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Losing Draft Picks Hurts The Patriots More Than Tom Brady’s Suspension

UPDATE (Sept. 3, 10:45 a.m.): Sure, Tom Brady can play a full season again after a judge reversed the league’s four-game suspension. But the Patriots still lost a first-round draft pick in the Deflategate fracas. In May, Neil Paine wrote that the draft pick was the real penalty for the Patriots. We originally published this article after the punishment was first announced.


In the wake of the NFL’s Deflategate report, the league announced late Monday that it would fine the New England Patriots $1 million, suspend quarterback Tom Brady for the first four games of the 2015 season, and strip New England of two draft picks — a first-round pick in 2016 and a fourth-rounder in 2017.

After news of the disciplinary action broke, much of the coverage has centered around the loss of Brady and how his absence will affect the Patriots next season. Certainly questions abound in that department; chief among them is whether backup QB Jimmy Garoppolo can steer the ship while Brady sits. In response to the punishment, sportsbooks in Las Vegas downgraded New England’s line by 4 points in their opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers and have scratched half a win off the team’s 10.5-win opening over/under (now it’s 10.0, according to Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook).1

Lost amid the hand-wringing over Brady’s suspension, though, is the value of the lost draft picks. Teams with New England’s 2014 Simple Rating System (SRS) score tend to pick 22nd in the first round of the draft two years later and 21st in the fourth round (or 117th overall) the year after that. Those numbers probably understate the quality of the picks, since without four games of Brady, the Pats may fare worse than the average 10.9-SRS team. But they serve as a good gauge of what the Patriots were stripped of in Monday’s decision.

Turning to Chase Stuart’s invaluable research on the value of draft picks, those two picks are worth 19.2 points of marginal Approximate Value (AV) over the first five years of the draftees’ careers. Brady himself has averaged 15.7 AV per season over the past three years, and a replacement-level QB produces about 8.5 AV per 16 games, so Brady’s marginal value in the first four games of the 2015 season figured to be somewhere between 1.5 and 2 points of AV.

In other words, according to AV, the cost of New England’s two lost draft picks dwarfs the cost of Brady’s four-game suspension (assuming its original length is upheld after appeals). While the latter will cause a glaring hole in the Patriots lineup on opening day, the former is a long-term disadvantage that may ultimately prove more damaging.

Footnotes

  1. A half-win may seem like a somewhat modest amendment — after all, whenever a future Hall of Fame quarterback is lost, there’s always the concern that the team will completely fall apart without him — but even an extra half-loss could have big implications for New England’s Super Bowl odds.

Neil Paine is a senior sportswriter for FiveThirtyEight.

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