FanPost

Deconstructing Golden

One of the frequent misconceptions that has been bandied about in regard to Detroit signing Golden Tate is the idea that eight million dollars (or even thirteen million) won’t last forever. After all, $13 million divided by 50 years is only $260 k. (And who could keep a family solvent on that kind of money?) This kind of thinking does not take into account the way that money grows.

Assuming Golden could keep 60% of his guaranteed $13 million, after he finishes his second season with Detroit, he would have $7.8 million, less whatever he spent. The defenders of athletes taking the best contract available regardless of non-money criteria would have us believe that those athletes must take the most money because their earning window is so short and they need to take care of their families. If taking care of the family into the future is really the goal (which is highly debatable for many big money athletes), then $7.8 million is more than enough and will last forever. Even assuming some early spending, if Tate were smart enough to set aside the majority of the money and put it in low risk investments, the return on those investments would last into perpetuity. Six million dollars earning four percent a year returns two hundred forty thousand dollars a year, forever. Raise your hand if you think you can keep a family solvent on $240 k a year? (And, oh yeah, you’d still have a $6 million nest egg for emergencies.)

If Golden decides to spend his money and then transition to a new career after his football days, that is his choice. Either way, working stiffs should not feel compelled to cry him a river. Despite what Golden would have us believe, it is not about the money. He has plenty and would have had more than enough to keep his family secure had he signed in Seattle.

Yes the extra guaranteed money is nice and it certainly will allow Golden and his family to enjoy a slightly higher standard of living (or a much higher standard but for a very short time if he is profligate), but Golden claims he loved playing and living in Seattle. Surely there is monetary value in playing for a great organization, with a players’ coach, and having a legitimate chance to win the Super Bowl every year for the foreseeable future.

Once your family’s security was established, how much would you give up for winning championships while working in a fantastic environment? In 25 years, whatever extra money Golden got for signing in Detroit is going to be meaningless. He will have either invested wisely and his standard of living will be high or he will have blown through his money. It would be interesting to hear from him at that point as to what kind of value one can place on a championship.

There are numerous reasons to believe that money was not the primary motivation for Golden’s Seattle exit. There have been allusions to the elephant in the room, Percy Harvin’s contract, plaintive radio musings that he did not feel valued, and the recent comments that Seattle’s offer was "laughable". Despite the reflective and intelligent nature of his comments, there is an underlying sense of a wounded ego, almost an aura of the emotionally hurt son who cannot win his father’s acceptance and pride. "What more did I have to do," is a recurring theme in his interviews. From afar, it seems that the money offered became a symbol, a barometer for how much the organization valued him. Of course this is true for most athletes, but there seems to be an extraordinary sense of familial infidelity in Golden’s case.

The "Laughable" Offer

Given what we think we know about the formula Pete Carroll and John Schneider use to build a roster and win football games, perhaps we can come to a better understanding for the offer that Seattle made to Tate. On the football field, we think we know that Seattle is very concerned with building a roster that is capable of producing game-changing, explosive plays.

Tate is an explosive play waiting to happen. He bounces off of tacklers and racks up yards after the catch. As a returner and a receiver, Golden Tate had 20 explosive plays in 2013 (20+ yard receptions, 15+ yard runs, 25+ yard punt returns, 35+ yard kickoff return). On average, at least once per game this season, Golden came up with a huge play.

Game changing plays are even more important than explosive plays. Perhaps the biggest play of Golden’s season was a first down reception late in the NFC Championship that increased Seattle’s win percentage by over 10%. Was that as big a play as the 80 yard touchdown against the Rams (when Seattle was leading by a point)? Given the importance of the situation and the opponent, it seems a reasonable conclusion. Four times in 2013, Golden Tate changed Seattle’s win probability by 10% or more.

Percy Harvin did not do that even once. Percy is crucial to this dissection in that many believe that it is his contract that prevented Seattle from offering Tate more money. The second tenet of Schneider and Carroll’s formula for roster building that is pertinent to this discussion is the allocation of payroll to distinct units of the team. We believe we know that Schneider and Carroll allocate only a certain percentage of money to the passing game. With that in mind there are only so many dollars to go around to the wide receivers. Percy’s cap hit certainly does influence what Seattle is willing to pay the rest of the receiving corps.

From what we have heard from Golden after his exit, it would seem that Harvin’s contract provided a benchmark for what he thought he should be offered. Harvin is a special talent and it is doubtful that Tate believed that he would get anywhere near as much money as Harvin is receiving. Carroll and Schneider have made it clear that they value Harvin’s unique talents over the rest of the receivers. Yet Golden presumably believed that his consistency (or merely the fact that he played in every game while Percy, well...) coupled with his own explosiveness had earned him a significant percentage of the kind of money Harvin is earning. Many fans undoubtedly agree. Some strongly prefer Golden to Percy for just this reason.

Yet it is likely that Schneider and Carroll were not using Harvin as a benchmark for the Tate offer. The third important tenet of the Seattle philosophy is the idea that the Seattle front office does not rate players against the league, but against the players already on the roster. With limited funds to spend on wide receivers not named Percy Harvin, Pete and John were forced to look at the players they had available and decide what kind of money they should spend on each.

Golden’s explosive and game changing play numbers are noted above. Comparing those numbers to the other two wide receivers that received significant snaps this year (and are still on the roster) may prove illuminating. Doug Baldwin had 17 explosive plays this season (by the same criteria as noted above), while Jermaine Kearse had 10. Golden had more than either of them, but not many more than Baldwin. Further, he had 163 opportunities (targets + carries + returns) to create an explosive play. That translates to a 12.3% explosiveness efficiency. Baldwin had 98 opportunities (17.3%); Kearse had 59 (16.9%). To understand why Harvin is not really relevant to the conversation, consider that in 12 opportunities, Harvin had 4 explosive plays (you do the math).

As for game changing plays, Kearse (5) had more than Tate (4). Baldwin (7) came up big as much as anyone not named Russell Wilson. When pondering these numbers, the picture becomes a little clearer, but there is yet more to consider. A little extrapolation of the Schneider/Carroll philosophy would suggest that players that play big in big games are more valuable to the team than those that collect their stats in lesser situations.

There were five games this year that were paramount to the Seattle season. Every regular season game is worth one win in the standings, but few would argue that the San Francisco game in Week 2 was not more valuable than perhaps any other regular season win. The Monday night game against the Saints was nearly as important in that a loss on that night would have given New Orleans the pole position for home field advantage. Winning that game made the final quarter of the season almost a formality. Of course, the 3 playoff games were elimination games and more important than any regular season game.

In those five games, Golden Tate had exactly one explosive play in 32 opportunities (3.1%). Doug Baldwin had 6 in 25 opportunities (24%), while Jermaine Kearse had 4 in 14 opportunities (28.6%). Percy Harvin had 3 in 10 opportunities (30%).

The first offer that Seattle gave to Golden was derided as ridiculously low, but when considered in the light of the roster building philosophy the front office uses and Tate’s explosiveness efficiency and big game performance, it was probably the offer he should have expected. While Golden was, presumably, looking up at the contract Seattle gave Harvin, he should have been looking around at the performance of Baldwin and Kearse. Yes, Tate had more catches and yards than any other receiver, but he failed to create separation between himself and his teammates in the areas deemed most important by the coaching staff. Further, when it came time to win a championship, he was completely outplayed by his peers.

Kearse is a budding big game star and should continue to improve. Some of the advanced analytics sites have been extolling Baldwin all season. He continues to get better and probably should be locked up with a nice contract that will look like a steal in five years. As of right now, they will count for less than $3 million against the cap next year. That number might rise if Baldwin is rewarded with a long term contract, but the two of them won’t even approach what Golden is going to make next year.

In the final analysis, in an off-season of difficult roster choices, letting Golden Tate walk away was probably the easiest decision that Pete and John had to make. There are already two players on the roster who are comparable, and perhaps favorably comparable, to Tate. And they cost considerably less. The money that Schneider saved in letting Tate go can now be used toward locking up a certain duo on the L.O.B paying DeSean Jackson (read the rumor after writing this piece). The strongest objection to this conclusion is that Tate provided extra value as a punt returner, but should Seattle have paid him twice what they are paying Kearse and Baldwin together just to keep a return man?

Golden was a fan favorite and he will be missed, but the front office stuck to its principles and offered the player what he was worth to the team instead of matching what he was worth to Detroit. Not only was the offer not "laughable", it was predictable and coolly sane. Schneider and Carroll are the reason Seattle is king of the NFL and the rest of the league is lagging behind.

Addendum:

Due to criticism that 2013 is a short sample I have compiled Tate’s numbers for 2012 as well. In 2012 Tate had 14 explosive plays in 79 opportunities for a 17.7% explosiveness efficiency. This is a step up from his 2013 12.3% number. Over the last two seasons he has a combined 34 explosive plays in 242 opportunities (14 %), which is below the level that both Baldwin and Kearse performed at this season. Further, Tate had big games against Atlanta and St. Louis, but was fairly quiet against San Francisco and Washington. There are many games that might have been selected as big games, but these were the final four, when it had become apparent that Seattle was a true contender and the games were truly high pressure occasions.

My conclusions remain basically unchanged: Over two seasons, Tate’s performance does not indicate any clear separation between himself and Baldwin or Kearse’s performances in 2013 and certainly doesn’t warrant the kind of money that Detroit is paying him, in Seattle’s offense. Despite two great games in high pressure situations, there is still not enough evidence to conclude that Tate shows up big in big moments, but neither can we conclude that he disappears in such moments. There is some reason to believe that Baldwin and Kearse are more consistent explosive performers in big games, but the sample is short. Unfortunately, the sample is short for almost any NFL analysis due to the short seasons. Very few players play in enough big games to be able to call the sample size decently large.

I have not included data for Kearse or Baldwin because they both enjoyed breakout seasons this year and their numbers from 2012 are presumably not as indicative of their potential as their 2013 performance. Including Tate's numbers for 2012 seems justified because it was his break out year. For what it is worth, over the last two seasons, Baldwin's explosiveness efficiency is 14.9%, while Kearse came in at 15.6%. Both of these numbers are superior to Tate.

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