clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Visions of Sugar Plums - The Value of Brandon Marshall




Christmas comes only once a year.  And Pete Carroll isn't donning a santa costume.

While we all might have believed last week that Brandon Marshall was worth a 1st and a 3rd round pick,  two things happened in the last two days that say otherwise:

1) The Denver Broncos themselves placed only a 1st round tender on Marshall

2) The Anquan Boldin trade

The Boldin trade, in particular, dealt what could have been a giant blow to the idea that the Broncos will be getting what we as fans hope is a fair value for the player known as The Beast.   

After the jump, we'll look at the Boldin deal, it's consequences for Marshall, and what both Seattle and Denver might be considering as they discuss what Bradon Marshall is worth.


False Expectations

On October 14th,  2008, the Detroit Lions made their greatest play in the team's history.  They completely fleeced theDallas Cowboys by trading wide receiver Roy Williams to them for a 1st, 3rd, and a 6th-round draft pick.  The trade, it was speculated, was a result of Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and his desperate attempt to win after Tony Romo broke his finger the same year.  No matter what the reason, the trade will certainly go down as one of the stupidest trades in NFL history.

This trade also had the unfortunate consequence of setting a false market value for wide receivers.   Given that Roy Williams was worth this much of a haul, certainly other wide receivers like Chad Ochocinco had this kind of value too.  In fact, earlier in the same year, the Washington Redskins had offered the Cincinnati Bengals two first-round draft picks (the 2nd pick conditional on performance measures) for Ochocinco (then Chad Johnson).  The Bengals refused.  

These two deals, along with the general diva-like behavior of wide receivers, helped to create a perception that wide receivers had exceedingly high value.  

Fast forward to today. Boy, do things change.   We are about to enter an uncapped year in the NFL.  The market has changed.  The perception of value changes too.  So two years ago, Anquan Boldin and Brandon Marshall may very well have been worth a lot more than they are today.  But as fans, tipsy off of our desire to see our team do well, we often mistakenly believe what we are holding is more valuable than it really is.  The market has a way of bringing us back to reality, however.  The Anquan Boldin trade is that reality.

Reducing Anquan Boldin to a Number

Officially, the Arizona Cardinals sent Boldin (and a 5th-round draft pick) to the Ravens for a 3rd and a 4th-round draft pick.   But to really get an idea of the real values of these picks, we must look at the actual placement of each of these picks within these rounds.  If we use the standard draft value chart that most teams stick to, we could write this as an equation:

88th pick (150 points) + 121st pick (52 points) = 154th pick (30.8 points) + Anquan Boldin

If we consider Anquan Boldin the variable, we would then place Boldin's point value at 171.20 points.  This is the equivalent of the 83rd pick in the NFL draft (3rd Round).   Now we are getting a better idea of how the Cardinals saw Boldin's value--A mid 3rd-round draft pick.  Or if we just want to objectify Mr. Boldin completely, 171.20 points.  

You can begin to see why getting a lot of value for Marshall becomes more difficult in a market which values, one could argue, a Top-5 wideout at this level.  We'll return to this in a moment. 

But let's ask ourselves, can we apply this sort of analysis to Brandon Marshall and what's currently going on with the Seahawks?. Absolutely.  Right now, owners and general managers are using these kinds of charts and the current deals that are being made to determine if their own deals are structured properly, so there's no reason we should let them have all the fun. 

A Extremely Quick and Ridiculously Simplified Comparison

Here's where it gets tricky.  Can we equate Brandon Marshall and Anquan Boldin?  Do they add similar value?   Let's take a stab at this using a simple valuation approach that one can apply to any productive asset, in this case two NFL players.  It's called the RAG approach to asset valuation.  It involves looking two investments from a perspective of Risk/Reward, Alternative Investments, and Growth. 


In short, investments that have a high reward and low risk are worth more than assets that don't.  And here, if you are the Seahawks, you have concerns.  Marhall's off-the-field and injury risks are well documented.  In fact, there are many in Seattle that are right now pointing this out to anyone that will listen.  This from Greg Johns with the Seattle Post Intelligencer:

Remember when Tim Ruskell worried as much about character as talent when it came to football decisions? Those days apparently are in the past as the Seattle Seahawks' new leadership is reportedly pursuing the possibility of signing Brandon Marshall.

Adam Schefter of ESPN is reporting that the Denver Broncos receiver, one of the NFL's most-notorious bad boys in recent years, will visit the Seahawks on Saturday as the two sides talk about a possible contract offer.

Boldin, while presenting similar injury risks to Marshall, presents no such off-the-field risk.  In fact, quite the contrary.  Unlike Marshall, who famously tried to take a run at Denver's punting position when the Broncos wouldn't give him a new contract, Boldin remained steadfast, quiet, and by all accounts, a team leader and positive locker-room presence when the Cardinals wouldn't offer him a new contract.  

So while Marshall might have a slightly higher upside, the risk he presents is more significant than Boldin.  So, for me, it's a wash.  But I'm feeling frisky and emotional as a Bronco fan, so let's say we add a slight premium for Marshall.  

Alternative Investments

The alternative for both Denver and Seattle right now is clear:  Dez Bryant.  If Seattle doesn't deal for Marshall, Bryant makes sense for them.  If Denver deals Marshall, Bryant is a distinct possibility, as Sayre Bedinger has pointed out many times.

Despite this draft being relatively deep with wideouts, this is a complex question, really, for the Seahawks: is Dez Bryant or a Seattle receiving corp made up of TJ Houshmandzadeh and company a reasonable alternative to Marshall? Before you answer this question, I implore you again to ignore cumulative stats (100 catches, 1,000 yards), which are really just a reflection of targeting, and to look at rate stats.  In fact, I did just that in a previous article, in which Jabar Gaffney had a higher points value per pass than Marshall.  Once you do this, I think you'll come to the conclusion that Marshall is not as valuable as the media hype that comes with catching 100 balls.   Certainly not significantly higher than Anquan Boldin.

But even so, I enjoy adding premiums, so we'll give Marshall the advantage again.


Marshall (25) is younger than Boldin (29), so presumably, one would have the opportunity for 4 additional years of production out of Marshall.  Moreover, given this age difference, we have likely seen Boldin peak at level of about 80 catches and 1,000 yards.  Marshall, as scary as it sounds, has the potential to get even better--when his head is right.  100 catches and 1,200 yards is not out of the question for Marshall for the foreseeable future.  However, let's not get carried away with cumulative stats.  The fact of the matter is that Boldin catches more passes as a percentage of targeted passes (72%) to Marshall (67%).   So if Boldin was targeted as many times as Marshall, he'd actually have more catches.  

Because of Marshall's age, we'll give him the advantage, but I don't believe it's a huge advantage, as Ernesto Ruiz pointed out to me earlier in the day:

[Boldin's] production essentially mirrors Brandon's. As a player who has never relied on speed or agility (the tools that fade with age) Boldin is likely to hold up well as he enters the decline of his career. Marshall's physical style, on the other hand, may be cause for concern as he exists his prime. Speaking of which, baseball players tend to experience their primes in their mid-to-early 20's and I can't imagine that football would be much different, so perhaps it's time to consider the possibility that BM has reached his peak and is in fact on his way down.

#14 or Bust?

So now that we've given Marshall a higher value premium than Boldin, we are ready to apply this to what many Bronco fans say we must have if we are to let Marshall go--the 14th pick of the NFL draft.  In sheer value, the 14th pick is worth 1100 points to NFL owners and general managers, or 929 points more than what the Cardinals let Boldin go for.   

From a market value perspective, in which no one is beating down the door of the Broncos for Marshall, this is an exceedingly high premium for the Seahawks to pay.   I was very generous in demonstrating Marshall's value over Boldin, but is Marshall really 6 times more valuable than Boldin?   I highly doubt it.  Even if he's three times as valuable (and that's debatable), this equates to only 513 points, or the 7th pick in the 2nd round.  

Interestingly enough, Seattle now owns the 8th pick in the 2nd round?  Coincidence?  I think not. 

Perhaps the saving grace in all of this that human beings are not rational, because if they were, the Seahawks would not offer the Broncos the 14th pick based on points and market value.  In fact, as we know from the study of behavioral economics, people will often overvalue an asset--specifically one that they are attached too.  That's what makes this recent comment from Bill Williamson so interesting:

There are going to be layers to this situation. First, Seattle has to feel comfortable with Marshall. That is the purpose of this visit. He has had several off-field issues, so Seattle has make sure it has a good feeling about Marshall. It has a good start because former Denver assistants Jeremy Bates, Jedd Fisch and Pat McPherson are on Seattle's staff. They know Marshall and they like him.

It appears as if Jeremy Bates and Jedd Fisch are really wanting to do this deal.  And this is good for Denver.  The more Bates lets his friendship and emotion for Marshall sway him, and the more than Marshall flashes his boyish charm, the more likely Seattle will be to pull the trigger, overvalue what they are getting, and dump the 14th pick (and a player!) to Denver in the morning.   Let's all cross our fingers.

Still, I agree with this comment left on a message board under Johns' column by Bronco fan and MHR member xteve:

Even if they negotiate down to something like the #14 and Sims this is a dumb move for the Hawks. Having Marshall does them little good when they have a declining,injury prone QB and an O-line that can't protect him. And Marshall is one bong hit away from a mandatory 8-game suspension by the league so this move comes with enormous risk with very little chance of return on investment.

Before the final game of the season last year the team captains went to coach McDaniels and specifically asked that Marshall NOT be allowed to suit up for the last game because of his attitude. This was on an 8-8 club that still had a shot at playoff contention that week and they didn't want him on the field.

I can only imagine what Marshall would be like on a rebuilding Hawks club. Remarkably similar to TO in his 49er days. Great stats for him, didn't do jack to help that franchise.

While it's not clear that the team captains were signaling out Marshall specifically (they could have meant Scheffler), sometimes perception is reality when it comes to risk and assessing value.  

McEvil Genius?

Is all of this part of McDaniels' master plan to keep Marshall?   Is it possible that the Seahawks will low ball the Broncos and this will show Marshall the light?  Is it possible, just possible, that we'll be seeing Marshall back in Denver next year?  Fellow MHR-staffer Brian Shrout raised this possibility with me today.  After all, McDaniels says he can work with Marshall, despite their recent differences.

Anything's possible.  After all, Santa gave Pete Carroll another shot at an NFL head-coaching job.