Bears

How can the Bears draft for the best value?

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How can the Bears draft for the best value?

By Adam Grossman

CSNChicago.com 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 CSNChicago.com. Follow Adam Grossman on Twitter @adamrgrossman.

Even without practicing, Allen Robinson is making a strong first impression with the Bears

Even without practicing, Allen Robinson is making a strong first impression with the Bears

Before Bears wide receivers coach Mike Furrey met with the media on Wednesday, Allen Robinson was curious what his position coach would say about him in public. 

“I just told him, I don’t know you,” Furrey quipped. “Who’s Allen Robinson?”

Furrey, of course, knows who Robinson is. But the point behind that joke is that Furrey, the Bears’ court wide receivers coach in four years, is still getting to know all of his receivers — let alone the one who hasn’t participated in a practice yet. For all the positivity that's easy to find around Halas Hall these days, the Bears' biggest offseason acquisition hasn't taken a rep yet. 

The good news for the Bears, of course, is that Robinson’s past play speaks for itself. He combined for 153 catches, 2,883 yards and 20 touchdowns in 2015 and 2016, and has been adamant he’ll return to that high level of play when he’s cleared to practice. The Bears were confident enough in Robinson’s medicals to guarantee him a little over $25 million in March, per Spotrac, about a month before they let Cameron Meredith sign with the New Orleans Saints largely over medical concerns (Meredith’s torn ACL was viewed as more serious than Robinson’s, in short). 

So the getting-to-know-you phase for Furrey and Robinson is largely taking place off the field in the meeting rooms of Halas Hall. 

“What a great young man,” Furrey said. “He’s come in here, obviously, rehabbing and doing all those things. But he’s alert, he comes to meetings, he’s ready to go. Really, really smart, you can tell that from the beginning and he’s a professional.”

What Furrey, in particular, likes about Robinson is that he’s an “alpha,” but is far more than all talk and no action. 

“And a lot of times that alpha talks a lot and they don’t really put it out there,” Furrey said. “He kind of has that alpha quietness to him. He understands what’s going on, you can look at him and you just kind of get that feel of he has a great understanding of how to approach this game at this level. Obviously he’s been highly successful for a couple years with some big numbers, but he doesn’t act like that. He’s still hungry, he wants to learn, and I think he’s got a chip on his shoulder, which is a good trait to have too. So we’re excited about that.”

The expectation all along has been for Robinson to be cleared to fully participate in training camp practices. So while coach Matt Nagy said last week Robinson is “ahead of the game,” that may not mean he takes part in the final round of OTAs next week or veteran minicamp the first week of June. 

But while Robinson can’t prove himself to his new coaches on the field yet, he’s doing the right things off the field to make a positive first impression. 

“He knows you gotta come in early, he knows you gotta be the last one to leave, he knows you gotta study,” Furrey said. “It doesn’t matter five years in, six years in, you gotta take notes. It doesn’t matter if you hear it 10 times, you just gotta keep taking notes. He’s been really good at that, and I’ve been really impressed with that. I’ve been able to get on the field with him a little bit, just kind of throwing some balls to him, and I didn’t know he was that big. But obviously we’re excited for it to happen out there.” 

Protection Issues: Bears O-line ranked 21st in NFL

Protection Issues: Bears O-line ranked 21st in NFL

Mitch Trubisky has been set up for a huge season in 2018 with all the firepower the Chicago Bears added on offense. Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, Anthony Miller and Trey Burton will give the second-year quarterback a variety of explosive targets to generate points in bunches.

None of the headline-grabbing moves will matter, however, if the offensive line doesn't do its job. 

According to Numberfire.com, the Bears' starting five could be the offense's Achilles heel. They were ranked 21st in the NFL and described as poor in pass protection.

Last year, the Bears ranked 26th in Sack NEP per drop back and 23rd in sack rate. These issues were especially apparent after Trubisky took over. In the games that [Kyle] Long played, their sack rate was 8.2%. It was actually 7.2% in the games that he missed. They struggled even when Long was healthy.

The Bears added Iowa's James Daniels in the second round of April's draft and he's expected to start at guard alongside Long. Cody Whitehair will resume his role as the starting center, with Charles Leno, Jr. and Bobby Massie at offensive tackle.

If Long comes back healthy and Daniels lives up to his draft cost, they should be a good run-blocking team from the jump. But Long has played just 18 games the past two years and is entering his age-30 season, so that's far from a lock. On top of that, the pass blocking was suspect last year and remains a mystery entering 2018.

The biggest addition to the offensive line is Harry Hiestand, the accomplished position coach who returns to Chicago after once serving in the same role under Lovie Smith from 2005-2009. He most recently coached at Notre Dame and helped develop multiple first-round picks. He's going to have a huge impact.

The good news for the Bears is they weren't the lowest-ranked offensive line in the NFC North. The Vikings came in at No. 25. The Packers checked-in at No. 13, while the Lions were 16th.