Thursday, March 6, 2014

Making Your Rivals Pay: Vincent Rey

Well, the Bengals went ahead, and did something that I found a bit surprising .  It seems that they have given linebacker Vincent Rey the low RFA tender.  I really expected them to use one of the higher free agent tenders here, but I guess I was wrong.  Regardless, I think this opens up some extremely interesting possibilities. 

First of all, because it is the "low" tender, a team that wants to acquire Rey's services wouldn't need to give up any compensation to do so.  So, no draft picks would be lost here.  The drawback is that some people will say that you would only be helping the Bengals negotiate a contract with Rey, since they would still retain the right to match whatever offer you throw at him.  I don't think that is necessarily such a bad situation to be in.  If somebody told me to go negotiate the price for a car that one of my enemies was going to purchase, I would find that a highly amusing position to be in.  $50,000 for a Lada, sounds like a great deal to me.

As it stands, the Bengals are currently required to pay Rey $1.431 million, for the 2014 season.  Now for some reason, teams seem to be either incredibly gentlemanly, or incredibly cautious, about meddling with these RFA contracts.  They rarely do much of anything to go on the offensive here.  The way I see it, even if you aren't interested in Rey's services, it would be very tempting to throw offers his way, just to drive up the price that the Bengals would be required to pay to retain him.  Doing so would help to deplete their financial resources, which is actually a decent strategy.

In the worst case scenario, you actually may win the bidding war.  I could live with that.  As I said here, I think Rey is a very intriguing player.  His athletic ability is excellent, and well within the range of what I would want to see in a middle linebacker.  His college production was also quite good.  In the limited time in which he was allowed to play last season, he performed at a very high level.  Check.  Check.  Check.  He's ticking off all of the boxes.  Honestly, I would argue that he outperformed Rey Maualuga, who is the Bengals regular starter at MLB.  Unfortunately, Maualuga was a former high 2nd round pick, so it was unlikely they would keep him on the bench in favor of Vincent Rey, regardless of what the facts were.  What I suspect is holding Rey back, is merely the perception of him as "just another player that went undrafted".  People seem to loathe reexamining prospects that they had no initial faith in, and require obscene amounts of proof in order to change their minds.

So, let's just spitball for a minute here.  What if you offered Rey a contract for $9 million over three years, with maybe $3 million guaranteed?  We could obviously offer more, but we'll try to keep things somewhat reasonable for now.  Would the Bengals match this offer?  I don't know, but it would cost them significantly more than they are currently obligated to pay, in order to find out, and that is half of our objective.

Would this be too much money to risk on a player who has only played in a limited role?  On the surface, these figures would probably seem a tad high to most people.  People are very wary of exorbitant free agent contracts, for good reason, but I would say this fear is really only necessary for the top dollar contracts with huge signing bonuses, which really cause all of the trouble.  If you wound up outbidding the Bengals, and signed Rey under the imaginary terms I threw out, the situation really wouldn't be so bad.  On the one hand, he could continue to perform at the high level he displayed in 2013, in which case you've gotten yourself a potential bargain.  On the other hand, he could turn into a pumpkin, in which case you would only be on the hook for the remaining $2 million in prorated signing bonus money that would remain at the end of 2014, which is the earliest you would be likely to cut him anyway.  You could even retain Pumpkin Rey into the future, as a moderately overpaid backup/rotational linebacker, to avoid any dead money hit that would come from cutting him.  It certainly wouldn't cripple a team.  There are teams with more guaranteed money tied up in punters, than would be involved here.

Another aspect to consider, are the options that will be getting a lot of attention in the 2014 Draft.  Everybody seems to project that C.J. Mosley, MLB from Alabama, will be taken in the first round.  Personally, I am not a fan of Mosley, though I could turn out to be wrong here.  I see a mediocre athlete, with solid but unspectacular production, that is possibly the next in a line of disappointing Alabama products.  I see him as a continuation of the great Rolando McClain and Dont'a Hightower tradition.  Vincent Rey's statistical production in college was generally just as good as any of these Alabama products, and in some cases significantly better.  In terms of athletic ability, though,  Rey absolutely crushes all of them.

Player    40 time        Kangaroo Score        Agility Score
Vincent Rey 4.58 0.436 0.871
C.J. Mosley          N/A -0.748 -0.251
Rolando McClain 4.68 -0.564 0.070
Dont'a Hightower 4.62 0.335 -1.397

As always, I should point out that the Kangaroo Scores for these sorts of linebackers are almost always going to be lower than for their pass rushing brethren, who throw off the curve.  For middle linebackers, a Kangaroo Score of about -0.800 would be a fairly average result, with Pro Bowl/All Pro caliber players generally coming in closer to -0.400.  All scores, both Kangaroo and Agility are given in the form of how many standard deviations that a player is away from the average result for someone in their position group (noting the previously stated exception about how larger pass rushers skew things).

So, while Vincent Rey will be 27 years old at the start of the 2014 season, which is still probably well within the prime years for a linebacker, what should a team do?  I would argue that they should avoid C.J. Mosley like the plague, and instead invest in Vincent Rey.  Of course, none of this delves into the possibility that there could be some interesting mid-to-late-round draft prospects that present even better value than either of these options.  I just thought it would be fun to consider a potentially better option for a team who really was considering throwing out a high pick on a rather risky prospect like Mosley.

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