Sunday, April 26, 2009

NFL Draft and Management Arcana

The NFL Draft is much like the Super Bowl -- a sham weekend with a sham build-up, something for football fans to do in April besides thumb their dicks and plot their fantasy strategies for the upcoming season. That said, as always, it's been somewhat interesting following along from the usual management perspective, looking for sensible decision-making and coherent strategizing in the midst of what is mostly, let's face it, slightly educated guesswork.

A successful draft should be built on one simple premise -- adding value to the team. This means not just pure playing talent, but recognizing talent that will be the best fit for your team's system, and getting the best deal for that talent. The starting salaries for top ten picks have become so ludicrous, the smart move really is to trade down out of there, unless your team is just a colossal turd (such as Detroit) that, talent evaluations and team needs being more or less equal, a marquee player can put more fans in seats and sell more swag. So it makes business sense for the Lions to plunk down a buttload of money for a galoot like Matthew Stafford, so long as they don't delude themselves into expecting that Stafford will, by himself, be the next incarnation of Bobby Layne (though apparently Stafford actually attended the same high school as Layne).

The way new Cleveland coach Eric Mangini was practically going out of his way to alienate his star players, I was beginning to wonder if he had hooked up to an IV of stupid. But oddly, a couple weeks ago a fellow Raider fan was asking me what I thought about how they should handle the draft. I replied that if they were really sure about Michael Crabtree, they should take him at #7, and find a way to get some linemen or safety help in the second and third rounds. But if Crabtree was gone by then (Cleveland had made noises about picking him up at #5), the Raiders should trade their pick down and grab Maclin later, where he was more likely to fall. Better yet, deal further down and grab Cal center Alex Mack and Ohio State WR Brian Robiskie. Both Mack and Robiskie are much more likely to add (not just recoup) value than virtually any skill-position player available in the top ten.

That Mack/Robiskie option is exactly what Cleveland did, and Mangini deserves credit for finding a creative solution for what is likely to be a very bad team this year, but at least in a proper rebuilding mode. Al Davis, naturally, fell for the track speed of Darrius Heyward-Bey, whom he could have picked up just as easily much later in the first round, or even in the second. Even if Heyward-Bey is everything Davis thinks he is, he could gotten him for at least $10 million less, and with another relatively high draft pick to boot as a result of trading down.

Sometimes there seems to be some degree of similarity in the decision-making process between corporate goofballs on Wall Street and in the NFL (or, for that matter, politicians). They become more entrenched in validating their personal power and decision-making capacity, doubling down on flawed premises and bad hunches, instead of finding ways to make the right decisions to benefit the team.

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