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Is Jordan Reed down to his last chance with Jay Gruden?

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The Redskins will have 23,621,000 reasons to cut or trade Jordan Reed at the end of the 2018 season. Will he be able to give the team enough reasons to keep him?

Wild Card Round - Green Bay Packers v Washington Redskins Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

I support him fully, right up until I don’t

I owned my own business for 9 years in Sydney, Australia, and during that time I came to understand something that someone had said to me years before that hadn’t really made sense to me when I first heard it. Specifically, what I came to understand was the concept that you support a guy, right up until the point that you don’t.

There comes a time in some relationships where you no longer believe in a person, whether that person is your spouse, your colleague or your neighbor. But, until that point comes, you do believe in that person.

This took on meaning for me when I made a bad hiring decision for a bookkeeping and administrative helper in my small office. The guy I hired was named Shane, and it became quickly apparent that he wasn’t doing a good job. My partners and I discussed him at a meeting. One of my partners wanted to be a bit passive aggressive with the guy in hopes of pushing him to quit.

I opposed the idea. I argued that we had hired Shane; we would support him.

I gave him extra training... individualized attention in which I reinforced our company values, our expectations, and reviewed the details of how to do his job well.

A week later, the partners met again. I reported that my efforts had come to naught, and we all agreed that Shane wasn’t going to work out. We agreed to pay him his salary through the end of his probation period, and then I walked out of the conference room, told Shane we had decided to let him go, gave him the check for the salary we had decided to pay him, and told him he didn’t need to finish out the day. I shook his hand, wished him luck, and never saw him again.

Right up until the time I walked into the partner’s meeting where we decided to cut him, I supported Shane. I had hired him; he was my guy. Coming out of the meeting, he no longer had my support, so there was no reason to keep him around. There was an instant in the partner’s meeting where Shane went from one of us to not one of us. As long as he was ‘one of us’ he got my 100% support. When he became ‘not one of us’, he got a handshake and good wishes in his future endeavors.

NFL coaches

NFL coaches are required by the league to talk to reporters. They can’t choose to simply hide in their offices and issue terse ‘no comment’ responses. They have to stand up at that podium and deliver.

Bill Belichick has proven that a coach can fulfill his obligations without being particularly informative or enlightening. Rob Ryan and others have shown that a coach can be highly entertaining at the podium.

Head coaches have to balance a number of factors in their public statements. It’s terribly important that they provide something for reporters to write about — after all, those guys are providing free publicity for the league. Coaches are also aware that their bosses — typically team owners and general managers — hear or read the statements that the coaches make. Most head coaches avoid making statements that could sound like explicit or implicit criticism of the people that hired them and pay their salaries. That’s why ears prick up when a coach expresses frustration, for example, with the specific draft picks made by his general manager in the first round of the previous two drafts.

Head coaches also use the podium as a platform (dyswidt?) to address fans directly. They might take responsibility for a loss, or temper expectations following a win. And the head coach always knows that his own players will hear or read what he had to say, so press conferences offer an opportunity to send messages (Le’veon Bell: Coach Tomlinson wants you at minicamp, OTAs and training camp), signal dissatisfaction (When the team is 7-9, it’s hard to praise anyone’s performance), offer unconditional support (Alex Smith is the smartest player I’ve ever been around), or set expectations (This isn’t a two- or three-year process. This is a one-year process and we have got to win right away).

As a result, much like politicians and diplomats in the pre-Trump era, coaches are circumspect about every word that they utter to reporters, and they have developed their own coded speech, often referred to as “coachspeak”. A player with “a lot of potential” probably isn’t playing that well when he gets on the field. “We’re hoping he’ll be ready for camp” means that he isn’t recovering quickly from surgery. “Turnovers really hurt us today” means that Matt Jones won’t be active again while I’m the head coach.

Jay Gruden and Jordan Reed

Ask Jay Gruden about Jordan Reed and his mouth fills up with superlatives: he’s special, the key to our offense, critical to the team’s success, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. Jordan Reed enjoys Jay Gruden’s unqualified support.

That extends to the question of Jordan Reed’s health. Jay never suggests that Jordan Reed is injury-prone, that he’s made of glass, or that he needs to be kept in bubble wrap outside of game day. The most he’ll do is concede that Jordan has had some tough injuries, but Jay always expresses confidence that Jordan is working hard and will be back on the field as soon as he can.

It seems like Jordan Reed is Jay’s guy, and that the coaching staff has none of the concerns that run rampant in the fan base about Reed’s seeming inability to stay healthy.

Aside from the obvious talent that Jordan Reed displays when he’s on the field, why does Jay offer so much support to Reed in his public statements about him?

I think there are a number of reasons. Reed is undoubtedly talented, and Jay has to acknowledge that. The fact is, when Reed is healthy and on the field, the Redskins tend to win. Secondly, head coaches that aren’t upbeat about their teams — especially in the offseason — are probably doing something wrong. The Head Coach is the ambassador for the football team. Along with the quarterback, the coach is the face of the franchise, and he needs to be a bit of a cheerleader in public.

Jordan Reed is a Redskin, and as long as he is a Redskin and Jay believes in him, Jay will support him 100%. That’s a lesson that probably got driven home to Jay in his first season with the Redskins when he waffled from week to week in his support (or criticism) of RG3.

But surely Jay can see what the fan base can see. Surely he knows that Reed is an injury or three just waiting to happen. Why doesn’t he just cut bait?

Well, contractually, it would be very difficult. Jordan Reed got an extension after his highly productive third season. Reed finished the ‘15 season with 952 yards and 11 TDs. The Redskins won the NFC East division championship. The Redskins front office had seen what they needed to see — they would use the franchise tag on Kirk Cousins, but they extended Jordan Reed, making him one of the highest paid tight ends in the NFL (OverTheCap lists him 3rd behind Jimmy Graham and Travis Kelce), with guaranteed money through the 2018 season.

That last part is important — “guaranteed money through the 2018 season”.

Jordan Reed’s contract makes him almost uncuttable right now. The Redskins would have to make the kind of unpalatable decision that Miami made with Ndamukong Suh to eat a badly valued contract and move on.

Like a marriage, Jay Gruden is committed to Jordan Reed ‘for better or worse’ and it’s a commitment he can’t complain about without indirectly criticizing his boss(es) who approved Reed’s contract. Who knows? Maybe Jay stood on the table for Jordan Reed back in 2015, and now has to live with the result to save his own face.

In any event, Jay Gruden really has no choice but to support Jordan Reed 100%.

Well, he has to support him right up until the moment when he doesn’t.

That moment will come at the end of the 2018 season, when the guarantees run out on Reed’s base salary, and he becomes fair game in the offseason question of “to cut, or not to cut?”

So, there’s the question: Does 2018 represent Jordan Reed’s last chance to prove himself to Jay Gruden and reestablish himself as an indispensable part of the Redskins team?

How can we even be having this discussion about a player of Reed’s obvious talents?

Let’s address the obvious right up front. Jordan Reed’s spot on the Redskins roster is not in question due to poor performance. He is an elite tight end when he is on the field.

The question arises because of Reed’s injury history. The real question is whether it is financially wise to carry a big salary cap hit for a player who, over the past three seasons, has been active for 14, 12, and 6 games — and in several of those games, injuries limited him to only marginal effectiveness.

Jordan Reed is one of the Redskins’ “Big Five” cornerstone players that carry cap hits of $10m or more per season. The others play premium positions: quarterback, cornerback, left tackle, edge rusher. Reed got his big payday despite being a tight end because he played so well and produced so much for the Redskins, especially in the Jay Gruden offense, and especially in the pivotal third year of his rookie contract.

Two players will need to be paid next year: Brandon Scherff and Preston Smith. With the top-heavy salary cap structure that will (from 2019) include a $20m per year quarterback and a $10m per year tight end, it will be a challenge to give these two players the kind of extensions they expect and are likely to have earned, especially with the recent sharp rise in the salary structure for offensive guards. It would be a lot easier to extend Scherff and Smith if Reed’s cap hit were to disappear.

Let’s look at Jordan Reed’s contract structure

As you can see, with $8m of his salary guaranteed for the 2018 season, the Redskins would actually have to eat a $3.2m increase in cap hit if they cut or traded Jordan Reed this year.

Things change, though, over the next three seasons. Reed’s cap hit ranges from $9m to $10.3 m per season, and the Redskins can save a total of $23.621m over those three seasons by cutting or trading Reed prior to the start of the 2019 season.

That’s some powerful incentive for Gruden and the Redskin front office to consider making a move.

But... wait...

I can hear some of you now asking how the Redskins could consider getting rid of a player that means so much to the team; a player that the Redskins drafted, and who scares the Bejeezus out of defensive coordinators and players when he steps on the field.

We all know that Jordan Reed is a crucial playmaker for Jay Gruden. Based on his per-game averages, this is how a 16-game season projects for Jordan Reed:

  • 85 receptions
  • 865 yards
  • 7 TDs

That’s pretty serious production. And the projection isn’t even unrealistic; Jordan Reed beat every one of those numbers in 2015, and he did while playing in only 14 games. So he has the ability to dominate defenses week in and week out [insert caveat].

Jordan Reed is a huge difference maker for the Washington Redskins.

But as every Redskin fan knows, he has never had a full 16-game season in his NFL career:

In fact, last year he only played in 6 games — the lowest total of his career — and because of injury, he wasn’t fully effective in all six of the games for which he was active.

In 2017, Jordan Reed’s cap hit was $5.7m, while Vernon Davis had a cap hit of $3.33m.

How did their production compare?

Vernon Davis

  • Reed had 27 catches for 211 yards and 2 TDs in 2017.
  • Davis had 43 catches for 648 yards and 3 TDs last season, and that was consistent with the kind of production Davis generated in 2016 as well.

In 2018, the cap numbers are $10.1m for Reed and $5.3m for Davis. I wonder which player most Redskin fans expect will have the more productive year?

Recapping

There’s no financial reason to cut Reed this year (2018). He takes a roster spot that could be given to another player, but cutting him would increase the Redskins cap hit by $3.2m. And with the potential upside to the Redskins’ season if he stays healthy, there’s a lot of incentive to keep him around, cross your fingers, and hope for the best. Jordan Reed is absolutely bursting with upside. When you combine that potential healthy season performance with the cost of cutting him, the only sensible decision for this season is to keep him in the fold and support him unconditionally.

But if he’s cut at the end of ‘18 season, the team achieves a cap savings of $23,621m over the next three seasons.

That’s a lot of powerful incentive for the Redskins to cut ties with their star tight end. The only way for Reed to counteract that incentive is to go out this season and play in at least 12 games, putting up career numbers along the way. Anything less will lead to many long meetings in Ashburn, where Jordan Reed’s future with the team will be the topic of conversation.

Jordan Reed is absolutely loaded with pass-catching ability, but we all know the old saying: “The best ability is availability”.

Is Jordan Reed “Injury prone”?

The internet offers lots of cool resources, and one of the many great websites it has brought us in recent years is the Sports Injury Predictor.

How does it work?

After a lot of testing and several iterations of model design we approach injury prediction as follows:

Injury history: Our ever growing injury database goes back all the way to college for all the skill position players. This database goes back 14 years and has nearly 500 players injury history all stored in great detail.

Injury Correlation: Next we have our correlation matrix that weights the different injuries by investigating the relationship between them. By keeping a running count of which injuries lead to other injuries we are able to dynamically weight the chances of an injury reoccurring or causing another type of injury.

Biometrics: We also take into account biometric data such as age, weight and height as some physical profiles are more resistant to injury than others. For example, short, thick running backs tend to get hurt less than tall skinny ones.

Game data: Finally we use game data such as position and projected touches to act as a lever that defines the player’s exposure to risk. Players who touch the ball more often are more likely to get injured.

We take some other pieces of data into account but these are the main levers you will hear us discuss as we provide our analysis on the injury risk of various players. We provide a percentage number that will indicate how likely a player is to get injured in the coming season.

What does the Sports Injury Predictor say about Jordan Reed?

2017 Jordan Reed Player Overview (2018 overview not yet released)

Reed is as injury-prone as he is talented. He has yet to play 16 games in his first 4 NFL season. Reed has suffered a myriad of injuries — including 5 concussions, one in November of 2013 that caused him to be placed on IR and missed the final 6 games. He caught 66 passes for 686 yards and 6 TDs in only 12 games last year. If he puts together a healthy 2017 season, he could breach 90 catches and 1,000 yards. But that’s a big ‘if.”

On a scale from 1-5, with 5 being most durable, Reed was rated a “2” before losing 10 games to injury last year.

Does this mean that Reed can’t stay healthy or that he can’t contribute to the team?

No, it doesn’t mean that.

These are just odds... statistical calculations of future probabilities with a bit of guesswork thrown into the algorithmic model. This type of projection isn’t a certainty.

But it is a probability.

I learned a long time ago that the best predictor of the future is the past, but it is not a perfect predictor. If it were, the same 8 teams would win division titles annually, and this year’s super bowl winner would be the same as last year’s winner.

But the rule of thumb is useful, and it tells me that Jordan Reed needs both to stay healthy and have a monster year in 2018 if he wants to keep his current contract and play for the Redskins in 2019.

Even if he manages to do both of those things this season, the Redskins could still decide that his history of injury as a pro from 2013 to 2017 projects far too much risk for the franchise to be on the hook for nine or ten million dollars a year. They could decide to take action next off-season no matter what happens in 2018.

In other words, the ship might have already sailed for Jordan Reed.

What options do the Redskins have?

Obviously, one option is to do nothing different. The team could simply continue as it has, with Reed playing on his current contract.

A second option would be to approach Reed with the idea of re-structuring his contract. In this scenario, Reed — understanding that his injury history will limit is market value to other teams, and wanting to continue his career in DC — would agree to re-structure his contract; that is, to take a pay cut or load up his contract with incentive clauses based on health and availability. Changing the overall value proposition could make it attractive for the Redskins to keep Reed on the roster, even in the face of potential future injuries.

A third option would be to seek a trade partner in an effort to get some sort of value for Reed. Of course, any potential trade partner would likely have the same concerns as the Redskins regarding Reed’s contract and injury history, so the likelihood of arranging a favorable deal is pretty low. From a salary cap standpoint, trading Reed to another team after the 2018 season would have the same effect as cutting him.

And that’s the fourth option — releasing Reed, taking the dead cap hit, and opening up $23m of cap space to be used for other players. While this option is unpalatable when dealing with a player of Jordan Reed’s exceptional abilities, it’s very possible that the powers that be will see this as the most prudent decision when they undertake rational analysis of the roster and salary cap situations. The Redskins are really stuck with Reed’s 2018 cap hit, but they don’t have to remain stuck in 2019 and beyond. The right move may be to simply cut ties with Reed and look to free agency or the draft for his replacement.

Poll

How many games will Jordan Reed play in 2018?

This poll is closed

  • 3%
    16
    (38 votes)
  • 37%
    12-15
    (363 votes)
  • 48%
    7-11
    (463 votes)
  • 9%
    1-6
    (93 votes)
  • 0%
    zero, zip, nada, bupkisss
    (6 votes)
963 votes total Vote Now

Poll

What most likely will happen with Jordan Reed after the 2018 season comes to an end?

This poll is closed

  • 12%
    No change; he continues to play for the Redskins on his current contract
    (104 votes)
  • 8%
    He is traded to another team
    (76 votes)
  • 45%
    He agrees to restructure his deal in order to remain with the Redskins
    (397 votes)
  • 28%
    He is cut, then signs with another team
    (248 votes)
  • 4%
    He is cut or retires, and never plays in the NFL again
    (41 votes)
866 votes total Vote Now

Poll

What is Vernon Davis’ likely future?

This poll is closed

  • 15%
    Father time catches him this season; he is cut after 2018
    (132 votes)
  • 62%
    He completes his contract in 2019, then retires
    (526 votes)
  • 18%
    Davis re-signs with the Redskins and continues his career
    (158 votes)
  • 2%
    Davis becomes a free agent in 2020 and signs with another team
    (21 votes)
837 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Statistically, who will put up bigger numbers in 2018 (eg. receptions, yards, touchdowns)?

This poll is closed

  • 56%
    Jordan Reed
    (475 votes)
  • 43%
    Vernon Davis
    (360 votes)
835 votes total Vote Now