Friday, December 26, 2008

Knowing When to Cash In

Earlier this week on Mike and Mike, there was a discussion about knowing when to "cash in" on a player - trading him when his value was highest in the eyes of other teams, but right before his performance falls off the proverbial cliff. The discussion focused on the San Diego Chargers' decision to allow RB Michael Turner to leave as a free agent and sign with the Atlanta Falcons this season, in light of his superior performance to LaDainian Tomlinson. Also addressed was the New England Patriot's upcoming decision with super-sub Matt Cassel and the pending return of All-American dreamboat, Tom Brady.

While I detest the concept of dealing in hypotheticals, what-ifs and revisionary history, in light of the Browns Derek Anderson/Brady Quinn decision last year (rinse and repeat this offseason) and the Kellen Winslow/Martin Rucker situation brewing, I felt that this was something worth examining.

Initially, any argument that could have been made in keeping Turner and moving LT seems laughable at best. LaDainian had over 1900 total yds last season, averaged more than a touchdown per game, and was the consensus number one fantasy pick in almost every neighborhood draft. Turner, on the other hand, rushed for only a little more than 300 yds and 1 Td last year, mostly against defenses in the 4th quarter worn out from missing tackles against Tomlinson earlier in the game. To guess that Turner would do well this season wouldn't have been a stretch, but to predict that Turner would out-LT LT this season would have required Marty McFly's Gray's Sports Almanac from Back to the Future II. Not to mention that had Chargers GM A.J. Smith even entertained an idea of trading LaDainian prior to the season, he would have been torn to shreds by both the fans and the media. Though it has now become the trend, rather than the exception, for star running backs to start breaking down as soon as they hit 30, keeping LT and letting Turner walk was the right decision.

The Brady/Cassel situation is not so clear cut. The Patriots mantra to this point has been that no one player is bigger than the team. Gone are Deion Branch, Asante Samuel and Ty Law, all replaced with cheaper alternatives. But now that Tom Brady, face and leader of the Patriots, has been forced to the sidelines for the season with his knee injury, Matt Cassel has emerged from the shadows in a Bradyesque fashion. In fact, Cassel in his first season starting (3,615 yds, 21 tds and 11 ints through 15 games) has outperformed Brady in his first season (2,843 yds, 18 tds and 12 ints in 15 games). Granted, Brady did not have the benefit of throwing to Randy Moss and was taking over a vastly different team. But the question remains, would it make sense to try to move Brady for "hypothetically" two number first round draft picks, while signing Cassel to a contract at a much reduced rate than what Brady is currently getting?

Knowing that the same people who would chastise a GM for trading LT would be about ten times more upset for trading Brady, the idea of clearing cap space and filling several holes at once has
to appeal to a coach like Bill Belichick (who seems to believe he put any player into any role and have it succeed). While it's just as likely that Cassel is a product of the Patriots system (a la any Denver Broncos running back), and is more likely to turn out to be the next Scott Mitchell than Brady - GMs are paid to pull the trigger and make decisions in the best interest of the team winning both presently and in the future, even when potentially unpopular. Mark Shapiro knew this when he made the widely hated move to trade Bartolo Colon for Grady Sizemore, Cliff Lee and Brandon Phillips - now considered to be the pinnacle acquisition of his career.

Phil Savage had the opportunity to make such a splash and cash in on Derek Anderson's success last season - trading him after his surprising performance and handing over the reigns to Brady Quinn. While the difference between Anderson and Quinn is not nearly as big as the difference between Brady and Cassel - Savage had the chance to move Anderson when his value was as high as it ever was going to be - filing several holes at once. Instead, Savage made the decision to keep Anderson (which I agreed with at the time - and still do to some extent - perhaps why I'm not the GM) forcing the Browns into uncomfortable situation of having gone from a team with two potential solid quarterbacks, to a team unaware of the full capabilities of either at the position.

Even worse, it has become almost impossible to move Anderson during this offseason unless the team is willing to receive 50 cents on the dollar, accepting a far inferior pick than what they would have received for Anderson last year. Essentially, Savage has taken his giant stack of chips, cut it an half and now has to decide if he's willing to go all-in and pick up Anderson's pricey $5 million dollar option in March.

Ironically, Savage has the opportunity to learn from his past mistake and move Kellen Winslow during the offseason (assuming Savage remains as GM). Despite playing below his Pro Bowl level of last season, Kellen remains an attractive option to other teams looking for a play maker at tight end. His value remains nearly as high as it ever has been. When healthy, Kellen has shown that he is among the leagues elite at the tight end position. Teams see the strife that has arisen between Winslow and the Browns and know that they have the potential to "steal" a quality player from us.

However, these teams might be blinded to the fact the Winslow might have already fallen off the cliff. With the combined effects of the motorcycle accident, the broken leg and this year's staph scare, one has to wonder how much longer Kellen has in him. Added with Kellen's desire to get a new contract - moving Winslow now might be the best thing for the team for the long term. Even if Kellen has one or two more standout years in him - the tight end position remains among the deepest on the Browns, with Heiden, Rucker and Dinkins. Turning Winslow's perceived value into several other valuable players benefits in the Browns more so in the long run. Especially if Rucker turns out to be the pass catching tight end he is advertised to be. (I also don't think the drop between Heiden and Winslow would be as drastic as some might think).

While, trading Winslow would not be as unpopular move as trading LT or Brady would be, it obviously could result in fan backlash (like during the Colon trade). Winslow plays hard whenever he's actually out on the field and he makes big receptions. However, if a team were willing to give us a second and a fifth rounder for Winslow, like the Saints gave up to acquire Shockey, I'd have to think long and hard about making such a move. While it might not be Sizemore and Lee - the Browns need to think about filing some holes on the defensive side of the ball.

In a league like an NFL, when stars turn into veterans who cannot latch on to a team in the span of a season (Shaun Alexander) and nobodies step up to become MVPs (Kurt Warner) - pulling the trigger at the right point can be the difference between a 10 win season and a 4 win season. Savage, or whoever is the GM of the Browns next season needs to maximize our stack - multiply our chips and make the moves to get us to the top.

1 comment:

Biff said...

Good Post. A few points:

1. You can't compare Brady and LT. First, Brady is responsible for a ton of rings and LT isn't. Second, Brady is 31 and plays a position that you can effectively play into your late 30s. LT plays a position that is virtually interchangeable in the NFL and is at the back end of the effective age range for said position anyway.

2. As for the Anderson thing, you're right. It would've been very hard to trade a quasi-pro bowl quarterback for an unknown when dealing with a franchise that has had so much QB trouble. Still, the writing was on the wall given Anderson's second half of 07 performance and Savage should've seen that.

3. Right on with Winslow. They need to sell high on his playing abilities and also rid themselves of what is essentially just one more giant turd in the Browns' punchbowl.