As you can imagine from somebody who’s two main attributes are “nerdy” and “introverted”, I read a lot of books. Yet out of the of all books I’ve read, Marketing Outrageously by Jon Spoelstra might be my favorite.
In his book Spoelstra argues that the best way to run a business is by being outrageous. If the first reaction to an idea isn’t laughter it’s probably not a very good idea. This is basically my life philosophy.
So when somebody suggested writing an article on trading Chris Jones I was all over it. That’s just the kind of crazy idea I love. Jones is one of the top players at his position in the NFL, why on Earth would you consider trading him?
Let’s see if I can convince you.
1. Buy low, sell high.Embed from Getty Images
Everybody’s familiar with this saying. And it’s not even really a saying if you think about it. It’s just common sense.
You make money if you sell something for more than you bought it for.
Yet as simple as this seems on the surface, in practice it’s extremely difficult. When an asset is at it’s low value that’s when you want to sell it the most, and when an asset is at it’s highest value that’s when you don’t want to let it go.
If we want to live by this principle, it clearly says to “sell high” on Chris Jones.
Jones had already established himself as a quality player in 2017, but in 2018 he took his performance to a whole new level. He had almost twice as many sacks in 2018 as he did in his previous two seasons combined.
But with that success comes the realization that it may be the best season he ever has. That combined with his young age and one year left on his rookie contract, means his value right now is likely higher than it will ever be again.
2. Value above all.Embed from Getty Images
What do you see when you look at a football player? Do you see a guy who is a good athlete? Or perhaps you see a human being whose chosen profession happens to be running around in tights with a bunch of other sweaty men playing with a ball.
Neither of those is what I see. When I look at players I look from a general manager’s point of view, which means I only care about two things.
- How many extra wins are you giving me over a guy off the street?
- How much of my cap space are you taking up.
In other words, what’s their value? And not just their value on the field, but their value on the field relative to their pay.
Think of a guy like Mahomes, who at the current moment has by far the most valuable contract in the NFL. He is likely worth 8-10 wins over a guy off the street (think an AAF QB), yet will take only 2.4% of our cap.
Going back to Marketing Outrageously, Spoelstra makes an interesting point that should be obvious, but most people don’t consider. When thinking about a player’s value, people (including GM’s) often think about what they average is. What’s a typical contract for a guy of Jones’ talents?
But teams shouldn’t think in terms of average, they should be thinking in terms of championships. What can we afford to pay guys like Jones if we want to win 12 games (a typical number for a Super Bowl team)?
It sure as heck isn’t going to be his market rate.
Now that we have Mahomes, we are an extremely attractive team for players to come to. What offensive player wouldn’t want to play with a QB like that? What defensive player wouldn’t want to know that all they had to do was keep the other team under 28 points?
Some, if not most, will take the money. But some will prefer to win even if it means taking slightly less, and Kansas City will be at the top of their list.
If Jones wants his pay day, then no hard feelings, it is a business after all. But by far the easiest way to get those championship-value contracts is through the draft. By trading Jones we will be trading a non-championship-value contract for high probability championship-value contracts.
3. Big contracts are risky.Embed from Getty Images
In 2012 Adrian Peterson had one of the best seasons by a running back in NFL history. He had over 2,000 yards rushing and won the MVP award (the last time a non-QB won it). And at 27 he still had plenty of good years ahead of him. It would have been ridiculous for the Vikings to trade him at that point.
Or would it?
With benefit of hindsight we can see they were probably better off trading him. While he had good seasons in 2013 and 2015, he missed the 2014 season due to his child abuse scandal, and missed most of the 2016 season with a torn meniscus.
While those two seasons were nice, wouldn’t you rather have had the draft picks and cap space?
Or an example closer to home. After the 2016 season Eric Berry was considered one of the top safeties in the NFL, having made the AP 1st team All Pro team 3 of the previous 4 seasons. The one he didn’t get it? The season he was diagnosed with cancer, which he bravely fought back from.
Truly a guy richly deserving the big contract he got after that season.
But what have we gotten from that contract? In 2 seasons he’s played in 4 games, which includes a playoff game that he didn’t perform particularly well in.
The reality of big contracts is that you now absolutely must have that player on the field. If a guy making $3 million goes down you don’t miss much, but if a guy making $15 million goes down that’s a lot of your cap space not on the field winning games for you.
Instead of having one fantastic player, using that money to have several slightly above average players dramatically reduces the risk. If one or two of those guys goes down you have less value sitting on the bench.
4. Only one guy is irreplaceable.Embed from Getty Images
His name is Mahomes.
Sure, it’s nice to have a guy like Chris Jones, but if he got abducted by aliens tomorrow our Vegas win total likely wouldn’t change at all.
The reality of the NFL is that outside the quarterback and head coach, no one person has that big of an impact on the team.
Many people have noted the lack of future Hall of Fame players the Patriots have considering how successful they’ve been in recent years. But in the modern NFL it should be no surprise. Because outside of Tom Brady no one player matters that much, and therefore isn’t too expensive, they can surround him with good but not great players. This means they have few weaknesses.
When looking at the NFL through the lens of “value”, and being willing to accept crazy ideas, it’s clear that teams should be far more willing than they are to trade top players before they get expensive. If you want to win a championship, you have to have a team full of valuable contracts.
Editor’s Note: A Tony “tip o’ the cap” to KC_Sundevil for the concept.