View Full Version : Nine Mistakes GMs Will Make

03-10-2014, 11:33 PM
ProFootballFocus: Nine Mistakes GMs Will Make (https://www.profootballfocus.com/blog/2014/03/10/nine-mistakes-gms-will-make/)
“Nine Mistakes General Managers will Make”

That’s a pretty bold statement. It includes the word “will” not “may” or “could” and the reason is that history has a habit of repeating itself – over and over again.

Out in the real world, at the end of significant pieces of work, good Project Managers run something called post completion reviews (PCRs) to try and ensure they learn from their mistakes (and successes). What went well, what less so and why? They then put processes in place to try and mitigate against those same issues recurring – continuous improvement loops. In football, with particular regard to the draft and free agency, such exercises are in short supply.

The limited tenure of certain regimes, the lack of accurate, precise and reliable measures of success and, in certain cases, the lack of desire to even contemplate the word “mistake” make for an annual extravaganza that, in the case of some transactions, has all the appeal of a car crash in slow motion.

So what are the lessons of history with regard to free agency and how can they be avoided? The errors can normally be categorized as follows:

Mistake No. 1 – Paying substantially on the basis of performance in a contract year

We see it happen many times. For the first few years of a guy’s career he does nothing and then, with only a year to go before potentially the most lucrative contract of his life, he suddenly plays well...

Mistake No. 2 – Ignoring what the current team is implicitly telling you

It’s one thing to let a 32-year-old wide receiver go (as the Ravens did when they mistakenly traded Anquan Boldin to the 49ers). It’s quite another to allow a 27-year-old pass rusher leave in what should be the prime of his career. Make no mistake, Baltimore would have liked to have Paul Kruger back, but not at $8.1M APY.

There are few shrewder operators than Ozzie Newsome and what he knew was that Kruger was a reasonable but not great pass rusher. The gaudy sack numbers (15) looked good but he knew what we saw in our grading; when Terrell Suggs was on the field alongside him he rated an excellent +13.1, but when Suggs was out injured for seven games, a less-than-stellar +3.1. How did he do once he signed his Browns deal? He graded +4.9, a number remarkably similar to his rating without Suggs. Essentially that grade says what he is; a complementary, not star rusher. The deal he got is only $900k per year less than Robert Mathis and about twice what his production warrants.

Mistake No. 3 – Paying Based on a former association with a key decision maker.

In 2010 the Chicago Bears decided they needed a blocking tight end and new Offensive Coordinator Mike Martz was high on...

Mistake No. 4 – Putting all your chips into Free Agency

Has there ever been a free agency...

Mistake No. 5 – Giving too much weight to performance against your team

Maybe the evidence here is circumstantial, but I still see the Colts’ move to bring in Erik Walden last year as an example of this behavior. During both 2012 and 2013 Walden was our lowest-rated 3-4 OLB while playing for Green Bay. Most of this was predicated on a somewhat startling inability to get pressure, but it really wasn’t offset by a “Jarret Johnson type” skill set in the running game, either. For whatever reason the Indianapolis Colts targeted him as a bookend for Robert Mathis and, to be fair, his performance, although never coming close to his $4M APY, improved significantly to a level best described as “below average”.

So why do I feel this falls into the category above? Well here are his weekly grades during 2012


The Week 5 performance was against the Colts no less, and don’t forget their advanced scout would almost certainly have included his games in Weeks 2 and 3.

Mistake No. 6 – Subset Scouting

The Pro Personnel guys in the NFL have it hard. The department is usually a fraction of the size of the college team and their work during the season is often limited to the teams they have to play and even then, based on a subset of four games. The workload is enormous and the notion of watching every player on every play an impossible dream. During Free Agency, therefore, a lot of the analysis is based on incomplete data; extrapolations based on the information they do have. As we have shown many times (here, for example), this approach can be problematic.

When the Cowboys decided to pay Nate Livings $7M APY they watched seven or eight games or less than half the available data for 2011. They chose what was, on the face of it, the harder matchups… against Justin Smith, Haloti Ngata, Calais Campbell, etc. However, just like them, we had these games graded highly, but they never saw his struggles against lesser opponents like Jacksonville and Cleveland.

In this case Livings actually improved his average performance before injury struck, but it was still well south of the dollar value paid.

Mistake No. 7 – Paying based on potential, not production

As an NFL agent once told me if a team asks a guy to do something one hundred times and he manages if once in those repetitions, there are far too many coaches who think, under their guidance, they can move that number to one hundred...

Mistake No. 8 – Watching the box scores

Everyone likes a good stat...

Mistake No. 9 – Failing to Play in Free Agency at all

Some teams, like the Steelers, have a reputation for not giving Free Agency much prominence. There’s a lot to be said for the draft in terms of value for money but, if teams do their work properly, there are real bargains to be had, particularly on the O-Line. Every year it seems quality players drift about before someone lucks out by signing them as a back-up, having an injury, playing them and realising they had a much better player than they thought.

In 2009 we graded Evan Mathis as the fifth-best guard in the league before injury and a strange rotation with Nate Livings in 2010 saw him enter free agency as something of a mystery to every NFL team. We still had him rated as the fourth-best interior lineman in free agency but, as it transpired, anyone could have had him for the veteran minimum as teams just seemed to ignore the tape.

It turns out we had it wrong too, he turned into the best guard in the league and probably the best value for money signing that entire year. He’s now rightly an All-Pro but his $5M APY is still peanuts for a player of his ability and as good a reason as any to play the game.
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