Some Pre-Turkey Day Blog Stuffing : Football Econ 101

Heck, it’s late on getaway-day, so why not a bit of fluff before you hit the stuff…ing. In a rather un-PC titled article, “Patriots vs. Redskins“, Kevin Hassett of the new On-line Magazine writes about how the Patriots are the NFL’s business model franchise. Hasset explains why economic theory supports that “the [NFL] draft is the only place to build a winning team” and that “economics would predict that teams would uniformly put an enormous effort into perfecting their drafts, and avoid sinking excessive dollars into costly free agents.” So who does this the best?

In fact, this model predicts very well the behavior of one team, the New England Patriots. Their head coach, Bill Belichick, who received his undergraduate degree in economics from Wesleyan University in Connecticut, has been an artist at squeezing value-added out of his draft picks, and has won three of the last five Super Bowls.
This economic brilliance was on display in September, when Belichick traded disgruntled receiver Deion Branch to the Seattle Seahawks for a first-round draft pick. The Seahawks gave Branch a $39 million contract, guaranteeing that they would achieve little value-added at that position. So Belichick burdened the salary cap of a rival with a fat obligation, and took home a valuable draft pick for his own team.
Belichick keeps winning because so many others in the league behave so strangely. Two economists, Cade Massey of Yale and Richard Thaler of the University of Chicago, studied years of draft history and found that teams make systematic errors that reflect a serious economic illiteracy. Coaches and general managers place too high a value on the top few picks, and too low a value on picks a bit further down.

Just some food for thought for you as you half-nap, half-watch an uncompetitive football game, with a ball of stuffing and turkey floating in your stomach amidst a sea of gravy, and your mind encased in a post-feast, triptofan induced fog.
Next up: why baseball is proof that trickle-down economics works.
(Just kidding)

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17 years ago

Now if we could get somebody to write the football equivalent of “Moneyball”…
Personally, I think the Pats should’ve ponied up to keep Adam Vinatieri, given the amount of cash left under the cap. That said, I’m thankful they went the low-cost rookie route to replace him instead of Mike Vanderjoke, who will kill the Cowboys at some point the way he killed the Colts last year, for much more money than Stephen Gostkowski may kill the Pats.

Marc Comtois
17 years ago

I agree with you on Viniatieri…but I’ve heard that he wasn’t coming back regardless. Playing in a Dome will certainly lengthen his career. And I’d like to see someone do the Moneyball equivalent for the NFL, too. Wouldn’t almost have to be centered around the Pats? Though, now that I think about it, the Steelers have been doing the same thing for quite some time. They haven’t had the same success, but they’ve been in the playoffs a lot.

17 years ago

and the broncos have a similar system too don’t they?

Marc Comtois
17 years ago

re: Broncos
Not sure about overall, but it is certainly true when it comes to their RB philosophy. Their offense is predicated on running the ball successfully, which boils down to the offensive line. They have gone for the big free-agent, though, like Plummer and Javon Walker, and I think their entire D-line played for Cleveland a couple years ago. So they’ve had success, but they do it a little differently than the Pats and Steelers, who don’t overpay for anyone.

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