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Free Agency Draft Lesson: Prioritize Drafting Pass Rushers

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With Atlanta keeping Vic at $13MM, many people were livid. But after seeing the numbers of guys in free agency and what they signed to, Vic at $13MM is actually one of the lower ends of the spectrum so far (Fowler, P. Smith, Z. Smith all got more AAV on their deals). In the same breath though, DQ made it clear they didn't discuss an extension with Vic beyond this year, which is relieving because it limits the risk to just 2019. With that though, after reading this article, I think it makes a lot more sense than even any of us had even thought about. 

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This really has been an odd free agency period. The nature of the spectacle remained true in the sense that teams will always overpay for free agents to fill holes on their roster before the draft, but the way the league prioritized where their money went this year was the part I didn't see coming.

Linebacker Kwon Alexander got a deal of $13.5M per year, which was the highest paid off-ball linebacker contract in the league in terms of yearly average until C.J. Mosley signed his $17M per-year deal the following day. That much capital into that position was far more inflated than what I thought would be the case. But linebacker wasn’t the only position that saw a healthy bump in reward. Safety Landon Collins got an unprecedented $45M guaranteed from Washington, which gave him the third-best defensive back contract in the NFL, cornerbacks included. Safety Tyrann Mathieu also got a nice deal of $14M per-year, which meant the two highest paid safeties in the league became the top two highest paid safeties in the league in this year’s tampering period.

Even though the cap ceiling does increase every year, the inflation for players at those positions was higher than I thought. I understand paying say offensive tackles and of course quarterbacks that kind of inflation with the cap increase because you always have to take risks on those players if you don’t have those positions locked down. But some of these other positions are gaining ground when it comes to total payoff – which is awesome for them.

That got me to thinking about pass rushers. As linebackers and box safeties were getting more money, did that mean that emphasis on defense as a whole was catching up to the emphasis on pass rushers?

The short answer to that is no, but the long answer to that is that even though the pass rush market in free agency is being eating into by some other positions, teams may be showing that their desire to draft top pass rushers is at an all-time high.

Think about it this way: none of the big-name pass rusher hit the market this year. Demarcus Lawrence, Jadeveon Clowney, Dee Ford, Frank Clark, they all were slapped with the franchise tag. That means that the value for pass rushers still holds true, as team who have good ones don’t want to lose them. But on the flip side, how teams are spending top money at defensive positions that aren’t directly related to pass rush got me to thinking that teams who don’t have franchise tagged pass rushers might actually be setting themselves up to draft top pass rushers even more so than before.

Let’s take the Jets, for example. The Jets went out and paid huge money to both C.J. Mosely and Anthony Barr, both of which are more off-ball linebackers than edge rushers. They could’ve gone after edge guys like Terrell Suggs or Za’Darius Smith or Preston Smith, but they didn’t. Why? Because I think they want to draft a pass rusher in the first round and get good years on young years rather than go out and try to pay for one, even at a depth or fill-in level.

It’s the same story in Oakland. The Raiders have a crying need at edge; it’s probably their biggest need. Yet they went out and made Trent Brown the highest paid offensive tackle in the league, a year after they just drafted two offensive tackles in the Top 65, and signed safety Lamarcus Joyner over reallocating their funds to some of the edge rushers I already named. Why? Because I think they are filling every need around pass rushers so they can draft one at the top and maybe even another later in the draft instead.

When you think about it, it may seem like a “duh” moment, but I think this year more than other years we’re seeing team fill needs around pass rusher (using a lot of money to do so) for the sole reason of creating the freedom to target one more in the draft – this way you can be paying pass rushers on a rookie wage scale as opposed to one overinflated by free agency.

If you thought pass rushers were coveted before, just wait until teams who don’t address the need at all in free agency know they have to grab one early to be a difference maker. This means that guys like Nick Bosa, Josh Allen, Rashan Gary, Brian Burns and Montez Sweat could be going even higher than we thought, as a whole, and players like Jachai Polite, Zach Allen, Wyatt Ray, Christian Miller and Chase Winovich could all have a shot at the Top 50.

Perhaps the quarterback class won’t control this 2019 draft.

Perhaps it will be edge rushers that cause the inevitable pandemonium. 

 

Think about it and it makes sense. The Falcons have not been linked to sniffing around any pass rushers so far in FA, yet they have an open spot there with just Vic, Takk, and Means. DT has been getting all of the press and attention, but we are long on Grady and Senat. We aren't long on Vic and Takk is the only young talent there and is still volatile. Don't be surprised if they go edge at #14 and circle back to DT at #45. I could very easily see them go after Burns/Sweat at #14 and Lawrence at #45. With them chasing guys like Shelton, Brown, and Jernigan, they may even lock that DT spot down before the draft to open that EDGE door wide open. 

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With pass rushers getting nearly as much as QBs nowadays it makes sense.

Your best shot is if you have a rookie contract QB and rookie contract pass rushers.  If you have a vet QB, then having good rookie contract pass rushers lets you still field a team around them.

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1 hour ago, vel said:

With Atlanta keeping Vic at $13MM, many people were livid. But after seeing the numbers of guys in free agency and what they signed to, Vic at $13MM is actually one of the lower ends of the spectrum so far (Fowler, P. Smith, Z. Smith all got more AAV on their deals). In the same breath though, DQ made it clear they didn't discuss an extension with Vic beyond this year, which is relieving because it limits the risk to just 2019. With that though, after reading this article, I think it makes a lot more sense than even any of us had even thought about. 

Think about it and it makes sense. The Falcons have not been linked to sniffing around any pass rushers so far in FA, yet they have an open spot there with just Vic, Takk, and Means. DT has been getting all of the press and attention, but we are long on Grady and Senat. We aren't long on Vic and Takk is the only young talent there and is still volatile. Don't be surprised if they go edge at #14 and circle back to DT at #45. I could very easily see them go after Burns/Sweat at #14 and Lawrence at #45. With them chasing guys like Shelton, Brown, and Jernigan, they may even lock that DT spot down before the draft to open that EDGE door wide open. 

I believe it. DE kinda sucks this year, but there'll be good DTs all the way into the 3rd and 4th. If Oliver isn't there I could see us taking a DE. If the top 4 DEs are gone too, a trade down or OT makes sense.

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1 hour ago, jfalconsp said:

Yep if he falls I could easily see us going Sweat and Lawrence/Tillery/Simmons in round 2. Would be great. 

I would be more than fine with that.

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While there is a lot of validity to the thought process here...pass rush is a skill, not a position.  Consider that GJ is likely looking at a long term deal in the $19-20M neighborhood...his skill set is pressure and backfield disruption.  Teams covet that skill; whether it comes from inside or outside.

The two team examples you used; NYJ & OAK...maybe they’re carving a new path.  They’re also drafting 3/4 for a reason.  2019 is a rare year in terms of overall DL talent.  So I’m not sure if this is a trend or simply this years condition.

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3 hours ago, vel said:

With Atlanta keeping Vic at $13MM, many people were livid. But after seeing the numbers of guys in free agency and what they signed to, Vic at $13MM is actually one of the lower ends of the spectrum so far (Fowler, P. Smith, Z. Smith all got more AAV on their deals). In the same breath though, DQ made it clear they didn't discuss an extension with Vic beyond this year, which is relieving because it limits the risk to just 2019. With that though, after reading this article, I think it makes a lot more sense than even any of us had even thought about. 

Think about it and it makes sense. The Falcons have not been linked to sniffing around any pass rushers so far in FA, yet they have an open spot there with just Vic, Takk, and Means. DT has been getting all of the press and attention, but we are long on Grady and Senat. We aren't long on Vic and Takk is the only young talent there and is still volatile. Don't be surprised if they go edge at #14 and circle back to DT at #45. I could very easily see them go after Burns/Sweat at #14 and Lawrence at #45. With them chasing guys like Shelton, Brown, and Jernigan, they may even lock that DT spot down before the draft to open that EDGE door wide open. 

I love Vic but, he's a double-edged sword for us this year. If he flops that means our dline unit probably didn't do that well and then next year we have to try and find someone else, easier said than done. If DQ gets him going and he has the type of year he had in 2016 or close, we'll be elated until we have to immediatey sign him for big dollars at the cost of losing other guys we'd like to keep.  

All thing in consideration, I think this situation is going to bring out the best Vic there is and, we might just regret not signing him to a 3-4 year deal this year. 

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30 minutes ago, TheDirtyWordII said:

While there is a lot of validity to the thought process here...pass rush is a skill, not a position.  Consider that GJ is likely looking at a long term deal in the $19-20M neighborhood...his skill set is pressure and backfield disruption.  Teams covet that skill; whether it comes from inside or outside.

The two team examples you used; NYJ & OAK...maybe they’re carving a new path.  They’re also drafting 3/4 for a reason.  2019 is a rare year in terms of overall DL talent.  So I’m not sure if this is a trend or simply this years condition.

Agreed. But given there are fewer DEs that can rush the passer to choose from, the emphasis was moved there. You can get one dimensional DTs like a Dremont Jones who can rush the passer in the second. I think the edge guys are going to fly off the board because of the rarity. Agreed the overall talent is unique this year, but when it's distilled to pass rushing as a whole, there are more interior guys to choose from then edge guys. People are always going to take a chance on the under sized EDGE guy (e.g. Burns) over the one dimensional DT (e.g. Jones) so I think it's going to continue to be a trend going forward as well. If they add a guy like Burns/Sweat to a rotation with Takk and Vic, if Vic takes that step forward you have a very deep rush group. If Vic doesn't hit, you at least have a first rounder behind him to replace him. With DT, you can't say the same in my opinion. You take a DT at #14 and your choices at EDGE dwindle very fast. Unless you're taking Oliver at #14, who gives you that pass rush inside, then I don't know any more if they go DT.

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The fact that they're looking at guys like Shelton/Brown/Jernigan in FA and Dexter Lawrence in the draft, tells me they are comfortable on their interior rush with Grady (6 sacks), Crawford (6 sacks), and Senat. Even throw in some Takk at 3T, which they did last year, and it opens the door for adding an edge at #14. 

Remember, and I pointed this out last year and used 2016 as reference, when DQ sees a deep position, he usually doesn't go that way in the first. He "ignored" LB for a SS in 2016 and relied on the depth of the LB position to find Debo and Devondre. Last year, I called us going WR early due to the depth of the draft at other positions of need and that's what happened. EDGE isn't deep this year. It thins very fast after those five pointed out in the OP (Bosa, Allen, Gary, Burns, Sweat). 

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I for one am not a big fan of the edge guys going this year.

Outside of Sweats combine as above.

Had another look at Ferrell’s efforts against Williams in the Bama championship game and outside of that 2nd series where Ferrell got him a couple of times I thought Williams neutralised him for the most part.

Also had another look at the BC kid Allen,to me no plan as a pass rusher just straight Bull and that was him.Mind you he’s a 3rd round guy to me and if you want to solidify your edge against the run maybe I look but as for pass rush no thanks.

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1 hour ago, Vandy said:

I would be more than fine with that.

Yeah, I've thought that, especially with this draft, that the way to have an effective pass rush would to be to have 6-7 guys on rookie contracts, plus Jarrett, cause I'd sign him long term,  that you rotate and keep fresh.  That's what Seattle did in 13-14, then everybody started getting paid and they couldn't keep the rotation up. You'd actually have to have some cheap vets cause I don't think you can get 6-7 guys on rookie contracts at one position, but still, point is having lots of options.

Still remember when Abe was here and teams would wait to pass until he was on the sideline, because no one could get to the passer. If you've got  a solid rotation of 6-8 guys, that doesn't happen.

Be nice to have both Vic have a great year in 2019 and be able to let him go in 2020 because you have enough young studs.

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Never underestimate teams and their desire to add skill players

I bet there are more qbs taken in the top 10 than what people thought  this time 2 months ago.

 

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5 minutes ago, vel said:

Agreed. But given there are fewer DEs that can rush the passer to choose from, the emphasis was moved there. You can get one dimensional DTs like a Dremont Jones who can rush the passer in the second. I think the edge guys are going to fly off the board because of the rarity. Agreed the overall talent is unique this year, but when it's distilled to pass rushing as a whole, there are more interior guys to choose from then edge guys. People are always going to take a chance on the under sized EDGE guy (e.g. Burns) over the one dimensional DT (e.g. Jones) so I think it's going to continue to be a trend going forward as well. If they add a guy like Burns/Sweat to a rotation with Takk and Vic, if Vic takes that step forward you have a very deep rush group. If Vic doesn't hit, you at least have a first rounder behind him to replace him. With DT, you can't say the same in my opinion. You take a DT at #14 and your choices at EDGE dwindle very fast. Unless you're taking Oliver at #14, who gives you that pass rush inside, then I don't know any more if they go DT.

Burns is not historically small for the DE position like Jones is for DT.  Certainly the depth of this years DT class could impact decision-making at the top of the draft.  But I’m not sold yet that this is a YoY trend.

Now do I think DE is in play for the Falcons @ 14?  Yes...Beasley is IMO in his last year as a Falcon.  So even having a strong rotational DE to provide snaps in 2019 makes sense.

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Posted (edited)

This is basically what I had thought about and tried to convey when everyone was mad about holding onto Vic. Plus, we buy a year to groom the young guy in a rotation and VB tries to get paid; gets paid and we get a 3rd rounder possibly. :tiphat: 

We pretty much set the course at picking up his option and couldn't have gotten compensation for him had we rescinded.

Yes, you could be players in FA...which most were whining about...for a DE...

But I stated many times just watch what Fowler etc would get.

Guess what? Even more than Beasley on the market (in a return to LAR deal at that)...Beasley is a steal if he goes off AT ALL and we get a contingency plan.

However, this does not mean we automatically take DE at 14. We could...but we also could go Oliver.

What I don't want is to settle at 14. Get ELITE things you can't coach...but try to coach the elite prospect traits into a football monster. DQ is full-time DC now.

I'm still leaning towards Oliver. Would not mind Sweat, could live with Burns.

GJ deal isn't finished yet, but even if it were? Give me an inside force next to him...imagine him with some coaching and almost always getting a 1on1 next to Grady?

Another thing is it may make Crawford expendable in 2020; seeing as he is an UFA after this year, as a 3T pass rusher.., EO is also a guy that can play 5T/base DE.

Get another DT maybe in rounds 2-4; including a DE by that point. It's just one approach and doesn't give as much confidence with letting VB walk but consider Takk having another year and what EO might become by 2020 if he becomes a beast.

But to the point...it makes more sense to go DE if worthy over Wilkins at 14, IMO and get the DT later if it's not a DT that could be an elite pass rusher. Possibly over EO if it's Sweat. I'm not sure I'm taking Burns over EO at 14. :shrug: 

Round 1 elite skill: Rush the passer (doesn't mean DE only ;) )

CLARITY: I'm not saying Wilkins couldn't be a good pass rusher in NFL. I'm thinking of elite prospects that have a chance to be better than good/reliable. With our extra picks this draft, we have a chance to take that gamble in round 1 if the Falcons think he is worth it. IDK if that means DE for the 3rd time in 5 years tho...so I'd like Oliver. Let our DEs get 1 on 1s and blitz a dude if necessary. We could start doing crazy attack formations with someone like EO.

Edited by Ergo Proxy
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1 hour ago, falconidae said:

Yeah, I've thought that, especially with this draft, that the way to have an effective pass rush would to be to have 6-7 guys on rookie contracts, plus Jarrett, cause I'd sign him long term,  that you rotate and keep fresh.  That's what Seattle did in 13-14, then everybody started getting paid and they couldn't keep the rotation up. You'd actually have to have some cheap vets cause I don't think you can get 6-7 guys on rookie contracts at one position, but still, point is having lots of options.

Still remember when Abe was here and teams would wait to pass until he was on the sideline, because no one could get to the passer. If you've got  a solid rotation of 6-8 guys, that doesn't happen.

Be nice to have both Vic have a great year in 2019 and be able to let him go in 2020 because you have enough young studs.

My man, I vote you in charge of this year’s draft!

you can never have too many pass rushers....see giants SB teams in ‘07 and ‘11.

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1 hour ago, falconsd56 said:

Never underestimate teams and their desire to add skill players

I bet there are more qbs taken in the top 10 than what people thought  this time 2 months ago.

 

Always. 

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1 hour ago, falconsd56 said:

Never underestimate teams and their desire to add skill players

I bet there are more qbs taken in the top 10 than what people thought  this time 2 months ago.

 

Been saying this as well. That's why I don't want to lose that second rounder. Guys are going to fall. Teams still value certain positions more than they value the talent at others. I wouldn't be surprised if a guy like Drew Lock is drafted before Ed Oliver, even though majority of people would put Oliver close to a top 5 talent in this draft and Lock closer to a top 50 player. 

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I'm hoping my boy Oshane Ximines blows off the door at the next level. He has polished disruption techniques. He just needs to work on his angles and footwork. He will probably go in the 2nd

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I will be curious to see how the draft pans out as there is a real chance we may need a new starting  DE, DT and CB for 2020 season. (Vic, Grady, Trufant)

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Posted (edited)

12 minutes ago, 1989Fan said:

I will be curious to see how the draft pans out as there is a real chance we may need a new starting  DE, DT and CB for 2020 season. (Vic, Grady, Trufant)

Very likely for VB as of today. Probably a DT regardless of Grady; especially if Senat develops only to the point of 2-down run defender for us. CB...maybe. We could use depth. Tru is a very bad cut even next year. Would leave a lot of dead money. His 'best' time to be cut is post-6/1 2021. Next year Freeman is the 'easier' of the higher contracts to cut. So, we're sorta married to him but could use depth instead of just Wilson backing up both Oliver/Tru.

2020 POST-6/1 RELEASE for Tru next year...

2020 Dead Cap: $4,400,000

2021 Dead Cap: $5,800,000

Can't eat that much for him. Better to restructure for our cap; keep him at a lower cap hit over the next 2 years...and then cut him, while if his guaranteed money doesn't change he probably can work with that but it may just create more dead money down the line and ruin the purpose anyway. :shrug: 

So, barring a good restructure for ATL...we're stuck until 2021...

2021 POST-6/1 RELEASE

2021 Dead Cap: $4,400,000

2022 Dead Cap: $1,400,000

2021 Cap Savings: $11,750,000

Edited by Ergo Proxy

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53 minutes ago, Da D!rty D!rty said:

I'm hoping my boy Oshane Ximines blows off the door at the next level. He has polished disruption techniques. He just needs to work on his angles and footwork. He will probably go in the 2nd

JAG. He'll go in the 4th if he's lucky. Jmho.

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Posted (edited)

6 hours ago, takeitdown said:

With pass rushers getting nearly as much as QBs nowadays it makes sense.

Your best shot is if you have a rookie contract QB and rookie contract pass rushers.  If you have a vet QB, then having good rookie contract pass rushers lets you still field a team around them.

I mean sorta makes sense why KC wasn't gonna go overboard keeping Houston and Ford I guess; but they had a good excuse if they don't believe they fit in their 4-3 conversion. So, there's that..but imagine being 2 years in on mega DE deal for Ford while trying to build a team/keep a team around Mahomes...when HE is due for a mega deal. lol

Edited by Ergo Proxy

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Posted (edited)

3 hours ago, TheDirtyWordII said:

Burns is not historically small for the DE position like Jones is for DT.  Certainly the depth of this years DT class could impact decision-making at the top of the draft.  But I’m not sold yet that this is a YoY trend.

Now do I think DE is in play for the Falcons @ 14?  Yes...Beasley is IMO in his last year as a Falcon.  So even having a strong rotational DE to provide snaps in 2019 makes sense.

I think we may go for Oliver...if he isn't there work out DE first somehow and see if at all possible to snag Lawrence in round 2; even moving up for him.

Optimized would be getting a team a few picks below us at 14 to trade with us for a LB or someone else they just really want and they know could lose their guy...pick up DE a few picks down and with our extra pick from that team work back up for Lawrence.

^Atmittedly, that's fairly nuanced and you only execute that plan if guys at 14 aren't what you planned on. Settle on 14 if you can't move out...I think we aren't just gonna grab a leftover DE for example if he isn't as good as the ones we wanted. If its a Sweat vs Burns situations, etc.

It'd be better to figure out your plan B thoroughly, which is exactly why there is a chance to trade down.

Let's say Ferrell is there and Burns at 14...a team calls desperate for a LB or CB still on the board. You get as much as you can; if it's a good trade up offer, and move down up to 5 spots. Pick the remaining DE of Ferrell or Burns...move back up for Lawrence if you deemed him worth it if you get a partner in low round 1. :shrug: but keep the extra picks worst case.

Edited by Ergo Proxy

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