The New York Jets had a problem develop over the weekend, and then they solved it—all in less time than it took to play the entire Masters. In a NFL world where roster-related wounds are left to fester for years, this showed an uncommon level of foresight.
After ten seasons with the Jets, left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson announced his retirement on Friday. It was the kind of late-offseason move that would tie the hands of a less flexible organization, forcing them to spend draft capital at positions they aren't necessarily comfortable with.
Jets GM Mike Maccagnan, though, was two steps ahead of the game. Rumors had swirled for most of the offseason about whether Ferguson, who was coming off his worst season as a pro, would take a pay cut or retire. Maccagnan saw this coming, and quickly ironed out a trade for former All-Pro Broncos tackle Ryan Clady. Clady, who turns 30 in September, ticks the boxes that traditionally drive NFL general managers crazy: he's old, and he has missed 30 games in the last three years due to torn knee ligaments. He also became extra baggage in Denver the minute the Broncos finagled an idiotic contract for former Seahawks tackle Russell Okung.
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So the Jets were able to acquire Clady and restructure his deal in a team-friendly way. Swap agent terminology for actual terms, and Clady is basically on a one-year, $6 million deal with a team option for 2017.
The cost of this deal for the Jets? A mere pick swap from the fifth round to the seventh round. This is one of Maccagnan's favorite inefficiencies—dealing draft picks for established players like Brandon Marshall helped build last year's 10-6 team. Let's go over how much value that actually is to the franchise.
Pro Football Reference has created a stat called Approximate Value (AV), which uses things like starts, Pro Bowl appearances, and raw stats to generate a numerical representation of how good a given player's season is. It's not a perfect stat—approximate is right there in the name, after all—but it's the best publicly available method of comparing players across positions.
You can also use AV to measure and compare the expected value of draft picks. The Jets gave Denver their fifth-round pick—pick No. 157, to be exact—for Clady. That pick can be expected to have an AV of about 2.4 through five years. An average healthy year for Clady, on the other hand, is worth about 11.3 AV. Even a bad Clady season will, on average, be worth the pick the Jets gave up to acquire him.
Of course, that claim comes with a number of caveats. For one, Clady actually has to stay healthy to have an average season, although since he was worth 1 AV in just 2 games in 2013, he would have to miss about 75 percent of the season not to be worth the pick. Then there's his contract—some teams don't have the cap space to take on a player like Clady, which does lower his value to some extent, though there's no quick and easy way to estimate how much. Clady's willingness to re-negotiate his deal shows that he would have been a fit for most teams, but it's true that he costs more than the average rookie deal.
Under John Elway, the Broncos historically have been more successful using late-round picks than the average franchise. Since 2011, Denver has found Julius Thomas, Malik Thomas, Danny Trevathan, Omar Bolden, Matt Paradis, Mike Mohamed, and Virgil Green after the first three rounds of the draft. That's three star players who all got big free-agent deals, as well as four competent players that beat the average AV of their draft slots.
All of which is to say that the Broncos aren't necessarily losers in this deal. After all, the second Okung put pen to paper, Clady became extraneous—Denver would have had to push both free-agent signing Donald Stephenson and second-round pick Ty Sambrailo inside to use him. He may have been an asset for another team, but Denver had no need for him.
For the Jets, Clady solves a problem, and quickly. There are no guarantees with a player that has Clady's recent injury history, but he's a much better bet than any other move the Jets could have made. And thanks to the NFL's discounting of players like Clady, it cost the Jets almost nothing to take the chance.