Part of the process of figuring out how much to offer a free agent comes from asking important questions. Among these questions are, “How much value does this player provide?” and, “How difficult would it be to replace the value this player provides?”
These are not the only factors involved, but the answers to these questions provide a lot of insight into how much a player is worth.
The Jets reportedly offered tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins a two year, $8 million contract earlier in the offseason. The tight end rejected that offer. He reportedly wants a deal that pays closer to $7 million per season.
Is he worth a contract of that price? Let’s take a look.
Seferian-Jenkins posted 50 catches for 357 yards with 3 touchdowns for the Jets in 2017.
By the stardards of recent Jets tight ends, those numbers make ASJ look like Tony Gonzalez. We aren’t comparing him to the likes of Kellen Davis, however. How good was his production relative to the rest of the league?
The answer is less than stellar.
The 50 catches were 13th best in the NFL at the tight end position. That looks good on paper, but any scrutiny beyond that tells a less impressive story. Despite finishing 13th in total receptions, ASJ was only 26th at tight end in yardage. His 7.1 yard average per reception put him 70th out of 71 tight ends who played at least 25% of his team’s snaps (Source: Pro Football Focus)
Now there is a way for a player to be effective without putting up a ton of yardage. If a guy is constantly catching 5 yard passes to move the chains on 3rd and 4, he is very valuable to his team.
This brings us to the concept of Success Rate. We have discussed it before on this site. A successful play is defined as a play that gains at least 40% of the yardage needed to pick up another first down on a first down snap, at least 60% on second round and at 100% on third and fourth down.
The idea goes back to the 5 yard completion. Catching a 5 yard completion on 1st and 20 after a holding penalty counts the same in the box score as catching a 5 yard completion on 3rd and 4. But the value of these plays is drastically different.
Sharp Football Stats put together the numbers and found that when the Jets targeted ASJ, it resulted in a successful play only 43% of the time. That rates 33rd out of 37 tight ends targeted at least 30 times in the passing game.
So while his reception total was high, there were a lot of empty calories there. It seems like his reception total was inflated a bit by dumpoffs that didn’t help the offense much. In the end, targeting ASJ in the passing game turned into a losing proposition for the Jets.(Source: Sharp Football Stats)
It doesn’t appear there was any exceptional hidden value in ASJ’s 357 yards. So let’s take a look at players who put up comparable production in 2017.
These were the tight ends in the NFL who put up between 300 and 400 receiving yards this season and relevant transaction information.
Seth DeValve, Browns: Fourth round pick; on rookie contract
Julius Thomas, Dolphins: Acquired in trade for seventh round pick; $6.1 million annual salary
David Njoku, Browns: First round pick; on rookie contract
Jesse James, Steelers: Fifth round pick; on rookie contract
Stephen Anderson, Texans: Undrafted free agent signing
Garrett Celek, 49ers: $2.5 million annual salary
Jermaine Gresham, Cardinals: $7 million annual salary
Nick O’Leary, Bills: Sixth round pick; on rookie contract
Marcedes Lewis, Jaguars: $4 million annual salary
Antonio Gates, Chargers: $5.5 million annual salary
(Source: Over the Cap)
This doesn’t do a whole lot to help Seferian-Jenkins’ argument he is worth $7 million per year. Of the ten players mentioned above, four are picks on the third day of the Draft or later. Celek and Lewis own contracts in the range of what the Jets offered ASJ. Thomas had a bigger contract, but it only took a seventh round pick to acquire him in a trade. And the Jets picked up ASJ off the waiver wire. So eight of the eleven tight ends who posted between 300 and 400 yards were acquired easily.
The only three to eclipse the offer the Jets are making are Thomas, Gates, and Gresham. They all have multiple Pro Bowls on their resumes. Relative to their resumes, their production is disappointing. (In Gates’ case, it was probably due to age.) But it took Pro Bowl pedigrees to get paid like that, not one season like ASJ just had.
Gresham is the only player on that list making the $7 million ASJ seeks. Does that seem like a good deal considering the percentage of similar players who are late round picks on rookie contracts?
Njoku was the last player on this list. He was a first round rookie. The Browns are expecting him to get better after he gets past his rookie season. He will be considered a massive disappointment if he doesn’t.
So to answer our two key questions, there isn’t a ton of value in what Seferian-Jenkins provides. And viable replacements who can provide the same production appear to be relatively easy and cheap to find. It isn’t a good thing to have this many comparables be late round picks on rookie deals.
The Jets have one of those on their roster already in Jordan Leggett. If ASJ gets too expensive, what are the odds Leggett could do something comparable?
It sure seems like $4 million per year was a very generous offer for a player like this. Going a penny higher might not be such a great idea.