Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Better Trade: Jeremy Shockey or Jason Taylor?

As I'm sure most of you have heard by now, the NFL has seen a couple of big moves this week. Jeremy Shockey and Jason Taylor have both been traded for similar packages this week. Shockey goes to the Saints in exchange for 2nd and 5th round picks in the 2009 draft, while Taylor heads to Washington for a 2nd rounder in 2009 and a 6th rounder in 2010. So, as always on Joe & Joe Sports, we wonder, "Who got the better deal?"

First, it's pretty fair to say the two players were acquired for roughly the same value. The Saints and Redskins figure to have similar records this season (the Skins were a game better last year), so the 2nd round picks will probably be of similar value. And between a 5th rounder this year and a 6th rounder next year, while you'd obviously rather have the 5th, the difference is mostly irrelevant. At least these two football teams have helped us out in that regard.

We'll start with the money end of things, which is often important in football. Jason Taylor will count about $8 million a year for the next two years against the salary cap (the same cost for Christian Guzman; funny how things tie together like that). Shockey, meanwhile, will make between $5 million and $6 million a year for the next three years. Both players will be on the high end of their position with regards to cap numbers (Shockey was 4th among tight ends last year, Taylor was 2nd among DEs).

It's obviously difficult to compare two players who don't play the same position, and even more difficult to compare two players on different sides of the ball. But hey, that's what I get paid (absolutely nothing) to do. So here goes: Jason Taylor was a better acquisition.

I think the three factors that you can use to evaluate any acquisition are as follows: health, production, team need. If the player is normally healthy, is a good bet for production, and the team improves itself substantially at that position, it's a good acquisition.

You can count the number of games Jason Taylor has missed over the past eight years on your tusks. That's right, zero. He's missed zero games over the past eight seasons (and you, hopefully, have zero tusks). Health: check.

As far as the kind of production you can expect from the 2006 defensive player of the year, well, he should be pretty good. Over the same eight year period discussed above, he's averaged 12.5 sacks per season, placing in the top 5 in sacks in five different seasons. He had 11 sacks last year, more than any Redskin. He's no Michael Strahan, but he's pretty damn good.

So that's health and production. Team need? The 'Skins were the second worst passing defense and had the third fewest sacks among playoff teams. Then they lost Philip Daniels for the season on the first day of training camp. I don't know of many teams that have needed a defensive end more than Washington did after that first practice. So that's the trio, health, production, team need. This move has got it all, and it looks like a very good move for my home town team.

But what about the Shockey deal? Certainly the Saints didn't get taken for a ride. Again, I'll look at health, production, and team need. The most obvious here is team need; the Saints have been absmal at the tight end position for years now. They've tried a few different guys (Boo Williams, Eric Johnson, Ernie Conwell), and all have been failures. Shockey is certain to perform better than any Saints' tight end since Hoby Brenner, a standout from the mid-80s. So we can definitely check off "team need" as something this trade addresses.

I do want to make one additional point about the "team need" aspect, though. New Orleans had the 3rd most passing yards in football last year. It might be true that the team has been lacking at tight end for a while, but it doesn't seem like the offense suffered. So while the improvement at the position is legitimate, the improvement of the unit is questionable.

Health? A little more questionable. He's never played 16 games in a season, and is coming off of a postseason where he didn't play a snap. Still, he's played in at least 14 games in five of his six seasons, and I don't think anyone would accuse him of being soft. The health isn't a sure thing, but it's football, everyone gets hurt.

Production is where Shockey is actually a little suspect. His best year was his rookie season, when he posted his career highs in yards (894) and receptions (74). He's improved his touchdown numbers (from 2 in 2002 to 7 in '05 and '06), and certainly touchdowns are important for tight ends, but he dropped back down to only 3 last year. That's not enough to pay the bills; it wasn't enough in New York, and it won't be enough in New Orleans.

As I said, I like the Taylor deal better for the Redskins, but I'll concede that the Shockey trade can turn out just as well. Shockey never seemed fully suited to the glamor and pressure of playing in New York City. He may find the fans and media in Louisiana more to his liking, and his production could improve accordingly. And, if Shockey can become as valuable as some of the other elite tight ends (Antonio Gates, Kellen Winslow), he can actually help the Saints save some money: high caliber tight ends don't get paid like high caliber wide receivers do.

Either way, both teams look to have made a big splash, and it'll be very interesting to see how things turn out as the season progresses.

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