The Loser’s Curse of Free Agency: Randall Cobb Edition

Some of the more academically inclined readers of this fair blog might have read “The Loser’s Curse: Decision Making and Market Efficiency in the National Football League draft”; I recommend going over it although some of the central points about drafting efficiency are no longer true due to the implementation of a rookie contract cap in the new CBA.  Nevertheless, the basic gist of the article is that losing teams spend large amounts of money on unproven rookies due to their draft position, which it harder to field a balanced team, which leads to more losing and more high draft picks.  While this may no longer be true for the draft, it still remains true for free agency.

Poor teams often have to entice players with more money to join a team, which then makes it harder for them to field a balanced team, which leads to more losing and more signing of expensive free agents; the added bonus is that in order to sign expensive free agents, often the first player to get the axe are the previous years expensive free agents, just look at the Buccaneers releasing their entire big name free agent class a year after signing them all. On the flip side, successful teams remain successful by not having to overspend on players, which keeps them productive.

Case in point is with the recent resigning of Randall Cobb and Bryan Bulaga, while I personally thought Bulaga was a more important player to the Packers than Cobb, as a fan I’m happy to see both of them back.  The one thing that does irk me is the statement that Cobb and Bulaga took less money to remain with the Packers, and that this somehow indicates (for fans atleast), the superiority of the Packers over other teams.  For instance, it’s been widely reported that Cobb had as many as 6 offers on the table, many which likely would have paid Cobb more money.  But is this really true?  NFL contracts are incredibly complicated and just because the final dollar value of a contract may have been more, it doesn’t mean Cobb or Bulaga would have seen more money deposited into their accounts. A couple things to consider (I’m going to use Cobb as an example, but everything is also true for Bulaga):

  1. The timing of the contract: The Packers are able to offer slightly lower values on their contracts because of the way the contracts are structured.  First off the Packers often go for shorter contracts that will allow their players to dip into free agency one more time in their prime.  Randall Cobb for instance will be 28 when his contract expires and figures to see one more big paycheck.  If Cobb had signed a 6-year deal with another team, Cobb would be in a weaker position at age 30 to see another big contract.  In a sense the player is betting on himself that he’ll be able to get another good contract but on the flip side, since most money in a NFL contract is front loaded, it makes the most sense to get out sooner and get more front loaded money.
  2. The structure of the contract: overall, the Packers don’t do much funny business with their contracts.  There aren’t huge performance clauses or void years to complicate matters and the Packers often only rely on roster and workout bonuses as incentives, so essentially a player knows that if he shows up to practice and plays on Sundays he will get paid what his contract states.  The Packers area also pretty good when it comes to guaranteed money (compared to say the Buccaneers, who have some strange contracts), which sweetens the pot.  Sure, winning the Super Bowl or recording double digit sacks may result in a nice raise, but it’s not a vital part of the contract like with some teams.
  3. The stability of the contract: The Packers have historically been a very conservative team when it comes to contracts.  Assuming a player plays well, the Packers typically see the contract to the end of the deal.  This is in part due to the organizational stability of the Packers but also due to how the Packers deal with players.  For instance, if Cobb remains healthy and productive, he’s likely to see the entire value of his 4 year contract.  On the other hand if he signs with the Raiders, who then go out and fire the head coach, GM and front office next year for reasons completely unrelated to Cobb, Cobb may not see all the money since the new regime may have a different team philosophy.

Also keep in mind Cobb has to justify his contract every year on the field since the NFL is a “what have you done for me recently” sort of league, it becomes increasingly important to “earn” your contract as the monetary value goes up.

  1. The stability of the quarterback: I would argue that no team has more stability at quarterback than the Packers have with Aaron Rodgers, who is likely going to be effective way past Cobb’s 4-year deal.  Cobb already has a rapport with Rodgers and knows that he’ll feed him the ball.  On the other hand, if Cobb signs with a team with a less productive quarterback or one that doesn’t fit into his strengths (luckily, Rodgers basically fits into every wide receiver’s strengths) then Cobb is likely to see a drop in production, which will naturally make the team question his large salary.  Take for instance if Cobb had signed with the Cardinals and Carson Palmer, who is a big play or go home sort of offense whose quarterback is definitely a traditional pocket quarterback who excels at getting the ball downfield.  Cobb would likely see a large drop in production as he’s more of a slot receiver who gets a ton of production on play action and Rodger’s scrambling.
  2. The stability of the wide receivers: It never hurts to have more talent at wide receiver and Cobb has definitely benefitted from playing with other star wide receivers like Jordy Nelson and Greg Jennings.  More often than not Cobb gets the benefit of a mismatch because teams are so busy double-teaming Nelson that Cobb gets left with a linebacker.  Should Cobb sign with a team bereft of wide receiver talent (such as the Browns), I don’t think he could be nearly as productive.  Slot receivers most of all benefit from a good surrounding cast.
  3. Stability of the offensive philosophy: Simply put, the offense is designed for Aaron Rodgers and Randall Cobb happens to be very good in that system.  The Packers’ offense also allows for a great amount of versatility, meaning Cobb gets some time at running back, slot and perimeter receiver, which only increases his production.  Other teams have more strict offenses, thus perhaps reducing Cobb to solely a slot receiver.

When you think about it, NFL players aren’t that different for the rest of us looking for a job.  There are plenty of reasons why you might decline a higher paying option since you want to be close to the family, like your current working environment and predict less success and promotions in the new job.  Just because Cobb left “$1-2 million” on the table (it’s unclear whether this is $1-2 million a year or $1-2 million total) doesn’t mean he’s a good soldier taking the hometown discount for the benefit of the team; Cobb knows that chance for the most success is with the Packers and as the loser’s curse would imply the most success often translates to the most compensation as well.


Thomas Hobbes is a staff writer for Jersey Al’s


13 thoughts on “The Loser’s Curse of Free Agency: Randall Cobb Edition

    1. I think this is the bigger point, while Jennings did get a bigger contract than Cobb, Jennings also was in a bigger risk of getting cut. In the end, if Cobb remains healthy, he’ll likely see the full contract. Jennings had to have known that his chances of finishing out his contract were low.

      1. Old Spice is done with Jennings, maybe he could give ” dancing with the stars” a call… If anyone needs an I told you so, it is that arrogant dumbazz.

      1. I was shocked. If someone is going to throw that much at him, you can’t afford to keep him.

      2. It is the question how much Tramon will really cash from that 21 million… We still have to see his contract and how much money is guaranteed and what is the structure of the contract… I say that, because Tramon has huge self believe which probably can not justify….

        1. Presuming Williams didn’t take some crazy contract I’d expect 25-40% of it to be guaranteed. Also since it’s the browns, they will have to offer a more player friendly deal to entice players to sign.

  1. Can’t say I blame the white rat for not signing Tramon. Would have loved to have him back as he’s still better than most, but not for $7 million…He’s still better than Shields who sucked last year at $9 million per. PFT ranking of #71 CB’s. Good one Ted! Concern here is the same as every year. We don’t win the SB and as contenders like Seattle gets better, we get worse. We just lost 2 CB’s and have picked up nothing. So…..same team as last year, except not as good. Same old gray tired looking Ted signing his “fellas” whether they suck or not…….Raji, B Jones, Hawk etc. He’ll be back from Fire Island in time to raid the scrap heap mid April.

        1. haha… I see you still haven’t changed. Still hating on our legend even after he gave you a super bowl. Oh well, good to see you anyway. I miss the old days on Yahoo. 2008 was my favorite year there.

  2. I agree with all your points about contract structure and the intangibles in playing with Rodgers, for a good team and one with a good front office so that the team is likely to remain good. In Bulaga’s case, playing on grass and in the cold also will likely make him look better. I don’t see where you applied the facts of the Cobb/Bulaga contracts to your hypothesis regarding structure and timing of contract terms. I also would suggest that there is no way for the casual fan to be certain whether a player left money on the table. TT probably has a good idea, but my understanding is that other teams do not provide a copy of a written offer to TT to study during FA. The only evidence we have is the published contracts of other, similar players.

    I view Bulaga’s contract as very team friendly, and rather player unfriendly. Though Cobb gets the headlines for taking a home discount, it appears to me that Bulaga did less well than he might have. Bulaga’s contract calls for only 23.7% of the contract to be guaranteed. The guaranteed money is spread thru the life of the contract since it is in the form of a signing bonus. He might not see those larger base salaries and roster and workout bonuses in yrs. 3, 4, and 5. And he is not the highest paid ROT, a not unreasonable goal. Did some team offer Bulaga more per year (assuming equal tax implications) and the same percentage guaranteed? Don’t know. Never will know. Same with Cobb.

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