Fun With NFL Payrolls and Draft “Value”

It seems that the payrolls of NFL teams can be interpreted in many different ways. This is apparent from a pair of statements in articles over the last couple of days.

On Sunday, Dan Shaughnessy wrote the following:

If the Jets win the AFC Championship at Heinz Field, perhaps the Krafts will be inspired to spend a little more money on payroll next year (are we supposed to feel good that the Patriots have the third-lowest payroll in the NFL?).

Today, Mike Reiss has this:

“We’re comparing teams by a simple, bottom-line metric: Player payroll dollars spent per regular-season victory,” Hruby writes. “Using the most recent and accurate salary figures available, we’re also examining which clubs have been penny-wise and which have been pound-foolish.”

Hruby ranks the Patriots fourth in the NFL — their $152.73 million was the second highest in the league and the team produced 14 regular-season wins.

So which is it?

This is a game I’ve heard the likes of Ron Borges, Michael Felger, and Shaughnessy play. They interpret the payroll one way so that they can accuse the Krafts of being “cheap” and others calculate things out so that it shows that the Patriots are near the top of the league in payroll. They cite bonuses, “dead money” and actual salary paid for that season as variables that can be swapped out, apparently to make your argument either way.

Where did Shaughnessy get his information? If you type NFL Payrolls into Google, this page is the second result, and has the Patriots third-lowest in the NFL. The problem is that the data on that page is from at least 2008.

I’d like to think that Shaughnessy used better information than just a quick Google search.

Shaughnessy also snuck in: Maybe New England will stop trading down to get “value’’ for high draft picks.

I think that strategy, while criticized, has worked out pretty well the last two years. In 2010, they traded down twice in the first round, and still ended up with Pro Bowler and Second Team NFL All Pro cornerback Devin McCourty. In trading down from their original position at 22, the Patriots obtained the picks used to later select Taylor Price (3rd round, from Dallas) and Aaron Hernandez (4th round, from Denver).

Then check out this maneuver - During the 2009 draft, the Patriots obtained the #47 pick in 2010 in exchange for a third round pick in 2009. Then in this year’s draft, the Patriots traded that second round pick (47 overall) to Arizona for a later second round pick (58 overall) and a third round pick (89 overall).  They then sent the #58 pick to Houston for #62 (Brandon Spikes) and #150 (Zoltan Mesko). They then took that #89 pick and sent it to Carolina for their 2011 second round pick, which is now the top pick in the second round.

So from that one third round pick in 2009, they turned it into Brandon Spikes, Zoltan Mesko and the top pick in the second round in this coming draft.

Instead of sarcastically refering to that as “value,” I’m going to say they got VALUE from that one pick and a couple of trades.

For some reason, the media and fans HATE when the Patriots trade around in the draft. It generates snide remarks like the one from Shaughnessy, who can’t be bothered to see what actually comes of those moves.

  • EvilStaceyJames

    For a guy who spends so much time balancing his checkbook you'd think Shank would have a better understanding of math.

  • Tony

    I wonder: did the Dallas sportswriters rip Jimmy Johnson for "constantly trading up and down the draft board for value" back during the 1990, 91, 92 and 93 drafts? Of course, Johnson didn't have to deal with free agency or a salary cap either back then, so he did trade up a few more times than he traded down. Still, on balance, BB's approach to the draft is the same as Johnson's was, adjusted for the modern salary cap and free agency era.

    And I reiterate what I said earlier about this story the other day: Shaughnessy will NEVER let a chance to rip Kraft go by without taking it. He still has a personal vendetta against him for the whole Parcells fallout situation in 1997-98, culminating with Kraft's foolish decision to not invite the CHB to his Super Bowl media party in San Diego (1998).

    Grow up Dan, please.

    • Fred West Lynn

      I discagree with the idea the non-invitation was "foolish." It was stand-up. Something Shaughnessy knows noting about. Look at all the slack he's cut the Sox after John Henry had him over. A viper is a viper, and Shank is better off left by the wayside, drowning in his own self-importance.

      • Tony

        Oh, trust me, I'm glad Kraft snubbed the CHB that day. However, he made a media enemy for life (Dandy Dan NEVER forgets), and he probably should have thought about that fact before he snubbed him.

  • mandb97

    Bruce, did you get a chance to read Dave Portnoy's post on Shaughnessy?

  • Fred West Lynn

    Have a little mercy, Bruce! You write, "I’d like to think that Shaughnessy used better information than just a quick Google search," but you never know when bad weather or a big exam will prevent an intern from reporting to do all Dan's research, and it's been so long he's not really equipped to do it. And as for his other source of information (it's been pretty well demonstrated that he only has two), when he searched the Globe archives, all he found were articles that he himself wrote, and he couldn't go with such an unreliable source.

  • Callah

    I get it. Dan wants it to be 1995-2001 where the Patriots overpaid for free agents who breakdown quickly so he can say they should have never signed those players.

    Seems like these old timers want it to be the mid 90's again where there were so many problems with teams they covered.

  • Andy Katzenmoyer

    I actually found that part of the column less objectionable than him turning on a dime and embracing the team that he had been villifying throughout the course of the season. Nowhere was there even an acknowledgement that he did a 180. And to compare Jets fans and the Jets to pre-'04 Red Sox fans and the Red Sox is absurd (sorry, Bruce). As long as teams like Minnesota, Detroit, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Arizona, Philadelphia and Tennessee don't have Super Bowl trophies (and in some cases, have never been to the SB), Jets fans' history of disappointment can't even approach the level of these teams' fans, much less Red Sox fans. If you want to compare the Red Sox and their fan base to an NY team and its fan base, the pre-94 Rangers are a much better comparison. And like the Red Sox and unlike the Jets, they had a player (Mark Messier) that carried his team on his back when it looked like they would not get to the promised land.

    I had started to like reading Dan again, but after Sunday's column, I won't be fooled again.

  • dave

    Until the Pats win another superbowl with these 'value'picks the media will continue to harp on this fact ad nauseum

    • APimpNamedDaveR

      Sad but 100% true. Making the playoffs, what, 8 out of 10 years in the last decade (and just missing the other two years)? Apparently worth nothing.

      God help us if the Sox don't go 155-7 this year and sweep the playoffs. We'll never hear the end of "Theo Ineptstein"….

  • Classless

    I understand both sides. While I get Belichick maximizing value and building the middle class of his team, the cries to actually draft at the pick's original position (or higher) comes from the fact that this team NEEDS playmakers. You get playmakers generally by drafting higher (especially pass rushers).

    • APimpNamedDaveR

      But look at the top 20 in any given draft. Only about half — at best — of the selected players become true "playmakers". Yet they each probably made something in the range of the top 10-15% of all NFL player salaries for 4-5 year contracts with lots of up-front guaranteed money.

      Drafting high isn't necessarily the SOLE key to getting quality players. You also have to draft smart, and benefit from a little luck, too. (You can have the greatest player ever on the board with your #1 pick, but if his knee explodes in training camp, he's contributed nothing.)

      What all the nay-sayers ignore is that the Belichick method has worked fantastically — in fact, the Patriots' net success using this method is almost unprecedented in NFL history. Ten years of sustained high-level play? Ten years????

      Let's take the Bradshaw-era Steelers — a team that few would argue isn't "dynastic" in football history. Their run of excellence started, more or less, in 1972, when Franco Harris came to the team. In the next ten years, they won four Super Bowls with basically the same core group of players — no free agency or salary caps to worry about, too! But by season #9 (season 10 was the strike year, and shouldn't really count), they were back to a .500 team — and by the mid-80s, they were a bottom dweller in the Central. They didn't win the Central again until 1992, and didn't win a conference championship until 2005.

      Now contrast the Patriots under Belichick since 2001. This is their regular season position in the division year-by-year from 2001-2010: 1st, 2nd, 1st, 1st, 1st, 1st, 1st, 2nd, 1st, 1st. (By contrast, the Steelers from 72-81: 1st, 2nd, 1st, 1st, 1st, 1st, 1st, 1st, 3rd, 2nd.)

      So the Belichick method has resulted in a better regular season performance, and one fewer Super Bowl, than one of the greatest assemblages of HoF talent in history.

      Yet people still complain!!!!!! I simply can't understand it.