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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

A Fool's Exercise: The 2015 NFL Draft

I was talking with someone about the '15 draft, adding those next
pieces. I like the team-building stuff year-round, so while this has
zero to do with any reality and essentially 100% of what would happen
between now and May 2015 (unless they just keep moving it back, who
knows...throw it in June next year?) has yet to happen.

So, projecting next year's draft is completely foolish, given that the
things that create the team's needs, the things that define the upcoming
prospects, the team's record, and so on? They haven't happened yet.

At best, what's available? Current needs projected on future contracts.

The hot topic is, of course, WR. Jerricho Cotchery and Tiquan Underwood
are on inexpensive two year deals, and Jason Avant one year. I don't
think there's a reason they would choose to not have Avant on board,
though there's some level of duplicity between he and Cotchery. It's
simplest to suggest Cotchery stays. Underwood and Avant are more
variable, where I find Avant more valuable and (pre-camp, anyway) seems
to be more relied upon, and yet Underwood's the guy signed two years.
Nonetheless, it makes sense to add a rookie again, to build on what they
have with Kelvin Benjamin (which, of course, "what they have" should be
more clear by then).

In that vein, the next prospect drafted at WR will have some obvious
characteristics: good hands, routes seem to be a thing, excepting
Benjamin, that are clear with the new guys, and Benjamin himself has his
moments. But, more speed, more run after the catch ability, those seem
to be more important than size for the other receiver. Here are a
couple guys that fit the bill, if you take out the top 1-3 guys that
might be out of reach for Carolina.

*Stefon Diggs, Maryland - a 6', 195 lb blazer (4.38)
*Jaleen Strong, Az St - 6'4, 205, so he has the size you might want but
is quick enough to make plays.
*Dorial Green-Beckham, Missouri? - he appears to be in flux (was with
Missouri, dismissed, and currently shows as an Oklahoma Sooner). The
6'6, 220 lb player is possibly as talented as any in the group. Since
he changed schools, I don't know if he'll play this year, or how that
works, but he's a very strong receiver with enough quickness to make it
happen. Doesn't excuse his drug arrests, but lost his father at 9 and
was adopted years later.
*Nelson Agholor, USC - a little smaller (6', 185), but similar version
of Marquise Lee (can't stand comparisons but it's good shorthand here)
*Rashad Greene, FSU - another little guy (6', 180), notable for being
better on the field than Benjamin. Great routes and hands.

Obviously, there's a reason to feel shaky about OT as well. G, there's
plenty to deal with. C, God willing, will be Ryan Kalil's for another 5
years or so (time flies, this is Ryan's 8th year already). But OT isn't
settled. Nate Chandler is signed for three years, but who knows how
good he'll be? Byron Bell isn't signed past the year.

Luckily, it's a great year for tackles again. Excluding what appear to
be the top two (Cam Erving, FSU; Andrus Peat, Stanford), there's still a
lot of talent. In no particular order (since I don't know any better

*La'El Collins, LSU - like Trai Turner, knows the O, pro ready. Some
have him as a G or RT in the pros, I don't subscribe to the idea of a
LT-RT-G hierarchy based on talent. He's a good lineman.
*Cedric Ogbuehi, Tx A&M - what a good program for OTs lately. Very
athletic technician.
*Corey Robinson, SoCar - king-sized at 6'8, 345. Raw.
*Brandon Scherff, Iowa - an athletic 6'5, 320, and a punishing drive
blocker, Scherff fits the bill greatest given recent Panther drafts.

The team stuffed a pick into both CB and S in '14. Adding to Robert
Lester and Melvin White, there's a little youth at DB now. Could still
use a pick at CB, though, with Antoine Cason a free agent and not a lot
of talent behind him. Charles Godfrey becomes cuttable as well.
There's always an Ohio St CB to pick, and this year's is Doran Grant.
LSU's Jalen Mills can play S or CB.

DE comes with the inevitable cut from somewhere - is it letting Greg
Hardy walk, or is it cutting Charles Johnson? The need for a pick here
remains low with Kony Ealy on board, but it's hard to project next year
and not think of it.

If it's a Johnson cut, and it could be - he his contract wasn't altered
at all in 2014, despite being an easy target - 2015 would be the next to
final year on his deal. $6 million of his proration has to count in '15
at this point anyway, even if cut now - so that's a fact, no matter
what. It's the last year of his 5 year proration, so that part doesn't
accelerate. A $1.42 million per year proration started in '13, with '15,
16 left to count. Technically, that '15 amount counts no matter what.

So while Johnson's '15 proration would count $7.42 million and you'd
have to add the $1.42M for '16, if the '15 amount counts no matter what,
the net hit on the cap is savings of $10 million (including workout
bonus) of '15 and $11 million in '16, for a cost of $1.42 million
accelerated bonus.

On the other hand, if the '15 amounts count anyway, and by '16 you're
more or less done with the guarantees, you could easily add onto his
deal if it were reasonable. For a bit under $10 million per year, you
could make '15, '16 more reasonable and not add much more in guarantees
with an extension. I don't know if it would be enough to be able to
keep both he and Hardy, but with Johnson already receiving his
guarantees and having more consistent production, he's probably the more
reasonable 'get'.

Or who knows, maybe they don't keep either. Last year you could get
Jared Allen, Demarcus Ware or Justin Tuck for not a lot of money.

I don't think the team will ever part with Thomas Davis, but I could see
the team throwing AJ Klein at WLB if there's ever a Davis-less Panther
team (and that would be a sad day). Klein's athletic enough, and
they're not asking him to be Derrick Brooks, just to grab that side of
the field. If that did happen, and Chase Blackburn would be around year
10 and a free agent, it might make sense to dip into FA for another guy
with experience, and then draft another later-round LB to wreak havoc.

As far as coaching goes, the succession plan seems simple enough. Ron
Rivera would have to do something really awful to be dropped after one
year into an extension, so that's an unlikely concern. If Sean
McDermott moved on, obviously it's Steve Wilks' turn. If Mike Shula
were to be let go, which I don't see happening, John Ramsdell seems the
smart choice, though you never know with Ricky Proehl. Ramsdell isn't
ancient, but I don't know if he'd want to take on a coordinator job at
this point.

Past Godfrey, I don't know who might make sense to cut salary.
Obviously, the Cam Newton contract remains a situation. Luke Kuechly
becomes signable next year as well, and that's not going to be cheap,
either. Though the team locked up Graham Gano, it would be smart to
pitch in on Brad Nortman's contract to keep the punter on board cheaply
by next year. Greg Olsen, now hitting 30, isn't on board past 2015, and
while there are void years on his deal, I think it would be smart to add
to his contract.

Deangelo Williams' final year I believe is '15, after which his deal
voids; he is cheap in salary and difficult to cut in '15 if they moved
it up a year, so that seems unlikely. Jonathan Stewart is still not
cuttable until 2016.

Free agents, outside Bell, Avant, Cason, include Garry Williams,
Blackburn, Ed Dickson, and a ton of guys who won't make the team.

So, that's a rough draft of various things that might happen if the 2014
season happened but was completely unmemorable and no player gained or
lost significant status within the team structure. It's totally
useless, but was on my mind.
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