this point have also had five years to establish their quality level, so teams should have a good sense of what they are buying, especially when compared to rookie players with no professional experience."

Simply knowing about the Redskins should tell anyone that this assumption is false. This study does not appear, to me at least, to tell us anything about which approach (building a team using the FA approach or building through the draft) is statistically better. It does seem to tell us a lot about the value of draft picks. This post in general simply seems to tell us the same old story - that the Redskins tended to draft poorly and tended to overpay and sign bad FAs. That is the same thing my 11 year old and I were discussing the other day. Certainly not news to any Skins fan.

Posted by: amaranthpa | September 23, 2010 2:38 PM | Report abuse

"I'd love to join a drunken posse...."

drunk cowboy: Didja ever notice how sheep are just as soft and pretty as women?

really drunk brokeback cowboy: Didja ever notice it's hard for me to understand what you say with so much wool pubic hair in your mouth?

Bro', go get a toothbrush.

Posted by: MistaMoe | September 23, 2010 2:40 PM | Report abuse

I find these types of analyses horribly flawed. While a $1mm draft pick outperforms on average a $1mm free agent, who cares? Teams are not evaluated on wins per $ spent-- just wins, period.

These types of "bang for the buck" arguments are just useless if your goals is to win a Superbowl, damn the cost. I'm sure Buffalo and other small market teams can find solace in these studies.

Don't try and trot out the salary cap. It's never hindered the Redskins from signing who they wanted EVER. It's basically irrelevant, because the Redskins can pay in cash.

The important question is when a team trades a draft pick for a free agent whether,REGARDLESS OF MONEY, the free agent outperforms the draftable player forgone. Here the question is more difficult. I'm not saying the Redskins have done well here (TJ Duckett anyone?), but it's not all bad either (McNabb for a 2nd rounder?)

Posted by: MB_202 | September 23, 2010 2:42 PM | Report abuse

If we then plot Larry Johnson's YPC average on a Hubbert Curve we'll notice that his production dropped off to nil in recent years, which is why he was cut.

Me + 3rd quarter Cooley TD / past experience = "negative nancy" thesis

Posted by: BrooklynSkins | September 23, 2010 3:06 PM | Report abuse

This author places way too fuch faith in quantative analysis. The entire premis is value for money.... I don't disagree with that assertion and that lower first round is best. But so what! If you're the Redskins and the amount of money is a secondary issue then why do you CARE? Stupid article. A far more accurate analysis would be that Redskins management knew nothing about leading men... About team chemistry... About evaluating how talent fits into systems... About talent overall.... Just a terrible buffoon operation.

Posted by: egrib | September 23, 2010 3:49 PM | Report abuse

This author places way too fuch faith in quantative analysis. The entire premis is value for money.... I don't disagree with that assertion and that lower first round is best. But so what! If you're the Redskins and the amount of money is a secondary issue then why do you CARE? Stupid article. A far more accurate analysis would be that Redskins management knew nothing about leading men... About team chemistry... About evaluating how talent fits into systems... About talent overall.... Just a terrible buffoon operation.

Posted by: egrib | September 23, 2010 3:49 PM | Report abuse

Ridiculous premise. The reason why it appears to have legs is simple. The area of the draft where the author claims the best value is, ie the end of the 1st round, is where the best teams are drafting. Those teams surround that draft pick with an already great team and therefor he appears to play well.

At the top of the first round the players cost more than most FA and there for are less likely to perform as they have no track record at all in the NFL.

The real problem with getting FA and giving up draft picks is that it is like getting a used car. You may get a few good years out of it, but then you have to replace it with another, where if you bought the car new you could have gotten more years out of it. With a used car you get a chance to look at the crash and maintenance records and decide if it is a good car. With a new one you hope you get a good one, and assume it but sometimes get a lemon.

Big difference is that with a new car you get a warranty. With a draft pick you don't. So if you are smart and a good evaluator of talent, character, and chemistry you can do just as well in FA as the draft. If not, keep your picks and ask Kiper.

The real gems are actually rounds 5+. in those cases you pay the minimum and if they fail who cares, but once every few years you get a Russ Grimm or Joe Jacoby that you paid nothing and get probowl play.

The skins problem is that they did not choose enough diamonds in the rough to offset their FA spending, and of course for a long time picked up FA from a 3 year old Fantasy Football magazine. Now to be respectable we were forced to go get some key pieces to be competitive and will have to endure at least one more draft without a big chance at making a splash with young players.

I believe it will come after next year but it may include trading away a good player for some extra picks. This concept seems foreign to this team that they may have to get rid of a good player to improve next year or the year after. We have a few guys people want. of course we want them too but sometimes you have to bite the bullet. Cooley, Portis, Thomas, Kelley, Moss, Mcintosh, Wilson, Dockery, All players that have value on the market. FA is not bad thing, it just has to be played both ways so you still have some picks to work with.

Posted by: dbrine1261 | September 23, 2010 4:09 PM | Report abuse

This is why you don't trade a 2nd round draft pick for Vincent Jackson.

Posted by: psps23 | September 23, 2010 1:48 PM | Report abuse

Or a third. Or possibly even a fourth.

Posted by: Pepper5 | September 23, 2010 5:04 PM | Report abuse

The important question is when a team trades a draft pick for a free agent whether, REGARDLESS OF MONEY, the free agent outperforms the draftable player forgone. Here the question is more difficult."Posted by: MB_202"

Problem is, you don't trade draft picks for free agents -- you just sign them to your roster. If you mean trading a veteran who is going to be a free agent in exchange for draft picks, then there are a number of variables involved, such as team needs. It's entirely possible for one team to 'need' a particular player more than another, which skews relative value.

That's probably why the variable of $$ was introduced, as a way to measure value.

Posted by: Samson151 | September 23, 2010 9:26 PM | Report abuse

I always thought the psychological value attached to draft picks has to do with the fact that they represent the unknown. There's plenty of room for fantasy. You can imagine who the Dolphins will select with that 2nd rounder they got for the unwanted (by Miami) Jason Taylor. Once they draft Pat White, however, you discover the reality, and it's not that great. You think, maybe we should have traded Jason for an actual player, rather than a pig in a poke.

That's the game, I guess.

Posted by: Samson151 | September 23, 2010 9:49 PM | Report abuse

The Redskins will sign Randy Moss in the offseason, since he has proven to be the Cowboys's "Curse of the Bambino"

Posted by: bernard_thompson | September 23, 2010 10:09 PM | Report abuse

"Ridiculous premise. The reason why it appears to have legs is simple. The area of the draft where the author claims the best value is, ie the end of the 1st round, is where the best teams are drafting. Those teams surround that draft pick with an already great team and therefor he appears to play well."

If this is indeed true, it should be easy enough to check. Do players selected near the end of the first round perform better than those selected earlier? I suspect that in fact it isn't true, but go ahead and prove me wrong.

Posted by: Samson151 | September 23, 2010 11:48 PM | Report abuse

how about naming a team in northern VA after my old dart team:

Loudoun Drunk

Posted by: stromi | September 24, 2010 12:06 AM | Report abuse

Louisiana Herhotfriend

Posted by: stromi | September 24, 2010 12:09 AM | Report abuse

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