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KS4GM’s Draft Commandments, Volume 3

Gather round and listen one more time

We’re less than a week away from the beginning of the NFL draft, when hordes of fans, and an unenviable subset of NFL general managers will forget (or ignore) many of the lessons of their forebears and - stubbornly convinced they know better than the pantheon of front office executives and coaches either in the Hall of Fame, or headed there - fail to learn from the past.

This piece is the third in an intentionally adamant treatise on a basic series of “dos” and “don’ts” in the NFL draft, finely honed by both past experience and the insights of NFL management staff willing to share their chestnuts of wisdom about the NFL draft based on decades of experience.

KS4GM’s Draft Commandments, Volume 1

KS4GM’s Draft Commandments, Volume 2

5. Thou shalt build trust relationships with other franchises.

Commandments 5 & 6 are more general than the specific directives laid out earlier, but think of them as the lubricant that makes executing a team’s overall plan that much easier.

Most of us have probably (hopefully) repressed the Bruce Allen years, but it’s important to remember that just three short years ago, he was named the least-trusted decision maker in the NFL by his peers.

Congrats, Bruce Allen.

According to a sampling of agents, you’re the least-trusted decision maker in the entire NFL.

“You never know if he’s shooting straight with you,” a veteran agent told USA TODAY Sports under the condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue.

Not only did fans think Bruce was a slimeball, his colleagues in the industry nominated him as the BIGGEST slimeball. Nevermind the fact that that poll should probably have been grounds for his immediate ouster - given that those individuals represented the pool of people his entire job revolved around doing business with - Bruce (and Dan’s) reputation as an underhanded weasel surely hurt the team in a variety of ways that are difficult to assess.

The Washington Redskins play the Dallas Cowboys Photo by John McDonnell / The Washington Post via Getty Images

Which executive did agents respect the most? Surprise.....the Ravens’ Ozzie Newsome (sense a theme here?):

One agent said of Newsome: “You can sit down and have a frank discussion with him. He won’t pull punches, but he’s fair.”

In any case, whether it be in the draft, or negotiating trades, or simply being plugged into industry banter, if people don’t like you and don’t trust you, they’re either going to avoid you, or have no compunction about screwing you over. If they think you’re an honest broker and good-faith partner, they’re still likely to prioritize doing the best for their organization in the negotiation, but they will likely do so in a way that opens doors to future discussions, and they may even be willing to take small “losses” in terms of draft trade deals in order to create capital for bargaining down the road. It’s unlikely we were getting any “deals” under Bruce’s watchful eye.

While I wasn’t able to find any literature directly based on the NFL, there is a social science literature on the topic of trust and transaction costs that seems pertinent. “Transaction costs” are additional costs associated with making a trade in an economic market. So, a credit card fee of 3% would be a “transaction cost” associated with using your Visa at a shop, and might even be one that the vendor would waive in the case of you using cash.

In more complex transactions, like an NFL trade, those “transaction costs” can be a bit more amorphous. In 2003, researchers at BYU set out to examine what role trust relationships played in auto manufacturer-supplier transactions. Their paper, “The Role of Trustworthiness in Reducing Transaction Costs and Improving Performance: Empirical Evidence from the United States, Japan, and Korea,” found that where there was a better trust relationship between the two trade partners, fewer transaction costs existed and there was better information sharing between the parties. In this case, the higher transaction costs took the form of lengthier negotiations and more haggling. Is this particular study, the least trusted trade partner experienced procurement costs five times those of the more trusted entities.

It’s not hard to imagine Washington, under the previous regime, taking a heavy hit in terms of time wasted and a “Brucifer premium” on trade deals. Thankfully, Ron Rivera, Martin Mayhew, and Marty Hurney all seem to be - at a minimum - trusted and well-liked figures. Hopefully, they will continue to remain so, with those positive relationships paying dividends for the team in the future. Speaking of the future...

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 17 Akron at Kent State Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

6. Thou shalt draft with the future in mind

I would imagine with the talent evaluation, player ranking, and chaos of assorted draft exercises occupying most of the front office’s time at this point, it’s easy to lose sight of the future beyond next week, or at least to put it on the back burner. It’s critical that that doesn’t happen.

Fundamentally, drafts are about development, potential, and the future - most draftees don’t make an immediate impact, after all. In preparation for the draft, there are a variety of questions that need to be posed and considered:

What will future talent pools look like?

The 2021 draft class appears to have fairly strong tackle and linebacker talent which could make it an opportunity to take unusually talented players at those positions if they happen to slip later than they might in an average year. But what does next year’s class look like? We’ve heard it’s going to be a “weak QB class,” but is that true? Have Washington’s scouts already identified the likely strengths and weaknesses of the 2022 class? How do those match up with the free agent vacancies the team is likely to have after this season? Is the class so strong (or weak) in certain respects that we want to try to accumulate 2022 draft capital this year (or not)?

What does our cap space look like over the next several years? And what is the cap likely to look like?

The team is in a pretty good salary cap situation this year, but things start getting interesting next year, as some of the young defensive talent starts to enter second contract territory. What are the likely contract terms for those young guys? Are we thinking about trading any of them before they hit those second contracts? Talent pipeline management could go a long way towards reducing the risk of a future cap pinch, but it’s also important to consider that the cap is likely to - at least - continue its pre-COVID escalation pattern going forward. Given that reality, structuring contracts so that near term cap hits are pushed into the future - when each dollar costs the team less - is an important way to use the CBA’s rules to our advantage.

What will our team needs look like in 1, 2, 3 years?

I’ve done multi-year roster projections in the past. It’s very difficult, and looking back, I’m a little embarrassed by them. In August 2019, for instance, I projected the 2021 roster as containing Haskins, Guice/Love, Paul Richardson, Trey Quinn, Sean Dion Hamilton, and Quinton Dunbar, among others.

I’ve said it elsewhere, but in the NFL, “long term” is 2-3 years. Things change fast and unpredictably, and in ways we often can’t imagine. With the new management team settled in, hopefully there will be a bit more predictability in place, but who knows?

My hope is, Ron and his management team know. That they know exactly who they are planning on extending, trading, and letting roll into free agency, and planning with those decisions in mind. As always, the unpredictable, like injuries, will intervene, but there’s no excuse for Washington to ever get into a situation like it’s currently in with Brandon Scherff on a second franchise tag. That’s a fundamental failure of management, and the last one I’ll lay at the feet of the previous regime. The situation reminds me a bit of a (probably apocryphal) Cold War tale:

It’s said that when Nikita Khrushchev was forced out as the Russian Premier, he sat down to write his successor, Leonid Brezhnev, two letters. He told Brezhnev, “When you get into trouble, open the first letter. If you get into trouble again, open the second letter.” As one might have expected, Brezhnev eventually got into trouble, failing to sign his All Pro right guard to a long term deal, so he opened the the first letter. It said, “Blame everything on Bruce Allen.” So he did, and it seemed to work for a bit. Time passed though, and he got into trouble again, this time trying to juggle the contracts of several defensive linemen. He reached into his drawer for the second envelope and opened that one. It said, “Sit down and write two letters.”

What will our team strengths be in the future? Can drafted depth now give us trade flexibility in the future?

Some people look at the current strength of the team, bolstered by four first round picks, and think/wish that the defensive line could be the focus of the team for the next 10 years. Perhaps it will be. Perhaps it won’t be. I doesn’t matter to me nearly as much as the team simply having multiple strengths (and playing competitive football) 10 years from now.

I look at team building in the current era as akin to a constantly moving conveyor belt: There is, or should be, an underlying continuity, but there is perpetual movement and evolution. Working well, it is fundamentally dynamic. If you stand still, or try to make it stand still, you may succeed for a brief time, but expect it to fail catastrophically at some point, as the gears eventually seize up, the wearing surface ages, and the springs give way.

Are there ways that strengths of the team can be backfilled, and players in those units traded for additional picks to keep raising the ceiling of the team? Are there position coaches who are so special - John Matsko (OL coach) comes to mind here - that they can take apparent lumps of coal and polish them into diamonds such that the team could develop and trade back end players, acquired with relatively little investment, and parlay them into future draft capital. Just typing it, it almost seems like fantasy, given this team’s 30 year history, but I think it’s actually possible.

At the end of the day, I hope you’ve enjoyed these Draft Commandments, and have given them some serious consideration, and that Washington’s front office will as well.

Poll

Which of these commandments do you hope Rivera and company will follow more closely?

This poll is closed

  • 11%
    5. Thou shalt build trust relationships with other franchises.
    (44 votes)
  • 25%
    6. Thou shalt draft with the future in mind
    (100 votes)
  • 59%
    Both of these.
    (236 votes)
  • 3%
    Neither. When can we expect Ryan Pace’s rebuttal, as required by the Fairness Doctrine?
    (14 votes)
394 votes total Vote Now