by Michael Lowrey
Heavy-duty analytics of the sort made famous in baseball by the book and movie Moneyball has come to the football as well. Per Mike Tanier of the Bleacher Report:
The Carolina Panthers shocked the football world by cutting Josh Norman days before the draft. Then we all took a deep breath and realized the release was pure Moneyball.
Norman is a 28-year-old coming off a career year. Football Outsiders research shows that defensive backs begin to decline around age 29. His departure will almost certainly result in the Willy Wonka Golden Ticket of the NFL draft: a third-round compensatory pick. Teams like the Ravens have used the compensatory-pick/pricey-free-agent exchange to remain perennial contenders. The Panthers traded short-term impact for a wealth of long-term benefits.
The franchise-tag-versus-compensatory-selection equation follows similar logic to trading down in the draft; a tag-worthy player may be more of a “sure thing” than the second pick in the draft, but he represents a larger investment in cash and cap space. A quarterback or Von Miller-caliber player will always be too good to not tag, but everyone else now has an increased chance to fall victim to (or benefit from) a cold, mathematical approach to player value.