## Assessing the Jared Allen trade

Posted by Doug on April 24, 2008

As you probably are aware, 26-year-old all-pro defensive end Jared Allen was just traded from the Chiefs to the Vikings in exchange for the 17th, 73rd, and 82nd picks in the upcoming draft. There was also a swap of sixth-rounders, but I'm going to ignore that.

This seems to me like a good deal for both teams. My favorite Viking blogger, Pacifist Viking, likes the deal from the Minnesota side:

If anybody would like to complain about giving up draft picks, I encourage you to look at Grant's Tomb for a list of players the Vikings have drafted since 2000 [Doug note: or you could click this customized query]. The draft is hit or miss: you can score big (Kevin Williams, E.J. Henderson, Adrian Peterson), but you can also come away with no meaningful contributors (see 2000, 2001, and 2005). Draft picks in and of themselves are worthless; draft picks are only meaningful because they can be turned into starting players. The Vikings turned those three draft picks into a 26 year old who had 15.5 sacks in 14 games last season. They turned their draft picks into a very good football player, and that's what draft picks are for.

Very true; with all the draft hype, we have a tendency to forget that picks are just a means to an end. And they are hit-or-miss. But some more so than others. A third-round pick has a better chance of becoming a productive player than a fifth-round pick does, but not as good as a first-round pick. We're dealing with potentials here. Likelihoods. Probabilities. And that was PV's point. But I'd add that Jared Allen is just potential at this point too. We don't *know* what Allen's future looks like. Granted, we're much more confident about his future than we are about pick #73, but Allen belongs on the probability continuum too, just like a first-round pick, a third-round pick, and a fifth-round pick. Yes, he's very near the good end of it, but he's still on it. Everyone is.

This kind of thing is why I felt the need to develop the approximate value method. If we can put numbers on player seasons, then we can attempt to quantify statements like PV's above. What *are* these probabilities? What is the probability that the #17 pick in the draft will turn into a solid NFL player? What's the probability that Jaren Allen will continue to be one? What's the probability that the #17 pick will be more productive than Allen over the next year? Two years? Five years? What's the probability that at least one of the three picks the Vikings give up will be more productive than Allen?

Here's what I did.

I found all defensive ends between 1970 and 2003 who were aged 24 to 26 (Allen was 25 last year) and had an approximate value between 14 and 18 (Allen was 16 last season). There were 32 of them, and most of them were great players: Reggie White, Bruce Smith, Howie Long, Richard Dent, Lee Roy Selmon, etc. But there are a fair number of good-but-not-greats there too, like Jevon Kearse and Bill Maas (just for the record, I included DT/DEs and DE/LBs too --- anyone who had DE listed as one of his positions).

Then I looked at all players drafted between #12 and #22 (to approximate the #17 pick the Vikings gave up) and all players drafted between #73 and #82 (to approximate the kinds of players available with the two third-rounders) from 1993 to 2003. Obviously, both of these groups span the entire gamut in terms of quality. The first-rounders include Marvin Harrison, Wendell Bryant, and all points in between. The third-rounders obviously have lots of nobodies, but also include the likes of Jason Taylor, Curtis Martin, Steve Smith, and John Lynch.

Then I randomly selected one Allen comp, one first-round draftee, and two third-round draftees, and I measured how many of those draftees the Allen comp outperformed over the next five years. Then I repeated that process 999 more times and tallied up the results. Here they are:

**In the year of the trade:**

89.8% of the time, the Allen comp outperformed all three draftees

8.3% of the time, one of the three draftees outperformed the Allen comp

1.8% of the time, two of the three draftees outperformed the Allen comp

0.1% of the time, all three draftees outperformed the Allen comp.

79.4% of the time, the Allen comp had more approximate value than all three draftees combined.

**In year 2:**

66.9% of the time, the Allen comp outperformed all three draftees

21.4% of the time, one of the three draftees outperformed the Allen comp

9.8% of the time, two of the three draftees outperformed the Allen comp

1.9% of the time, all three draftees outperformed the Allen comp.

47.0% of the time, the Allen comp had more approximate value than all three draftees combined.

**In year 3:**

71.7% of the time, the Allen comp outperformed all three draftees

21.0% of the time, one of the three draftees outperformed the Allen comp

6.4% of the time, two of the three draftees outperformed the Allen comp

0.9% of the time, all three draftees outperformed the Allen comp.

48.9% of the time, the Allen comp had more approximate value than all three draftees combined.

**In year 4:**

59.5% of the time, the Allen comp outperformed all three draftees

26.2% of the time, one of the three draftees outperformed the Allen comp

10.8% of the time, two of the three draftees outperformed the Allen comp

3.5% of the time, all three draftees outperformed the Allen comp.

40.8% of the time, the Allen comp had more approximate value than all three draftees combined.

**In year 5:**

53.1% of the time, the Allen comp outperformed all three draftees

27.4% of the time, one of the three draftees outperformed the Allen comp

15.4% of the time, two of the three draftees outperformed the Allen comp

4.1% of the time, all three draftees outperformed the Allen comp.

37.6% of the time, the Allen comp had more approximate value than all three draftees combined.

On one hand, it's a good bet that Allen will be the best of the four players involved, even as far out as the 2012 season. On the other hand, the Chiefs have more upside. They could end up with two, or even three, very good players out of this deal. I'll let the reader decide for himself whether all this means it was a good or bad trade from either side. For me, it does nothing to sway me from my original assessment that, given where the two teams are right now, it works well for both sides.

And of course there are about a zillion factors that this analysis doesn't touch. Salary cap implications are one. The fact that Jared Allen is not a composite of 32 historical players, but rather is a unique individual, is another.

But this is a useful starting point for the discussion.

Good overall analysis. I think that because of Allen's desire to get out, the Chiefs HAD to trade him--at the same time, they did a good job getting good compensation for him. I agree its a win-win--Vikes are betting that Allen is better than all 3 picks combined (almost 50% bet the first 3 years), while the Chiefs are betting that in about 3 years (when they become competitive again) that their 3 picks will overall be better than Allen.

A possible hedge bet also by the Chiefs--it is less likely that all 3 draft picks get injured vs. the possibility that Allen, say, blows out a knee and misses all year. See LeCharles Bentley, Cleveland.

Awesome blog post today, Doug. This stuff rocks.

One question -- how does replacement value work? In fantasy football, trading 3 players for 1 involves comparing the players VBD points or points change to your projected lineup, not raw fantasy points. Using raw points would make the 3 players look better than the one. And you have to cut two players, too.

How does that come into play here? Basically, should we add in some baseline to make it 3 for 3? Is the appropriate question: "Who is better? Jared Allen and 2 UDFA, or what the Vikings gave up?"

Good stuff. I think you are right on with the point that this addresses the player values, but not the cap implications. If the Chiefs get a wash on the value scale, they win the trade because those picks will not carry the cap cost of Allen over the next five years. That means they have cap space to pay the #5 pick this year, a probable high pick next year, and/or a mid-level free agent or two to fill gaps their draft picks don't fill. Or, if Larry Johnson doesn't revive, to eat his cap costs in 2009. If Allen pushes the Vikings into Super Bowl contention for the next two years, then the trade is a win for the Vikings. And obviously, since those "wins" are not mutually exclusive, this could be a win-win trade.

Chase, the Chiefs have so many roster holes they really don't need to cut anyone they haven't already cut. But it is a good point that absent the draft picks they added, the value of two UDFAs - or two vet FAs still/soon-to-be available - ought to be included on the Allen side of the deal, since the Chiefs have given up the ability to add them.

Very interesting analysis. I think the other thing to consider is how successful a particular team is at scouting and developing. If a team does a good job of scouting then it's a lot better to get three players that will provide initial depth and potentially future starting talent (see Chargers, San Diego).

The Vikings have done an awful job, which is pretty much the reason why they end up paying big in trades and free agency. The salary issue is a huge deal. $31 million in guaranteed money compared to the slotted five-figure salaries of rookies is a big factor on how this will look in four or five years.

Thanks for the comments, guys.

I basically chickened out (as I always do) on trying to assess the salary/contract implications.

Chase has a good point on replacement value. I think he's right that AVs aren't strictly additive. E.g. a 10AV player is probably worth more in some sense than two 5AV players. That's why I intentionally avoided translating the data into statements like "in year 5, there's a 37.6% chance that the Vikings will be better off with Allen than with the picks."

However, I think replacement level is pretty low, like maybe 2AV or something like that. So in a situation like this, simply adding won't be too far off.

Agree with replacement level comments. This trade works for both teams. The Vikings, unlikely to have spent all three picks on DE, nevertheless get a substantial increase in likelihood of sucess at that position, at the expense of maybe hitting on a cornerback or tackle in the 3rd rd. They are relatively stocked at most positions, and addressed a major need.

The Chiefs, on the other hand, are a year late (maybe even two) in embracing the need to rebuild through the draft, as evidenced by their decision to pay a 28 year old high workload back (a win now move) and the decision not to start Croyle from the outset, so they would have more info and be more comfortable in their decision at QB heading into this draft. This move signals that change strongly, though. They are not going to be a serious contender in the AFC until at least 2010, if things go really well in the draft.

I'm personally torn because I like Jared Allen as a player. But that relationship was already fractured, so this trade at least makes the loss palatable. I would not have made this trade for just a 1st and a 3rd though. The added bonus of increased odds of getting at least one top player by adding the additional pick makes it a wash.

Now, how about some analysis of famous historical trades using this method. Herschel Walker, Elway, Ricky Williams?

Awesome article, Doug. I would also like to add that in some cases, you might consider whether the team making the trade is just really bad at drafting a certain position, while being good at most others. I mean, the Vikings have spent 2 first round picks, a third round pick, and two fourth rounders on DEs in the last 5 years. Last year, those 5 players combined for...15.5 sacks. In other words, the player they acquired with only a first and two thirds had as many sacks as the five players they acquired with 2 first rounders, a third rounder, and a partridge in a pear tree.

Honestly, they needed a good DE, and not a whole lot else (well, except for QB, but lets just ignore that for now, it's time for Vikings fans to be happy). In order to get a good DE through the draft, they probably would've had to spend a lot more than a first rounder and a couple third rounders. So, in that sense, this trade was a great move by the Vikings.

Oh, and the Chiefs, too. Getting a lot of good draft picks to rebuild their team is about the best they could've hoped for in this situation, and they got exactly that.

Kansas City took the 17th pick and packaged it with their 66th and 136th pick to the Lions for the 15th and 66th picks. So the Chiefs ended up with guard Brandon Albert (15th), RB Jamaal Charles (73rd) and DaJuan Morgan (82nd). Year one to Minnesota in a landslide, where Allen had 14.5 sacks and a big performance in the Vikings playoff loss to Philadelphia. Of course, KC went 2-14 so maybe it didn't matter too much whether or not they had Allen.