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Breaking down the Richard Seymour trade

Posted by Jason Lisk on September 10, 2009

The Richard Seymour trade from New England to Oakland was, well, interesting for a number of reasons. You’ve got a team who has won over 60 regular season games in the last five years, and is considered one of the favorites for the title this year, trading away a proven commodity to a team that has lost over 60 games in the last five years and is, um, not considered one of the favorites to win it all. Further, the first round draft pick that the Patriots will receive is in April 2011, over 18 months from now, while Richard Seymour has one year left on his contract and may not still be on the Raiders roster when the price comes due.

Given the two franchises involved, most people probably assume that the Patriots know what they are doing and the Raiders do not. I’m going to try not to be most people and react at such a simple level. So let’s look at some historical evidence to see what Richard Seymour may be worth going forward, relative to a first round pick.

Valuing the draft pick will be a little easier; let's instead start with Richard Seymour. Seymour has played both the defensive end and defensive tackle positions during his time in New England, so I’m going to use defensive linemen as comparables, regardless of whether they primarily played tackle or end. It’s fair to say that he was a star lineman through age 27 (2006 season) on some top level defenses. He was injured at age 28 and missed a large part of the Patriot’s 16-0 season, then came back to play last year on a solid but not as dominant defense, and was not selected to the pro bowl. His AV was 9 last year and 4 the year before, after posting 59 AV from ages 24-27. Let’s try to come up with some comps for all that, because after the last two seasons, guys like Carl Eller and Reggie White should not be on his comparable list, nor should guys who were never as good as he was before that.

So, I pulled all guys who had 40+ AV from ages 24-27, and then recorded at least one season with only single digit AV (AV<10) at age 28 or 29, but were still active at age 29. This resulted in a list of 26 historical players, ranging from Bruce Smith, Cortez Kennedy, and Howie Long to Manny Fernandez, Dexter Manley and Kevin Carter.

Here is the average AV for that group for the next five seasons, starting at age 30:

Age 30	Age 31	Age 32	Age 33	Age 34
8.0	6.2	5.3	4.4	2.5

As we should expect, this group will mostly provide competent starting play at age 30, and then the decline continues until very few started five years later. Only 4 of the 26 had a great season at age 30 (AV > 10), while 5 had an AV below 6. By age 31, 7 were non-starters or had retired, while only Bruce Smith and Cortez Kennedy were still going strong. In fact, without Bruce Smith, these numbers would look a lot worse. At age 32, almost half (12 of 26) posted an AV of 5 or lower or had already retired. Richard Seymour was better than the average player from this comp group through age 27, but worse at age 28-29, so I think overall it is a reasonable comparison group.

Now, let's compare that to the value of the first round pick the Patriots will likely receive. For simplicity, I'm going to compare apples to apples with seasonal AV, and look only at first round defensive linemen. (The Patriots, of course, are not bound to take a lineman with the pick). I used all defensive linemen drafted from 1990-2004 in the first 20 picks of the draft, and looked at their seasonal AV for the first five years of their careers.

Here are those numbers:

rookie	2nd yr	3rd yr	4th yr	5th yr
4.9	6.5	6.8	6.8	6.6

Okay, but the draft pick for the Pats is in two years. On the other hand, the Patriots aren't starting 10 guys because Seymour is gone. They still get to replace him with someone else. I'm going to use an AV of 6 for replacement starter in the two years before the pick. I'm also going to substitute in a 6 whenever a draft pick doesn't play enough to get that score, because someone else likely is. What works for the goose works for the gander though. If I'm considering that the Pats don't have to play with 10, neither does Oakland once Seymour leaves/retires/stops producing enough to start. Here is a year by year comparison substituting a minimum value of 6 for any player that needs "replacing" (either a veteran who retires or a draft pick who is not ready to start or busts). I'm including 3 lines here, one for New England, one for Oakland, and one for Other. I'll explain "Other" in a minute.

		2009	2010	2011	2012	2013	2014	2015	TOTAL
Oakland		2.8	1.7	1.2	1.3	0.6	0.3	0.1	8.0
New England	0.0	0.0	0.6	1.6	2.1	2.1	2.1	8.5
Other		2.8	0.0	0.2	0.4	0.4	0.4	0.4	4.6

Notice the Raiders would get the better end of it for three years, and the Patriots for the last four. Overall, the numbers add up to about even on "value over replacement starter", with New England +8.5 and Oakland +8.0, but Oakland getting its value earlier.

But that is just an estimate of the value over replacement starter for the next seven years. It doesn't account for:

1. the relative player cost in salary of Richard Seymour, the first round pick, and other players needed to replace, for each team; and

2. the fact that Richard Seymour is in the final year of his current contract; and

3. the possibility of a compensatory pick if Seymour is not re-signed as a free agent.

Despite the constant whining about first round rookie contracts, I have little doubt that a veteran like Seymour would cost more than the rookie first round pick. There is also some possibility that he does not re-sign with Oakland after one season. Though I am not an expert on compensatory picks, I believe it has to do with net losses in free agency. Thus, it depends on what else Oakland does in free agency. For the purpose of this analysis, I'm going to make the assumption that Oakland would get a third round compensatory pick for a player like Seymour leaving in free agency. Thus, the "Other" column above provides the value over replacement based on a 3rd round compensatory pick (using all DL drafted from picks 90-120, years 1990-2004) starting in year 2, combined with one season of Richard Seymour.

From the Patriots perspective, this is a very good deal, if they decided that they would not re-sign Seymour after this next season. The Patriots are getting significantly more value than they would have received by keeping Seymour for one season and then taking the compensatory pick. They are also getting roughly the same value (though that value is deferred) as if they had re-signed Seymour, but at a reduced price from what Seymour would have cost. The downside, of course, is that they have to replace Seymour for this season.

From the Raiders perspective, the monetary conditions make it a little more dicey. If they do not re-sign Seymour, they gave up a lot of future value for one season, which will not be close to offset by the compensatory pick (though, just as the first round pick will be cheaper than Seymour, the compensatory pick will be cheaper than the 2011 first round pick). If they do re-sign him, they get similar value earlier, but at more cost.