How can the Bears draft for the best value?


How can the Bears draft for the best value?

By Adam Grossman contributor

How did the Chicago Bears do in the 2015 NFL Draft? After the Bulls and Blackhawks playoff performances, it is the topic that is on top of Chicago sports fans’ minds. Many analysts have concluded that the Bears had a solid, if not very good, draft. However, many people are solely focused how these players can help a team. Is picking players based solely on their on-field contributions the right question to ask?

NFL teams are businesses that rely primarily on ticket, media rights, merchandise, and sponsorship revenues to make money. While winning does help expand these revenue streams, it is not the only factor that makes each team successful from a business perspective.

Rather than relying solely on winning to characterize value, I created a new metric that incorporates the ways that sports organizations earn money into valuing a player’s worth called Revenue Above Replacement (RAR). RAR examines a player’s economic contributions to his or her franchise as compared to the minimum performing player that could play the same position. I found that winning does have a significant positive correlation for each of these revenue streams. However, winning was not the only factor that increased revenue. For example, an NFL team could still expect 88% of its seating capacity to be filled and a 17.5 local television rating even if the team performed at the minimum level.

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Last fall, I used RAR to evaluate the performance of NFL quarterbacks during the 2013 season to see which quarterbacks had added the most value to their teams. After the 2014 season, I expanded the analysis to include more revenue streams and more NFL players. I now examine how individual players help generate revenue in four revenue streams – ticket sales, television ratings, jersey sales, and sponsorship/other revenue. RAR also addresses how an athlete’s ability to help a team win impacts the organization’s revenue. In addition, RAR calculations were done for non-quarterbacks who have a similar degree of on and off-field impact as quarterbacks.

Why is a RAR analysis so important for the draft? Because winning is not everything or the only thing when it comes to evaluating a player’s economic value. In fact, a quarterback’s ability to help his team win only contributed an average of 31% of his overall value. For non-quarterbacks, this was only 25%. That means a majority of a player’s economic value comes from how he can help sell tickets, generate television ratings, sell jerseys and attract sponsors.

The Bears are in a unique position when it comes to RAR. The Bears had two players on their 2014 roster that generated significant negative values for their teams – Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall. Both Cutler and Marshall received over $15 million in cash payments from the Bears but neither generated more than $8.5 million in value for the team. In fact, Cutler cost the team $9.0 million in value while Marshall cost the team $6.5 million team in value last season.

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Cutler and Marshall both have been valuable performers in the past but it is hard for them to maintain their values in the future given their large contracts. Marshall is a great example. His $8.5 million in value added during the 2014 season solely comes from his off-field contributions. In fact, his on-field performance in 2014 was not that much different from the fifth-round pick the Bears received from the Jets for Marshall back in March. However, a fifth round pick would make less than $636,000 in cash payouts per year. In 2013, however, Marshall was one of the best wide receivers in the NFL, made similar off-field contributions while receiving $9.3 million in cash payouts. Therefore, Marshall added close to $16 million value for the Bears in 2013. Keeping Marshall for the 2014 season (and trading him prior to the 2015 season) makes sense from the Bears perspective given this type of analysis.

Where the Bears have found valuable players is in the draft. In fact, the Bears have done a good job in identifying valuable RAR players in the past three drafts. For example, Kyle Long and Alshon Jeffrey both received under $1 million in cash payments but were some of the highest performers at their position. In addition, Kyle Fuller was rated as the third best cornerback in the NFL last year. While his cash payout was $5.9 million in 2014 (he received much of his total bonus payment in the first year of his contract), Fuller will receive an estimated $860,000 this season. Each of these players should deliver a minimum of $7.1 million in value to the Bears in the 2015 season while none will make over $1.3 million dollars. With these three picks alone, the Bears have added substantial value to their team through the draft.

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This is also why Bears appeared to have had successful draft this year. For example, first round pick wide receiver Kevin White plays a non-quarterback position that tends to attract of fan, media, and sponsor engagement. In fact, seven of the top-12 players that do not play quarterback with the highest RAR are wide receivers or tight ends known for their pass catching abilities. Both Marshall and Jeffrey show that Bears have the ability to produce valuable WRs that can play with Cutler while adding value to the team. The selection of Jeremy Langford in the fourth round and Adrian Amos in the fifth round are other good examples of why the team had a successful draft. The Bears picked players who can help the team on the field at positions where the organization has successfully developed players off the field in the past.

Clearly, not every pick for the Bears has been or is going to be successful from a RAR perspective. In addition, there is no question that the Bears should be looking at a player’s ability to help the team win games. However, this should be part of a larger question about how to have a successful draft (or a draft where the players add overall positive value to the team). The Bears have likely found at least one or two players per who can generate significant value for the team in the short and long-term by asking the right questions about the players’ future performances. 

Adam Grossman is the President of the sports marketing and analytics firm Block Six Analytics. He is also the co-author of The Sports Strategist: Developing Leaders for a High-Performance Industry. In addition, he is currently an adjunct lecturer at Northwestern University and George Mason University. Grossman also contributes to Forbes and Follow Adam Grossman on Twitter @adamrgrossman.

Bears' Anthony Miller earning Mitch Trubisky’s trust at the right time

USA Today

Bears' Anthony Miller earning Mitch Trubisky’s trust at the right time

With Mitch Trubisky playing tentatively at times this season, the automatic assumption was that the problem was entirely with the Bears quarterback.

That’s not entirely true.

“Don’t surprise your quarterback” is a wide-receiver commandment, and the fact is that Trubisky was hampered early this season by his receivers’ poor routes, drops or both all too often. That led to sacks, incompletions and interceptions.

Anthony Miller, for instance, was called out for running an improper route against the Rams in Week 10 that resulted in an interception. That was, however, the moment when a light appeared to go on for the second-year receiver. His subsequent increase in targets indicates that Trubisky is trusting him more. Miller was targeted 30 times over the season’s first nine games, 37 times over the past four. In the Bears’ win over Detroit on Thanksgiving, Miller was targeted a season-high 13 times. He caught nine of those throws for 140 yards.

“I think with every receiver, the timing and the trust comes with experience,” head coach Matt Nagy said going into the Dallas game. “There's a little bit of trust that gets earned over time. So the more plays you have with that guy, the more trust you'll get in particular routes.”

Miller’s emergence over the past month has offset Taylor Gabriel’s diminished presence due to concussion issues. Plus, the early success of newfound tight ends J.P. Holtz and Jesper Horsted has given Nagy more play-calling options.

And all the Bears’ pass catchers are doing a better job of, well, catching passes. Every one of the team’s nine main pass receivers has a catch percentage 60 percent or higher. Last year Trubisky’s targets included Josh Bellamy (56 percent), and star receiver Allen Robinson was sub-60 (58.5 percent).

“Going back to last year, it was our first year in this offense,” Nagy said. “All these routes and the different coverages you get take time. So, yeah, there's a little bit of trust that gets earned over time. It's starting to develop more and more with more receivers on our team.”

None more than with Anthony Miller.

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Wild-Card Race: What Bears fans should be watching in Week 15

Wild-Card Race: What Bears fans should be watching in Week 15

The Bears didn't get the help they needed in Week 14 from teams like the Lions (against the Vikings) or Seahawks (against the Rams), but they did win their game against the Cowboys and improved to 7-6 on the season.

As a result, Chicago is still alive entering Week 15's game against the Packers. Green Bay's win over the Redskins, one which improved their record to 10-3, all but ended the slim hopes that the Bears could make a run for the NFC North, but it doesn't lessen the importance of Sunday's rivalry game.

You know the story by now. Chicago needs to win out in order to have any chance at a post-season berth. And even then, their chances aren't great. They're hovering around 5%, depending on which source of playoff odds you use.

Here's the thing: If the Bears just keep winning, their playoff odds will keep going up. They'll need some help, and they'll need the Rams and Vikings to slip up along the way, but all Matt Nagy, Mitch Trubisky and Khalil Mack can control right now is winning this Sunday.

In the meantime, here are the other games Bears fans should keep a close eye on.

Minnesota Vikings (9-4) vs. Los Angeles Chargers (5-8)
3:05 p.m. CST

The Vikings and Bears play in the season finale but Chicago needs Minnesota to lose at least one more time before Week 17 to give the game any meaning. If the Vikings enter that game with five losses and the Bears do their part to topple Kirk Cousins and the rest of Minnesota's cast of characters, they'll own the head-to-head tiebreaker for the sixth and final wild card.

Unfortunately, the Chargers don't inspire much confidence that that fifth and necessary loss will come on Sunday. But as Phillip Rivers proved in Week 14's 45-point output against the Jaguars, there's always a chance for Los Angeles to outplay their record.

Los Angeles Rams (8-5) at Dallas Cowboys (6-7)
3:25 p.m. CST

The biggest blow to the Bears' playoff chances in Week 14 may have happened in Los Angeles where the Rams defeated the Seahawks in a game many assumed Seattle would win. Now 1.5 games ahead of Chicago, L.A. has a very winnable game in Dallas against a team that's spiraling out of control. This, combined with the Rams' finding their offensive mojo once again suggests another victory for Los Angeles.

If they secure the win, the Bears would need Jared Goff and Aaron Donald to lose their final two games and end the year at 9-7. If the Rams end the season with the same record as Chicago, they'll own the head-to-head tiebreaker because of their win over the Bears in Week 11.

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