The Tampa Bay Buccaneers finally have their bona fide No. 1 receiver, and it isn’t Marques Colston. The most consistent receiver in the league re-signed with the New Orleans Saints on a five year deal. No, we got a guy who can stretch the field and has dangerous athleticism and is a height mis-match for nearly every corner in the NFL. We did steal a New Orleans star, Carl Nicks, but we also signed Vincent Jackson. It’s good to get Jax.
Sure they paid him $55 million over 5 years ($11 million per year for those who forgot their times tables, hey, it happens), but he’s worth the money. If you’re the Bucs. See, I’m a baseball writer, and analyzing baseball contracts is much easier, because there is this all-encompassing stat called WAR. And with WAR, you can extrapolate a players’ value (WAR) and turn it into expected dollar value. It’s complicated, but it’s a lot easier than guessing whether or not a football contract is worth it. Let’s face it, we’re basically giving a rough estimate (most likely a good one) when analyzing an NFL deal without mathematical proof to back it up.
Here’s the thing: there is one basic, underlying principle that guides contracts and is the basis of free agency. Needs preside over money. Let’s face it. A team without a quarterback, the Redskins, is more likely to overpay in order to get one. But is it really overpaying? Think about it. To teams like Tampa with an already established situation at quarterback, you would look at the ‘Skins like they were crazy. Three first rounders and a second rounder? That’s four potential quality starters for one? But the Redskins have the money to build at other positions, they have a quality defense, and they really need a quarterback to build around. Needs create perceived value, which in turn justifies crazy moves.
However, paying Vincent Jackson $11 million a year isn’t crazy. It’s plausible to think that Jackson is worth that much, because he’s an athletic monster. A freak of nature, if you will. He went deep on nearly 50% of his plays last season and averaged 18.4 yards per catch. That’s 9.6 yards per target (yards per attempt for Rivers), which is legit. Jackson is a big red zone target, and he can still haul in deep passes even when he’s targeted 115 times. A higher volume of targets means that there is a more of a chance for incomplete passes even as a percentage. Teams will focus on the receiver more, and the quarterback is more likely to look for his go-to-guy when under immense pressure and fire an ill-advised pass into coverage. Often times, the pass isn’t on target. Such is the life of a No. 1 receiver, because the advanced statistics don’t do them justice.
Jackson is one of those guys who makes the stats do him justice, because he gets targeted a lot and still comes up with the stats. Check out his 2009 numbers, because it was his best and most recent relevant year. Sure 2011 was no fluke and was a solid season, but it was a down year for V-Jax. Below is what the star WR can achieve.
2.93 Win Value, 62.4 Success Rate, 10.9 yards per target, 63.6 catch rate on a 42.1 Deep%, 17.2 yards per catch
Yeah, it’s obvious that Vincent Jackson is a legitimate No. 1 receiver, and here’s where it gets interesting. Let’s say that I want to use some baseball, geeky analysis to try to project Jackson. It’s getting real. The accepted value for a contract is $2 million for every point added per game. In order to be worth $11 million per year, a player has to be worth 5.5 EPA per game. In 2009, Jackson was worth 82.6 points in 15 games for an average of, wait for it, 5.5 points per game.
So, maybe there is something more to this geeky stuff. Will Jackson be worth this much every year? No. Will he be worth this much for two or three years? I’d bet my money on it. But here’s the thing, need presides over mathematical value. Thus, Vincent Jackson is worth the contract. The Bucs desperately needed a talented receiver, and they got their man.
You can follow Joe Soriano on Twitter @SorianoJoe.