NFL Draft: Top Picks a Liability?
This is a story that has been slowly getting a little bit more buzz in the last 2-3 years, though still probably not the amount that it justifies: Why having the top pick in the NFL Draft, or even a pick in the top 10, can be a curse because of the incredible contracts they command.
Freakonomics is talking about it, as well as everyone’s favorite daughter-promoting, Favre-lovin’, coffee-obsessing sportswriter, Peter King.
Dan Pompei also weighs in on the topic at MSNBC, where he talks about how second-round picks are now the most coveted choices in the NFL. Not surprisingly, the Patriots have accumulated three second-rounders in this year’s draft. He also cites Bears GM Jerry Angelo, who seems almost giddy to be rid of the first-rounders he gave up in the Cutler trade.
On one hand, I applaud the Moneyball-like thinking of NFL front offices, who are embracing the idea of value and efficiency. Instead of the old-school idea of blindly moving up to get the highest choice possible, why not move down, since the talent level falls off slower at a much slower rate than the dollar values?
On the other hand, doesn’t this seem like a pretty easy problem to fix?
From the previously-mentioned King article:
Reader Matt: “I think all the bad teams are desperate to move down in the draft, especially this year — but who’s going to trade up, even if the player has a chance to be better, if it costs two, three, maybe four times as much as your current pick? I think the reason we’ve had such a disparity in the 2000’s within the N.F.L. (e.g. 2008 winless Lions, 2007 unbeaten Patriots) is because the teams that make the playoffs are rewarded with better-valued draft choices. It’s unfair, period. Why is this not the main story from the media during this year’s draft?”
King: Brilliant point, Matt. The league has appointed a committee — with interested parties Tom Lewand of the Lions and Scott Pioli of the Chiefs, both of whom have picks in the top three of the draft — to study the problem of bad teams being penalized by the highest picks making so much money that it’s actually a penalty to pick in the top 10. The solution, I believe, is to give the bad teams a choice where they want to pick. That sounds insane, but why wouldn’t you allow the worst team to analyze the talent in the draft, and if there’s no player the club feels is worth the top pick, allow that team to pick sixth or eighth, for example.
Sure, I suppose it’d be great theater to let teams choose their first-round draft choices based on their records. But it would also be a public relations nightmare for the worst teams; can you imagine a GM of 3-13 team trying to justify why he wanted the 15th draft slot? “Picking 15th instead of second will save us a lot of money,” he’d say. And then he’d be hunted down and bludgeoned to death by an angry mob, because there is nothing sports fans hate more than when their teams appear cheap.
All novel ideas aside, it seems like the best solution is the most obvious one — adjust the rules so draft choices don’t get as much money. The NBA system simply pays players a certain amount based on draft slot, and I see no reason why the NFL can’t adopt a similar process.
In the meantime, I’ll eagerly await the Lions’ selection of Matt Stafford, with hopes that he gets $60 million to be Ryan Leaf, setting the Lions’ rebuilding effort back another five years.
Tags: moneyball, nfl draft