Sunday, November 22, 2015

Flacco: Making It Rain Corrections

In our most recent post, we were looking at the potential ways that a contract renegotiation with Joe Flacco could play out.  We presented 3 different scenarios, which had outcomes that covered Flacco taking a reduced salary to stay with the Ravens, and two possibilities under which it would appear to be favorable for Flacco to force his way off of the team, in order to sign a contract with someone else.  Unfortunately, we had a massive brain-fart when we were doing some of the math that compared the money that Flacco would pocket under these different scenarios.

When comparing the "new money" Flacco would receive in Scenario 2 to Scenario 1, and then comparing the same funds in Scenario 3 to Scenario 1, we repeatedly made the same mistake.  We idiotically forgot that the bonus money would be in Flacco's pocket from day one of signing any of these new contracts.  In the initial posting, we were just summing his cumulative annual salary, over a 2 year span, a 3 year span and a 4 years span, without remembering that this bonus money would be his from the very beginning.  This was very stupid of us.

None of this changes the proposed contracts we were discussing, it simply alters the sections of that post which related to year to year comparisons of how much Joe will receive in these different situations.  The numbers have now been corrected, and currently point even more strongly than before to Scenario 3 being the most advantageous route for Flacco and his agent to take.  Over a 2 year span, Scenario 3 gives Flacco 49.7% more cash.  Over a 3 year span, Scenario 3 gives him 33.3% more cash.  Even in year 4, which Flacco possibly wouldn't reach in the Scenario 1 contract that has him staying with the Ravens, Flacco would be receiving 15.5% more cash by going with Scenario 3. 

We apologize for being morons, but we were on a bit of a caffeine high when we wrote that post.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Flacco: Making It Rain

For anyone who has followed the history of the Baltimore Ravens, it is difficult to not have some appreciation for the contributions of Joe Flacco.  Whatever your opinions of him may be, it is hard to deny that prior to his arrival the quarterbacking in Baltimore could best be described as pathetic.

While local fans probably are a bit too biased towards defending him, and outsiders might underrate him, Reilly and I both agreed that it was important to try to resign him back in 2013.  Of course, Reilly and I also tend to be a bit cheap, but we figured retaining Flacco was still a manageable task.  Well, at least until the Ravens won the Super Bowl, and our initial reaction was something along the lines of "Shit!  They're probably going to pay this idiot $20 million per year now."

Yup, it is fair to say that the contract Flacco received scared the hell out of us.  Unfortunately, many of the locals only looked at his cap hit in the first 3 years of the contract, and downplayed the significance of what was looming in the future.  These optimists are the sort of people who you want to have buying you Christmas gifts on their credit card, or perhaps the market targeted for adjustable rate mortgages.  .

Admittedly, our views on a quarterback's worth probably don't align with those of many other people.  Based on comparing Flacco to his peers (those who aren't operating under the terms of a rookie contract), we think it is obvious that this current contract significantly overpaid him.  When looking at passer rating, touchdown to interception ratios or A/NYA, the best estimate of Flacco's value that we could arrive at was a contract which offered $15.5 million per year.  In some categories, our estimates were even lower.  Regardless, the market has spoken, and our worthless opinions on this subject don't really matter anymore.

This doesn't mean we don't like Flacco.  We do.  He's a perfectly respectable quarterback, and far from the only player we feel is being paid too much.  It just means we would have drawn a different line as to how far we were willing to go to retain him.  Some will say that it is unfair to judge Flacco based purely on his statistical performance, and pin some of the blame for his typically middling output on the talent that surrounds him, or perhaps on his coaches.  That is fine, and possibly even true.  All we are saying is that paying Ferrari money, for a quarterback that you drive like a Honda, is kind of a difficult position to defend.

The likelihood that his current contract is at least somewhat hindering the team from achieving success on the field, seems to be reasonably  likely.  As one individual consumes an ever increasing percentage of the team's cap space, it also becomes more imperative than ever that the team compensate through improved drafting.  We've mentioned before how we think this is also an area where the Ravens have actually been in decline over the past several years.  Combining these salary issues, along with a reduced ability to find cheap young talent, probably explains a fair bit about what has gone wrong with the Ravens 2016 season.

That the Flacco contract was also significantly back-loaded, and gave Joe a ton of leverage on future (current) negotiations was largely overlooked in the past.  Now, the general consensus seems to be that the Ravens will be forced to renegotiate this contract, prior to the start of the 2016 season, in order to free up cap space, and we have some serious doubts/concerns about how this will proceed.

Like the backseat of a Volkswagen?

It is pretty much impossible to accurately guess what a renegotiated contract with Flacco will really look like.  The numbers can be moved around in an almost endless number of ways.  Still, we thought it might be fun to look at some of the complications that could arise in this situation.  We thought we would start by simply laying out the terms of the contract, for the 3 years that still remain on it.

        Year      Base Salary     Guaranteed       Cap Hit   Dead Money          Age
2016 $18 $10.55 $28.55 $25.85 31
2017 $20.60 $10.55 $31.15 $15.30 32
2018 $20 $4.75 $24.75 $4.75 33

*If it isn't perfectly obvious, all these numbers are in millions of dollars.

While there is a significant amount of remaining guaranteed money ($25.85 million in total) that is already prorated over these remaining 3 years, that is really only relevant to the Ravens, and the people who manage the team's cap.  From Flacco's perspective, this money is already in his pocket, and like most NFL players has probably been squandered on strippers, cocaine and the upkeep of illegitimate children.  Granted, I am partially basing this assumption solely on what would happen if I was handed several millions of dollars, while still in my twenties.  Now, regardless of what some people may think, Flacco has little reason to let this past guaranteed money factor into his thoughts on future negotiations.  He/I/We have future baby-mamas we want to support, and that is all about future earnings.

The only thing that Flacco should be concerned with is preserving as much of the future base salary payments, that this contract originally "promised" to him.  While the Ravens have obvious motivations to lower Joe's cap hit, especially in the 2016 and 2017 seasons, the only theoretical leverage they have is the threat of cutting Joe, or perhaps begging.  For the most part, this threat of being cut is completely preposterous, and it will be interesting to see how seriously Flacco and his agent view any of this.

For 2016, with a dead money hit of $25.85 million, the leverage is obviously tilted in Flacco's favor.  That means he has every reason to expect to retain the $18 million base salary from that year, at least in some renegotiated form.  There is almost no real savings for the team if they cut Flacco, and even if they did, they would still need to find a replacement for him.  Again, I will say that begging for mercy is the Ravens' best option here.

For 2017, things become slightly more interesting.  The balance between Flacco's cap hit of $31.15 million, versus the dead money hit of $15.3 million is a curious situation.  Sure, the Ravens would save $15.85 million by cutting Joe at this point, but they would again need to address the quarterback position, which is something they have historically been dreadful at.  Who really holds the leverage in this year might be a bit debatable, though we suspect that Flacco would win this game of chicken.  We'd probably continue to bet on Joe retaining his claim on the $20.6 million in base salary from this year, at least in a renegotiated form.

For 2018, Flacco pretty much loses all the leverage he might have formerly possessed, as cutting him with a $4.75 million dead money hit would be laughably easy for the team to absorb.  So, we're going to assume that Flacco has no real expectation of retaining the $20 million in base salary for this year, and it won't really factor into any of the negotiations.

Okey-dokey, it's time to start fiddling with the numbers.  First, we'll throw out the suggestion that Flacco will reduce his 2016 base salary by $15 million.  We will then propose that he reduce his 2017 base salary by $16.6 million.  Since we think Flacco has enough leverage to expect to have earned this money, these won't be real reductions in pay, but the money will be converted into guaranteed money, which will be prorated over the length of his contract.  That would total $31.6 million in new guaranteed money.  Yes, it already sounds insane.

We're going to ignore the possibility of putting this money into future "option bonuses", since we don't think they would necessarily do either side any favors in this negotiation.  Flacco, in particular, would probably be the party most likely to get screwed over by such bonuses, and we see no compelling reason for him to accept that form of payment, at least with the leverage he currently possesses.

Since his current contract only has 3 years remaining on it, prorating this $31.6 million is a bit of a problem, as that would work out to $10.53 million in guaranteed money per year.  That means the team would want to add some more years to Flacco's contract, to allow them to account for this money over a longer period of time (though it would actually go into Flacco's pocket the day he signed his new contract).  The number of years to be added to Flacco's contract is unknowable, but since guaranteed money can only be distributed over a maximum of 5 years, we'll pretend that they will only try to add 2 years to the new contract.

That brings up another complication.  By adding to the number of years that Flacco would be obligated to serve the Ravens, he would probably expect an additional signing bonus, which adds even more guaranteed money to this new contract.  Based on what we are seeing with his peers, who have performed to a similar level, we're going to guess that this would come out to a signing bonus of about $4 million per year that is added to Flacco's original contract, or $8 million in total.  While we find this situation a bit ridiculous, there are actually a number of reasons why we think this could still be a very low estimate, but we'll explain those reasons a bit further on.

Okay, so we now have some sort of basic theory about Flacco agreeing to a 2 year extension, which will take him through the 2020 season, at which point he would be 35 years old.  We also have an estimate of $39.6 million dollars in guaranteed money ($31.6 million from redistributed base salary he was likely to earn, and $8 million in signing bonuses for the extension).  This works out to $7.92 million in new guaranteed money per year, over the course of this 5 year contract.  That makes determining Flacco's numbers for 2016 and 2017 fairly straightforward.  From 2018 onward, we'll just insert a base salary that maintains a fairly steady rate of pay, with some consideration given to Flacco's average annual "new money" payments.  Here's what it looks like so far.

Scenario 1
      Year      Base Salary         Old Guar.    New Guar.        Cap Hit   Dead Money       Age
2016 $3 $10.55 $7.92 $21.47 $65.45 31
2017 $4 $10.55 $7.92 $22.47 $46.98 32
2018 $11 $4.75 $7.92 $23.67 $28.51 33
2019 $15
$7.92 $22.92 $15.84 34
2020 $15
$7.92 $22.92 $7.92 35

*Once again, all these numbers are in millions of dollars.

Now, this is all just bullshit speculation on our part, and we will happily admit that predicting how Flacco's contract will be renegotiated is a bit of a fool's errand.  There are many ways in which the numbers can be moved around, and depending on your proximity to Baltimore, you might find these numbers ridiculous for different reasons.  To some, the concept of Flacco carrying an average annual cap hit of $22.69 million will seem outrageous.  To others, proposing that Flacco will be given $39.6 million in guaranteed money will be the sticking point.  Your perception/tolerance of these figures will invariably be affected by whether you were born with one of Ozzie Newsome's mind control implants.

From the Ravens' perspective, this proposal would give them some significant cap relief.  In 2016, it would save them $7.08 million in cap space.  In 2017, it would save them $8.68 million in cap space.  From that point onward, Flacco's numbers would remain fairly stable (if still outrageous), and not present the likelihood of giving Joe such a ridiculous amount of leverage in the future.  In theory, the Ravens could escape this contract just prior to the 2019 season, albeit with some minor discomfort.

The real problem, from our perspective, is that this might be an overly optimistic best case scenario. We think Flacco could actually push for significantly more money, if he chose to do so.  The leverage he possesses over the Ravens shouldn't be underestimated.

Suitor Number 2

Let's explore how things could all go terribly wrong for the Ravens.

Many fans seem to support the idea that Flacco will reduce his base salary to a lower level in order to "take one for the team", or some other sort of deranged nonsense.  The idea here is that by reducing his demands, the team will have more money to spend on other players, allowing Joe to perform better, and making his remaining years more enjoyable.  We recall hearing that unicorns and rainbows are somehow involved in all of this, but we can't swear to that.

What people seem to be forgetting is that this is the same guy who supposedly turned down a deal, prior to his Super Bowl winning season, that would have offered him $16 million per year, in order to bet on himself.  Joe clearly won that bet, and we wouldn't put it past him or Joe Linta (his agent), to do so again.

Despite the generally accepted idea that Flacco's contract will be renegotiated this off-season, we really don't think he has much incentive to do so.  The Ravens have almost nothing they can threaten him with, and he could easily tell them to piss off, with no real consequences.  Now, prior to the 2017 season, he might be more amenable to discussing his contract, but even then, he still retains a great deal of power in these negotiations.  Leverage, not team spirit/loyalty, should be what determines the outcome of this situation.

So, let's pretend that the Ravens open negotiations with Joe prior to 2016.  Let's also pretend that the Ravens are in full kamikaze mode, and refuse to accept that Joe has all the leverage, and actually do decide to cut him.  This is extremely unlikely, but let's roll with this lunacy.

This allows us to speculate on what Flacco could draw as a free agent, which is an additional source of leverage he has over the Ravens.  For this imaginary scenario, we will propose that another team would be willing to offer the 31 year old Flacco a 5 year contract worth $80 million in total.  We'll also speculate that the guaranteed portion of this contract would be $44.8 million, since this would be 56% of the total contract, and relatively in line with the percentages we see being given to quarterbacks who are similar to Flacco.  We'll also pretend that the distribution of funds is perfectly flat over the course of these 5 years.  This is what such a contract might look like.

Scenario 2
       Year      Base Salary     Guaranteed       Cap Hit   Dead Money          Age
2016 $7.04 $8.96 $16 $44.8 31
2017 $7.04 $8.96 $16 $35.84 32
2018 $7.04 $8.96 $16 $26.88 33
2019 $7.04 $8.96 $16 $17.92 34
2020 $7.04 $8.96 $16 $8.96 35

Whatever your opinions are of Flacco's abilities as a quarterback, it would be hard to imagine that this wouldn't be a tempting contract to a number of teams.  This imaginary team would be acquiring Flacco for a lower price than what is currently being paid to the likes of piddly old Alex Smith.

It would also present Flacco with some very interesting incentives to depart Baltimore, or at least use the option of departing as leverage.  Despite appearing to be a smaller contract than the previous one we put up in Scenario 1, because of the lower annual cap hits, this actually pays Flacco more actual money.  Let's compare what Joe would be pocketing in "future earnings" with these two different situations.

     Scenario 2
  Scenario 1

              Total         Avg.
           Total         Avg.
2 yr Income $58.8 $29.4
$46.6 $23.3
3 yr Income $65.9 $21.9
$57.6 $19.2
4 yr Income $72.9 $18.2
$72.6 $18.1

In the first 2 years of these contracts, Scenario 2 (which has Joe leave Baltimore for a new team) would give Flacco $12.2 million in additional earnings, compared to what he would receive in Scenario 1.  In the First 3 years, Scenario 2 would give Flacco $8.3 million in additional earnings over the contract in Scenario 1.  It isn't until we get 4 years into these two contracts that the gap really closes, with just a margin of $100,000 to separate them.

Unfortunately, things are still significantly more complicated than that.  While Scenario 1 seems to close the gap after 4 years, this is unlikely to be the case in reality.  In Scenario 1 (where he stays with the Ravens), Flacco's cap hit of $22.92 million, versus his dead money hit of $15.84 million, gives the Raven's some incentive to force Flacco into another renegotiation.  The Ravens would have some leverage here, since they could save $7.08 million by cutting Flacco prior to his 2019 season.

Scenario 2 doesn't present such problems for Flacco.  He would almost certainly receive every penny promised to him through the first four years of this contract, as it would actually cost this new team $1.92 million more to cut him than keep him at this point in time.

Compared to the contract in Scenario 1, Joe actually maintains more leverage in this contract over a longer period of time.  He additionally makes more money per year, and would theoretically be on a team with more cap space, allowing him to be surrounded by more high priced free agents than the Ravens would be able to provide. 

Ah, but this becomes even more complicated.  As we said before, we think it would be borderline suicidal for the Ravens to cut Flacco prior to the 2016 season, even if Flacco refused to renegotiate.  In 2017, however, there is a slightly increased (but still unlikely) possibility that releasing him would be doable.  If Flacco forced his way off the Ravens' roster in 2017 by still refusing to renegotiate, he could pocket the 2016 $18 million in base salary from his current contract, and then pursue the very same free agent contract we proposed in Scenario 2.  Suddenly his overall earnings would gain an additional boost, making departing the Ravens an even more appealing option.

Scenario 3
       Year      Base Salary     Guaranteed        Cap Hit   Dead Money          Age
2016 *$18 *$10.55 *$28.55 *$25.85 31
2017 $7.04 $8.96 $16 $44.8 32
2018 $7.04 $8.96 $16 $35.84 33
2019 $7.04 $8.96 $16 $26.88 34
2020 $7.04 $8.96 $16 $17.92 35
2021 $7.04 $8.96 $16 $8.96 36

*Just remember, in Scenario 3, the 2016 base salary is still being paid by the Ravens, rather than Flacco's "new team".

Let's also again compare how Flacco's earnings compare under these two scenarios, with the "free agent" Scenario 3 receiving the benefit of this additional $18 million from 2016.

     Scenario 3
  Scenario 1

              Total         Avg.
           Total         Avg.
2 yr Income $69.8 $34.9
$46.6 $23.3
3 yr Income $76.8 $26.6
$57.6 $19.2
4 yr Income $83.9 $20.9
$72.6 $18.1
5 yr Income $98 $18.1

Now, departing the Ravens after 2016, rather than prior to it, Scenario 3 becomes an even more appealing option.  In the first 2 years of Scenario 3, Flacco would receive $23.2 million more than he would by staying with the Ravens' Scenario 1 offer.  Over the first 3 years, Scenario 3 would pay Flacco $19.2 million more than Scenario 1.   Over the first 4 years, Scenario 3 would pay Flacco $11.3 million more than Scenario 1, but then we get back to the question of how likely Flacco is to actually reach year 4 in Scenario 1, without being forced to renegotiate.  Under these terms, Flacco would also almost certainly reach year 5 of Scenario 3, which is incredibly unlikely in Scenario 1.

So, Scenario 3 seems like the best option for Flacco. It nets him more guaranteed money, and more leverage, over a greater period of time.  It also puts him on a team that has more cap space, or at least one less burdened by their quarterback's annual cap hit.  This also probably gives Joe a better chance of actually winning games in the future, which probably has some modest value to a professional athlete.

We also shouldn't forget that we are only proposing a fictional free agent contract that pays a mere $16 million per year, to illustrate how cheap it could be for a rival to lure Joe away from the Ravens.  It seems quite likely that another team (perhaps the Texans, Browns or Rams) would be willing to pay more per year than the humble amount we are currently suggesting.  If that is so, it only further strengthens Flacco's motivations to not renegotiate, and to try to get out of Baltimore.  Or, at the very least, it allows Flacco apply significant additional pressure to the Ravens, even beyond his looming cap hit numbers.

Regardless of how you may view all of this, you have to admit one thing.  Whatever Flacco's actual value is, if the Ravens are possibly going to be willing to spend around $22.69 million per year to retain him, it seems reasonable to suggest that some other quarterback needy team would be willing to pay 70.5% of that price, which is what our proposed $16 million per year contract works out to.  If someone else is willing to pay that much, the Ravens should in theory lose this negotiation, as well as their quarterback.  Or, possibly, the Ravens will end up paying a price that nobody else in the league feels it is worth paying for Flacco's services.

Either possibility could be a bit depressing.

The Ravens only have themselves to blame. 

Of course, all of this is just spit-balling.  We really have no idea how this will all work out.  Maybe Joe will take a more significant reduction in salary than we think he should.  Reilly and I certainly have no stake in how any of this unfolds.  Joe isn't going to give us a 10% cut of his new contract, and the Ravens definitely don't take our calls.  All we're saying is that we would try to force Joe Flacco out of Baltimore, if we were his agent.  We're cruel and heartless bastards.  The benefits of leaving seem to outweigh the benefits of sticking around, and we see no reason to believe that Flacco should make his decision based on sentiment or generosity (which is all a bunch of hippie drivel).

If Joe chose to take this path, we certainly couldn't judge him harshly for it, or call him greedy.  It would merely be the result of a poorly structured contract, which gave the player way too much leverage, which is entirely the fault of team management.  Some will say that the Ravens were "forced" to resign Flacco, after the team won the Super Bowl in 2012.  We would just say that any decision you feel "forced" to make has a much higher likelihood of being a bad one.

We'll find out soon enough just how bad their next decision will be.

Monday, October 5, 2015


In general, Reilly and I don't have any great expectation that the subjects which interest us will be seen as particularly fascinating to other people.  For this reason, we tend to be cautious about what topics we bring up, even if it frustrates us a bit.  No, we probably shouldn't discus our collection of ear wax.  Likewise, our fears about the Nazis who live on the dark side of the moon, is something we tend to keep to ourselves.  We could also discuss our belief that slugs are at the top of the food chain (go ahead, name one person who has survived a slug attack), but we don't mention this very often.  Sometimes, we just suspect that the issues we want to explore might cross certain lines, and we'd prefer to avoid stirring up a kerfuffle.  Today, perhaps foolishly, we decided to pursue one of those unfortunate subjects that draws our interest.

The topic we want to examine this time is PFF (Pro Football Focus).  Now, to be perfectly clear, we generally like PFF (sort of), and appreciate the statistical data they provide to the football geeks of the world.  Being critical of what they do makes us feel a bit uncomfortable, particularly since they are a well established site ($$$), while we rely on the prognostications of a dog (-$$$).  Even if we don't always agree with PFF, at least they're trying to apply clearly stated and measurable standards to their analysis of football, and this matters to us.  Geek on geek crime is not something we want to engage in, particularly since analysis of the NFL still hasn't really emerged as something that the football world has strongly embraced yet.  Still, despite some wariness, there are some concerns we have with PFF, that we felt we should discuss.

For those amongst you who aren't familiar with PFF, they run a site that accumulates data from NFL games, and attempt to analyze what all this raw information supposedly means.  It is an attempt to give us a better understanding of the game, something we feel is rather important, or at least interesting.  Reilly and I frequently agree with their assessments of particular players, and often make references to them.  Admittedly, we are more likely to quote PFF when they agree with us, and ignore them when they don't.  That's just the sort of unreliable assholes we are.  Regardless, the information they compile is greatly appreciated by many of the NFL numbers geeks of the world, as it is a challenging task to assemble such quantities of data, and is beyond the means of individuals such as ourselves.

Where we sometimes run into problems with PFF, is in their analysis of these mountains of data.  Different positions require different sorts of examinations, since productivity for a defensive lineman is obviously different than it would be for a wide receiver.  So, based on these different sets of criteria, PFF assigns "grades" in the areas they feel are relevant to the position in question.  The grades themselves are fairly meaningless on their own, and merely a tool for directly comparing players within a given position group.  These numerical grades, either positive or negative, are also highlighted in either green (good!), or red (FIRE BAD!), to give the casual observer a sense as to whether a particular player is performing at an above average level (or not).  This leads to an incredibly simple way of appraising players, though we suspect it is probably a bit too simple...and frequently a bit idiotic.

These grades, and this sort of analysis, is extremely results oriented.  Getting a sack, is better than not getting a sack.  Catching the ball, is better than not catching the ball.  This is all fairly obvious.  While Reilly and I certainly don't want to downplay the importance of actual results, sometimes things get lost in these sorts of examinations.  Sometimes the results fail to convey why a player was able to perform well.  Sometimes we miss out on the context, which might better explain what is really happening. 

I suppose our primary question/criticism is very simple, though its validity depends on what you believe should be the main goal of people who analyze the NFL.  Do we want to know who produced the best numbers?  Or, do we want to know who the best player is, even if their environment isn't exactly helping them out?  PFF might be able to answer the first question, at least to some degree.  The second question is vastly more complicated, and is the topic we want to take a look at today.

Flip a coin: Mediocrity or Star

Let's consider the subject of offensive lineman.  We ramble a lot about offensive linemen around here, and I think that our fascination stems from how boring a subject this probably is to most people.  Plus, fat guys in tight outfits are kind of funny.

When examining the performance of offensive lineman, PFF's criteria is fairly simple and easy to understand.  The method for grading these players comes mainly from two separate areas, their run blocking grade and their pass blocking grade.  For now, to keep things simple, we're just going to discuss how the pass blocking grade works...or doesn't.

Essentially, PFF simply tallies up the number of total pass attempts that a lineman was on the field for, and calculates what percentage of the time this lineman managed to keep their quarterback from being sacked.  This percentage is referred to as the player's Pass Blocking Efficiency, and superficially it seems to make some sort of sense.  Dead quarterback = bad.  Living quarterback = good.  Refer to PFF's handy red or green color code if you still need further clarification.

Now, let's talk about truth with a capital "T".  While Reilly and I are inclined to believe in the merits of examining NFL players based on their measured athletic ability, and statistical production, there are limitations to how much you want to trust such things.  Very simple statistics can suggest that there is an argument to be made that a player might be pretty good.  They don't necessarily always reveal the complete truth though, and sometimes you need to dig a bit deeper.  Do I really believe that the player who allowed the fewest sacks, is in fact the best pass blocker?  Or, do I think these outcomes can be influenced by numerous complicated factors?

Let's use two players, Ryan Clady and Orlando Franklin, to provide an example of how the value of this sort of data can become a bit murky.

In 2011, Ryan Clady was rated as PFF's 40th ranked offensive tackle (among tackles who played for 50% of their team's total snaps), when it came to pass blocking.  Since there are 32 teams, each with 2 starting tackles per team (for a total of 64...yes, we know you could do the math), that would mean Clady was viewed by PFF as being a somewhat below average tackle in 2011.  Then, in 2012, Ryan Clady was strangely ranked as the league's 4th best tackle (again, when compared to tackles who played for 50% of their team's total snaps), when it came to pass blocking.  That's a fairly remarkable rise in the rankings, going from the 40th slot, to the 4th, in just a year's time.  What exactly happened here?

Now, let's look at Orlando Franklin, who played at the opposite tackle position from Clady, for the Denver Broncos.  In 2011, Franklin's pass blocking had him ranked as PFF's 41st rated offensive tackle, just one slot shy of where we found his teammate Ryan Clady in that year.  Just like with Ryan Clady, this rating would seem to suggest that Franklin performed like a somewhat below average tackle in 2011.  Then, in the following year, 2012, Franklin's pass blocking performance had him ranked as PFF's 8th rated offensive tackle.  Again, Franklin's rating for this year was just a tad behind where we found Ryan Clady had surged to, and near the top of the league.  That all seems a bit peculiar, doesn't it? 

Though some people may disagree, Reilly and I tend to think that a player is what he is.  The "talent" of a player should be somewhat fixed.  Though experience may lead to improvement, and injury can make one decline, it seems unlikely that what a player is doing from year to year would radically change, even if the outcome from his efforts might vary significantly.  Yet, PFF seems to be suggesting that both of these tackles, playing on the same team at the same time, went from performing at a below average level to suddenly being among the top players at their position, at the same time, over the course of just one year.

What exactly is PFF telling us about these players, and is there any way to figure out why there opinion changed so radically?  Is PFF telling us anything about the quality of these players, or merely pointing towards the circumstances they might have struggled with? 

The sleeper must awaken!

Of course, there is a pretty obvious answer as to why PFF's opinion of these players shifted so dramatically in just one year.  Something very significant happened in 2012 for the Denver Broncos, which likely benefited every player on the team's offense.  This was the arrival of that scrappy, unknown quarterback Peyton Manning, who came to replace the heaven-sent Tim Tebow.  Ryan Clady and Orlando Franklin probably didn't change what they were doing at all, from 2011 to 2012.  It seems more likely that it was the perception of their performance that changed, now that they were protecting a competent different quarterback.

Let's consider what the sack rate has been for quarterbacks in Denver, both before and after Manning's arrival.  Below, we will list these sack rates (the percentage of passing plays by the team that resulted in a sack), along with the name of the team's primary quarterback in each year.  We're also including the rate at which the team's quarterback was hurried, even though we personally place much less value on this, and think it is a statistic of questionable worth.


        Year       Sack %      Hurry %            Primary QB
2007 5.15 21.74                     J.Cutler
2008 2.05 21.77                     J.Cutler
2009 5.58 23.11                   K.Orton
2010 5.69 25.68                   K.Orton
2011 7.14 34.96                  T. Tebow
2012 3.13 11.39                P. Manning
2013 2.31 17.18                P. Manning
2014 2.09 14.82                P. Manning

So, in the years from 2007 to 2011, Broncos' quarterbacks were getting sacked on average about 5.12% of the time.  Those would arguably be fairly average results for an NFL team.  Only Jay Cutler's 2008 season was a significant improvement in this area (2.05%), and this fluky season probably contributed a great deal towards people's inflated opinion of him, and fed into to the Bears' eagerness to trade for Cutler.  Tebow's 2011 season, was clearly fairly horrible, with a 7.14% sack rate.  From 2012 through the 2014 season, the Manning led Broncos had a sack rate that averaged 2.51%, or about half the average rate of sacks prior to his arrival, or 2.84 times better than it was in Tebow's 2011 season.

That sort of shift could clearly influence people's opinion of how the Broncos offensive line was performing, but how likely is it that a quarterback can really have that sort of effect on a team's sack rate?  Well, let's take a look at what happened to the Indianapolis Colts, both before and after Manning's departure.


        Year       Sack %      Hurry %            Primary QB
2007 2.99 29.76                P. Manning
2008 2.33 25.29                P. Manning
2009 1.79 19.46                P. Manning
2010 2.16 22.09                P. Manning
2011 5.82 21.16       Painter/Orlovsky
2012 5.13 29.93                    A. Luck
2013 5.05 25.25                    A. Luck
2014 3.36 22.69                    A. Luck

In the years from 2007 to 2010, the chart above shows that the Manning led Colts averaged a sack on 2.31% of their passing plays.  That's roughly the same sack rate that we saw for Manning in Denver, and a fairly ridiculous result.  In the years from 2011 through 2014, after Manning's departure, the Colts have averaged a sack on 4.84% of their passing plays, which again is about twice the rate of the Manning led years.  That's not a terrible result, but it is also quite similar to how the pre-Manning era in Broncos performed.  While Andrew Luck may be improving in this area, based on his 2014 sack rate of 3.36%, it is difficult to say whether his results will ever reach Manning's level in this area.

Admittedly, having Manning change teams gave us a somewhat rare opportunity to examine the degree to which these sorts of peculiar and positive effects are transferable, from one team to another.  Great players often spend the majority of their career in one city, which makes dissecting their real impact complicated.  Dropping them into a different environment, is often the closest we can really get to having a control group.  The only other way we get to test these sorts of things is when someone is injured.

That brings us to Tom Brady, and the time he missed the 2008 season due to a leg injury, and we witnessed the emergence of Matt Cassel.  We'll leave out the 'hurry' statistics this time.


           Year        Sack %            Primary QB
2007 2.81                   T. Brady
2008 7.93                 M. Cassel
2009 2.95                   T. Brady

Now, I suspect everyone will recall the 2008 Patriots season, and I suspect everyone will also recall the degree to which people scrutinized the way Matt Cassel filled in for the injured Tom Brady.  For the most part, people seemed to feel that Cassel filled in somewhat admirably for Brady, and in this atmosphere of deranged optimism the Chiefs traded Mike Vrabel and a high 2nd round draft pick to acquire Cassel.  They would also quickly give Cassel a $62 million contract extension.  What was overlooked in all of this lunacy was the precipitous drop in sack rate that occurred during Cassel's time under center for the Patriots.  The Patriots were getting their QB sacked 2.82 times as often in 2008, while Cassel was under center, as they were in 2007.  When Brady would return in 2009, the sack rate would magically go back to very much the same place it was prior to his injury.  There was clearly something missing with Cassel, that Brady seemed to possess.

The real question here is, do you think the Patriots offensive line was performing exceptionally in 2007, suddenly decided to tank in 2008, and then miraculously got their shit together in 2009?

Now, admittedly, using Peyton Manning and Tom Brady as an example of how a quarterback can influence a team's sack rate, can cause people to jump to some weird conclusions.  These guys are clearly rather peculiar players, and their influence over this aspect of the game is a bit unusual.  We're obviously not trying to suggest that all 'elite' (uggh, the "e" word) quarterbacks have this sort of effect on the results of their offensive line.  They don't.  From quarterback to quarterback, the ability to influence a team's sack rate can be wildly different.  For instance, we suspect that Alex Smith kind of makes offensive linemen look terrible, whether in San Francisco or in Kansas City, though that might be a subject for another day..  Without putting each player into a different environment, or having a method of establishing a control group, it's difficult to really pin down the precise degree to which one player influences the outcome of another.

Still, we do know that that this sort of influence from the QB position happens, even if we can't always perfectly measure it.

So, does it seem as if the person playing quarterback might have a fairly stunning influence on the public's perception of how the offensive line is performing?  Does it seem likely that transitioning from Tim Tebow to Peyton Manning, was probably the key factor in how the performance of these Ryan Clady and Orlando Franklin was perceived by PFF?  It certainly seems that way to us.  It really makes us wonder to what extent we should take PFF's grades for many of these things seriously, when their evaluation of a player seems like it could shift with the wind.  

Context is a bitch.

In this particular case, we were only discussing how an offensive lineman's pass blocking efficiency can be influenced by the person he is protecting.  The context of the situation does appear to matter, and this is something PFF frequently glosses over, or outright ignores.  Unfortunately, this lack of context is an issue that arises at nearly every position one can discuss.

When examining pass rushers, PFF brings out their Pass Rushing Efficiency grades, which are effectively the same thing as the Pass Blocking Efficiency grades, only turned on their head.  It becomes a simple calculation of how often a player was sent after the QB, and what percentage of the time this resulted in a sack (or a hurry).  Now, should a lone pass rusher be evaluated solely on the rate at which he gets to the quarterback, with no consideration given to how his teammates might affect his results?  Maybe a defensive end who gets 8 sacks, on a team that only produced 30 sacks in total, is more impressive than a similar player who produced twelve on a team that had 39 total sacks?  Maybe these two players are effectively the same?  Maybe it's not simply the rate at which sacks are produced by a player, but the degree to which a team's pass rush can come from multiple players, versus one isolated and therefore easily blocked individual? 

Is a wide receiver going to perform better when playing with one of the league's top quarterbacks?  Could having a viable receiving threat on the other side of the field influence a receivers' ability to perform?

Context...context...context.  It always matters, and yet frequently gets ignored by PFF, because it is probably the most difficult part of examining the NFL, and also perhaps the most meaningful question that needs to be solved.  Identifying how and why a player produces results, should get us closer to understanding who is actually contributing the most, rather than who is merely producing numbers.

If Player X performs to the PFF standard one day, they will be graded well.  If Player X perform poorly in the next game out, they will get a poor grade.   If Player X has a bunch of lovely green grades, with positive numbers, will that trend continue when he is placed on another team?  PFF can't/won't say, because their goal clearly isn't to predict the future.  PFF are basically like weathermen, who can only tell you if it rained yesterday.  Of course this approach doesn't really answer our real question, what is the true nature of Player X?  Is he essentially good, or a bum?  

Interestingly, we think PFF has placed themselves in a position where they will never have to admit that they are wrong.  The complex soup of the NFL, and the way teams assemble their rosters, can make pursuing the answers to particular questions very difficult.  That may be where the true genius of PFF really lies.  Rarely, if ever, do I see them say "according the this statistic, we feel that this player is the best at their position".  Instead, they frequently just list players in order, according to their grades in a particular area, and let you come to the conclusion "Hey, this guy must be the best!".  PFF's pretty numbers may nudge you in a particular direction, but you wind up at this conclusion all on your own.

Maybe PFF is misleading.  I don't know, and I'm not sure I would really want to say anything about that.  All I can say is that the degree to which PFF's statistics are being taken for gospel (at least by some people), might be a bit premature, and it makes me a bit uncomfortable.  It's particularly worrisome when I see some fans, reporters and game day announcers, discussing PFF grades without really digging into the subject itself, or questioning what the numbers are based upon.  Don't get me wrong.  PFF does have valuable information buried in their numbers, but people need to really analyze them, and question what the data means, rather than blindly trusting PFF's interpretation of the facts.

There's also a certain utility in these statistics, which can be destructive.  Even when the numbers are possibly flawed, or being applied incorrectly, they can be used to intimidate others, and end debates.  The analysis of what is really going on in football is still so clearly in its infancy, that silencing discussion would seem to be unfortunate, and counterproductive to our real goals. 

I suppose Reilly and I were also motivated to broach this subject because of a recent announcement made by PFF, about how they will be conducting their business in the future. Going forward, it appears PFF will no longer provide access to their raw data (a useful tool to many of us geeks), and instead only deliver their processed and pasteurized grades for players (pretty much worthless).  So, they will continue to provide their analysis of the data, while removing access to the data upon which their judgment is based from the eyes of the public.  As a friend pointed out upon hearing this announcement, they will effectively be charging people for the sort of "Overall Grades" that you find in the Madden video games.  Added context, or second guessing their interpretation of the data, clearly aren't something PFF is interested in.

As they also mention in this announcement, this new (inferior) form of data they will be providing, will be the same as the data that they provide to 19 NFL teams.  If it doesn't worry you that NFL teams could potentially be making decisions based on the grades that PFF has been providing, well, welcome to the new NFL.  Personally, I'm a bit annoyed about where this is all leading.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Jackson Jeffcoat vs. Trent Murphy

This might be a subject that is only interesting to me and Reilly.  That's probably pretty typical of the stuff we write about around here.  Nevertheless, we're really fascinated by the competition that is quietly occurring between Redskins' outside linebackers Jackson Jeffcoat and Trent Murphy.

Part of what draws our attention to this subject goes back to the 2014 NFL Draft.  As always, we plugged each player's available data into the computer, and it gave us our projected draft grades for where we would have been willing to select each of them.  We ended up assigning 3rd round draft grades to both of Murphy and Jeffcoat, and actually found that we had to parse the data a bit more thoroughly to really distinguish one player from the other.

Athletically, they both measured up as remarkably similar players.  They both fell into our category of High Agility Pass Rushers, which is a group that tends to be a bit less likely to achieve stardom, but a group that you still can't ignore completely.  Weird and wonderful outcomes do occasionally show up with these sorts of players.  Perhaps even more interesting, at least for this comparison, this is also a category of pass rushers that Junior Galette also falls into, and he is the player whom they would both be competing to fill in for.  When it came to their statistical production in college, Muprhy and Jeffcoat also fell into somewhat similar categories, once we adjusted the results for college games missed due to injuries.  It still remained a bit difficult to predict who was likely to have a better NFL career.

In the end, we ended up examining their collegiate statistical production even more thoroughly.  We tried to factor in their age, the degree to which their respective teams might be relying on them, and the advantages they might have had when it came to their team playing with a lead.  We also compared these factors to many of the players from the past, who have gone on the become obvious successes in the NFL.  This added approach became something that interested us, and is something we've started to quietly apply to other players, though it's still something we are fiddling with.

We came to the conclusion that if we had to bet on one of these players, we would have to put our money down on Jackson Jeffcoat.  We also started to feel just a tad nervous about the quality of the 3rd round grade we had for Trent Murphy.

Where their paths sadly diverged.

Trent Murphy would go on to be selected in the 2nd round (47th overall pick), by the Washington Redskins, just a bit higher than where the computer suggested that he should be considered.  Jackson Jeffcoat, to many people's surprise, would wind up not being selected at all.

It's still not entirely clear why nobody selected Jeffcoat, as he was generally discussed as a fairly popular prospect.  I don't really recall any discussion of unfortunate 'off the field issues', that often explain these kinds of occurrences.  The only possible explanation I have heard is that Jeffcoat had dealt with some injury issues in college.  The severity and long term impact of these injuries was difficult to judge.  Still, even if that was the issue, we would have expected someone to select him with a late round pick.  It was all a bit of a mystery.

Regardless, after being picked up as an undrafted free agent by the Seahawks, we kept our eye on Jeffcoat, but is was all for nothing.  The team released him after the 2014 preseason, which wasn't encouraging.  Shortly thereafter, the Redskins would pick him up, assigning Jeffcoat to their practice squad.  That's when things became very interesting to us.

Suddenly, we had these two peculiar prospects, whom we had previously directly compared to each other, playing on the same team, and competing at the same position.  It was truly a moment of dork-tastic joy for us.

So, what happened?

Well, not much.

As you would expect, the player whom the Redskins had invested a high draft pick in (Murphy), had a clear advantage, and saw actual playing time much earlier in the 2014 season.  Until week 16, Jeffcoat would only be on the field for 1 single snap.  For week 16 and 17, however, we got to see a very brief glimpse of what Jeffcoat might be capable of doing, if given a chance.

Despite the advantages or disadvantages that each player might have possessed, I though we would put up their statistical production from 2014, including their number of games played/started, as well as their total snaps played.

2014 Season

Player         GP       GS      Snaps   Tackles      Sacks    PDef     Int.      FF
T. Murphy 16 8 595 32 2.5 1 0 2
J. Jeffcoat 3 1 118 5 1 1 1 0

Now, it is admittedly a bit difficult to really compare the performance of these two players based solely on this limited snapshot of their results.  Murphy started 8 times as many games, and was on the field for about 5 times as many snaps as Jeffcoat.  Even attempting to compare a player based solely on their stat sheets is something that would likely just lead to arguments, though I think most of us would agree that we prefer to see players producing measurable results.

I also have no interest in condemning or criticizing Trent Murphy.  That's not our goal here.  Based solely on his statistical production, I would say that Murphy produced respectable/tolerable enough results for a rookie outside linebacker, even if I wouldn't go so far as to suggest that he set the world on fire with his play.

What does interest me, is what happens if we try to extrapolate Jackson Jeffcoat's results over a full 16 game season, and compare this to Trent Murphy"s results.  This would also be a highly questionable thing to do, since the sample size for Jeffcoat in 2014 was very small, and could lead to some extremely debatable conclusions.  Despite all of that, I am intrigued by an undrafted player who can come off the bench, and produce a sack and an interception, even in very limited playing time.  There are generally good reasons to be doubtful about the prospects of most undrafted players, or players who have fallen into a backup role.  Yet when Jeffcoat was finally allowed on the field, he did seem to make his presence known, at least to some extent.

Of course, sacks and interceptions tend to be flashy plays, that frequently have too much emphasis placed on them, especially in the confines of the small sample size we are looking at here.  So, we'll try not to get carried away with our irrational optimism.

Looking towards the 2015 season.

That leads us to what happened in the 2015 NFL preseason, that brief window in which we get to see some of the less talked about players, as they compete to be noticed.  Once again, Reilly and I found ourselves drawn to what might be happening between Murphy and Jeffcoat, and we were encouraged by what we saw.

Let's take a look at the results for each of these two players through 4 preseason games.  This time we'll leave out the games started/played stat, since it is a bit meaningless in the preseason.

2015 Preseason

Player Snaps   Tackles      Sacks    PDef     Int.      FF
T. Murphy    84 3      0    1   0
J. Jeffcoat    89 7      4    1   1

When given an opportunity to play in an almost identical number of snaps, Jeffcoat really made a rather good impression.  The number of high impact plays he was involved in actually strikes me as fairly stunning, particularly since this wasn't just the product of merely one good game.  In every single preseason game, Jeffcoat managed to get to the quarterback for a sack, which we still feel is the primary purpose for this type of outside linebacker.  The additional interception and forced fumble, are just nice added bonuses.

We could also talk about their tackle numbers, though most people don't seem to be interested in the statistical geekery that surrounds that subject.  This is where we get into the discussion of "stops", which relates to where a tackle was made on the field, which determines whether it was a true victory for the defense, as opposed to a more meaningless down the field type of tackle.  Of Jackson's 7 credited tackles, 6 were considered to be stops by PFF, which works out to 85.7%.  In Trent Murphy's 3 credited tackles, PFF only viewed 1 to be a successful stop, which is just 33.3%.

Again, none of this is meant to be a judgment of Murphy.  There's plenty of room to debate how these results come about in preseason games, especially with how these players are rotated onto the field.  The degree to which they faced comparable levels of talent from their opposition, based on this rotation, is hard to say.  We're really just interested in the differences in how these two player's are currently being perceived by the public, and by their own team.

We don't believe in hope.

I suppose the reason we really find this comparison interesting stems from the way we hear people discussing these two players.  Through the preseason, it was largely assumed that Trent Murphy's starting role with the team was secure.  Jackson Jeffcoat, on the other hand, was being mentioned in numerous articles that discussed whether he was "on the bubble", and someone who might not even make the team's roster at all (though he eventually did make the team).  I have to admit that I find this to be incredibly bizarre.  Is there any explanation for this, beyond the favoritism that is shown towards players with a higher draft status?  I really don't know, though I have my suspicions. 

In the limited time that these two players had to demonstrate their skills and potential impact, it would seem to me that one of them (Jeffcoat) made the debate very interesting.  Murphy, on the other hand, seems to be getting a lot of goodwill faith placed in him, despite making a relatively unexceptional impact, at least so far.  I realize that some people will say that what went on in the team's practices probably played just as important a role in how the Redskins viewed these players.  Unfortunately, that sort of falls into the realm of "coaches have an eye for talent", which makes me a tad nervous.  After all, I come from a magical place where people once heralded Kyle Boller as a potential savior.  Basing decisions off of measurable results just makes me more comfortable.  In that area, Jeffcoat is, at the very least, very intriguing.

While I wouldn't consider myself an advocate for making Jeffcoat an immediate starter, based merely off of these relatively small samples, the idea that the team could have potentially cut him in favor of Murphy strikes me as a bit peculiar.  At the very least, you would think rotating both of these players onto the field, until a clear victor emerges might be the sensible thing to do.  I also don't really see it as presenting much real risk to the team.  Still, I sort of doubt that this will happen.  Teams seem to have a strong belief in the hierarchy and value of draft status, and shaking off labels such as 'starter" or 'backup' is only done with much difficulty.  It is unfortunate.

While I can't say that we are optimistic about the possibility of a true, honest and open competition ever occurring between these players, we are curious as to how it will all play out.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

I Was Bored: The Amp & Preamp

I've been feeling very, very bored.  It hasn't helped, that Reilly has been a bit grumpy with me lately, and hasn't seen fit to discuss his thoughts on the steroid fueled sociopaths which normally are the topics of our mindless prattling.  Reilly's silence has left a bit of a void in my life.  So, I thought I would briefly branch off into a different subject that interests me.

Over the years, I've gradually had to accept the idea that most of the subjects that draw my attention are rather tedious, pointless, and perhaps less than ideal for maintaining my mental stability.  My OCD tends to steer me in directions that probably serve no practical or useful purpose, yet I can spend a ridiculous amount of time trying to better understand the subjects that pique my curiosity.  I have an unfortunately large number of these sorts of hobbies, and while they are all superficially quite different, I think they are all united by an underlying need to drive myself crazy.

One of these areas of obsessiveness is the subject of somewhat exotic home stereo equipment.  I think this fascination all started when I was a wee lad, and a friend of mine dragged me around to some of the more bizarre shops in my town, exposing me to the dreaded realm of the audiofools.  It's a strange world, that is heavily driven by outrageous marketing, targeted at fart-sniffing jazz aficionados who think that Citroen makes respectable automobiles.  Almost certainly, 90% of it is pure bullshit, but the remaining 10% can be quite nifty.  Like many of the things that interest me, there are frequent uses of the saying "it is more of an art, than a science", when describing why one piece of equipment was supposedly better than another.  That's an attitude that always irritates me, and probably launched me in a rather questionable direction, trying to better understand how these gadgets actually work.

After building an impractical number of speakers, fiddling with the design of crossovers, and discovering an irrational love of soldering, it seemed like it was time to add some new and unnecessary complications to my life.  I thought I would start mucking about with amplifiers.  In retrospect, this all seems a bit foolish, since I only own one CD, which is just a collection of Hawaiian crooner Don Ho's greatest hits, but sometimes you really need Tiny Bubbles to sound its absolute best.  Yes, this song is constantly playing on repeat at my house.  It is absolute perfection.

For one of my more recent projects, I was really feeling drawn to the idea of building an amplifier that used lateral MOSFETs in the output stage.  Santa Claus probably finds himself perpetually bombarded with children expressing their passion and desire for lateral MOSFET transistors.  They really make an ideal stocking stuffer.  While these output devices have their strengths and weaknesses, I have to admit that my main reason for going in this direction was that the available supply of these types of transistors is gradually becoming more and more difficult to get a hold of, so there was no time like the present to build something that utilized them.  When hospitals stop administering electro-shock therapy, I'll probably be the first in line to experience that too, before the opportunity is gone.  That's just how I operate.

Since Rod Elliott (ESP) offers PCBs for his P101, which is designed around a lateral MOSFET output stage, this simplified things quite a bit.  After fiddling with his design in SPICE, the design of his boards seemed to be capable of providing good results, and appeared to offer the ability to make additional modifications further down the road.  So, another adventure began, to build a simple class AB two channel amplifier.  (Sorry for the quality of the pictures, but photography isn't one of my skills).

Okey-dokey, let's talk about some of the technical nonsense that will probably only interest maybe 3 people (that's probably optimistic).  The power supply in this amp consists of an 800 VA toroidal transformer, with 40 volt AC secondaries.  This gets fed through dual rectifiers, followed by a capacitor bank that has 27,200 μF of capacitance per rail, after which it is putting out about 57 volts +/- DC.  Some people like to get excited about truly obscene amounts of capacitance in their power supplies, but I haven't been convinced of the benefits of this so far, and feel the amount of capacitance here is already more than adequate.  It's biased to about 30 mA, though I occasionally screw with this for no apparent reason.  The DC offset on each channel is about 4-8 mV.

As things currently stand, it should be putting out about 130 watts/channel into an 8 ohm speaker, with a fair bit more available into 4 ohm speakers, somewhat depending on the amp's ability to remain cool.  So far, overheating has never been an issue, and it has only gotten slightly warm even after a fair bit of abuse.  That amount of wattage may not sound like much after browsing the aisles at Best Buy, but I can comfortably say that the typical Marantz, Sony, Denon or Yamaha receiver that claims to put out 100 watts per channel is in fact probably only putting out about 1/3 to 1/2 of their claimed power in reality.  Plus, this amp has the advantage of being heavy enough to be used as a rather deadly projectile, if that is ever required.

Actually, if we are going to talk about overkill, the transformer in this amp is way more powerful than is really necessary.  The only reason why I did this is because I plan to eventually add more output transistors, for more current carrying capability.  At this point, there are four Exicon lateral MOSFETS per channel. but I'm contemplating doubling that in the near future.  It won't have a significant effect on total output power into 8 ohms, but it will increase the amps ability to deal with extremely low impedance speakers, not that it currently has run into any problems in this area.  These plans for possible, and largely unnecessary upgrades, are also why the heat sinks are a bit larger than they probably need to be.  Because of the size of this transformer, the amplifier also requires a soft start circuit (also from ESP), which is powered by a separate 10 VA transformer which is tucked away in the corner, in order to avoid tripping the circuit breaker in the basement.  There is also a separate circuit for protecting the speakers from any accidental 'Oopsies!', that is mounted on the rear wall of the case.

While there is a passive volume control built into the amp (which was ripped out of an old Marantz receiver which I brilliantly blew up while doing some tinkering), this can be bypassed by a couple of toggle switches (because toggle switches are cool!).  This allows me to have the option of controlling the amp with a separate preamp, which leads us to....

There really isn't much to say about the preamp.  It's an extremely simple P-88 (again, a design of Mr. Elliott's), that revolves around two Texas Instruments OPA2134 op-amps, with DIP switches to adjust the level of gain that the devices produce.  The preamp will also adjust balance, and switch between 4 different pairs of RCA inputs, though I put these in with the intention that they can be reassigned for other purposes later down the road.

The power supply is a simple 30 VA transformer, with 9,400 μF per rail, and held to a steady 15 volts DC +/- by LM317/337 voltage regulators (mounted on adorably tiny heat sinks).  Again, it's very simple, while simultaneously being significantly more than is required in almost every conceivable way.  While there's a fair bit of space left inside of the case, some of that should eventually get filled with additional pointless gadgetry, most likely a tuner.  Yes, I set this space aside for future bouts of boredom.

The volume control is a 10k logarithmic dual gang potentiometer made by PEC.  Most people will say that dual gang logarithmic pots can be troublesome, because of potential matching errors between the two channels.  I can't really disagree with this, because it did have some annoying irregularities when I first tested it.  Still, after a fair bit of tinkering, I managed to get the output of the left and right channel matched to within 3%, which is about as good as I think I could realistically hope for, at least without building a stepped attenuator.

With both the amplifier and the preamplifer, the main body of their cases are made of ipe wood, which was left over from work on my father's deck.  If you have never worked with this type of wood, it is just about one of the hardest woods you are likely to encounter, and is nearly indestructible.  One of the advantages of this is that I didn't need to seal the wood in any way, in order to protect it.  Compared to the amp, I probably gave slightly more thought to the woodworking in the preamp, and joined that together with 3/32" finger joints.  Honestly, the cases took significantly more time to construct than the actual electronics, even without any serious attempt at making them particularly attractive (though I do like their appearance).  Some of the other odds and ends, such as the knobs, were made from random bits of oak, walnut, or cherry.  If a random bit of wood was lying around from an old project, I tossed it in there.

The lids for both cases were made of 0.220" thick polycarbonate sheets, primarily because I thought it would be a shame to hide the guts away from view.  While drilling the holes in this, in order to provide some ventilation, I quickly discovered what an exciting material this really is, particularly when it explodes, sending dense pieces of high velocity shrapnel flying in unpredictable directions.  You live and learn...hopefully.

I can also say that my local community contributed something to these projects, even if they are currently unaware of having done so....

Yes, the aluminum sheeting used for the base in the amp and preamp came from a nearby roadwork sign that read "Speed Hump Ahead".  I ran across it one night while walking Reilly, and thought that the thickness of the metal was perfectly suited for the project, promptly liberated it, and cut it down into smaller pieces.  So, some of your tax dollars may have gone into something that actually works, which I think is probably a more positive outcome than you can normally expect.

Was it all worth the effort?  Hmm, that's a bit debatable.  None of this is a particularly sensible way to spend your time when you really think about it.  On the other hand, these sorts of projects tend to be surprisingly inexpensive, and the real cost tends to come in the number of hours you spend trapped in your basement/torture chamber.  Since I tend to spend a lot of time down there anyway, that wasn't a huge inconvenience.

How well do they perform?  I'd say that I am quite happy with them, not that this will stop me from tampering with them in the future.  The preamp performs flawlessly, though that's not surprising since it's job isn't terribly challenging.  As for the amp, it reminds me somewhat of my old Hafler DH-200 (which I also blew up in the past year, through an act of s̶t̶u̶p̶i̶d̶i̶t̶y̶  bold exploration, and then had to rebuild).  The new amp is more powerful than the Hafler, perhaps a bit cleaner sounding, and maybe has a few more bells and whistles, but I wouldn't say that the differences are particularly shocking.  I guess, in the end, I don't really subscribe to the idea that amplifiers are capable of performing magical feats of wonder, though I do think some speakers do benefit from certain types of amps.  They're simply devices for providing increased levels of voltage and current, hopefully without introducing noise (they aren't made with unicorn blood).  This amplifier does that rather well.

At this point, one of the next projects is probably going to be to throw together another two channel amp based on the Texas Instruments LM4780.  That should end up putting out about 120 watts/channel into a 4 ohm speaker, and about half of that into an 8 ohm speaker.  That would be quite a bit less power than my other amps, but still perfectly reasonable for most purposes.  I'm not sure why I would need to construct this, but I suppose I've interpreted my current failure to electrocute myself as a sign from above that I need to try harder.

While I'd say that these kinds of projects can probably outperform much of the equipment that can be found on store shelves, the extent to which that would matter to most people is probably miniscule.  Still, as hobbies go, it's not a bad way to distract yourself.  If there is a real benefit to doing these sorts of things, it probably lies in one of two areas.  For one, if my house is ever burglarized, none of my electronics will probably be deemed to be worth stealing.  Secondly, there is a reasonable possibility that something I constructed could live on after I have died, and eventually burn down some stranger's home, which is a thought that I find oddly amusing.