Folding a Losing Hand by Doug Veatch
If you’ve ever played poker in your life, you know you can only lose what you throw in the middle. San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh would make an excellent poker player, but he makes an even better football coach. I say that because he knows exactly when to fold a losing hand. That is exactly what he did when he sent A.J. Jenkins to Kansas City in return for Jonathan Baldwin; folded a losing hand.
Jenkins was no doubt the most surprising pick of the 2012 NFL Draft and has failed to live up to his lofty expectations from day one. Usually a first round pick gets the benefit of the doubt for at least 2-3 seasons before a franchise will call it quits. Jenkins didn’t even make it through two pre-seasons. Besides JaMarcus Russell, he is truly one of the biggest first round busts I can remember in recent history.
On the other side of the coin you’ve got Baldwin. He’s also been largely unimpressive since being drafted in the first round, but probably has more talent in his index finger than Jenkins has in his entire body. It was a brilliant moved negotiated by San Francisco who was desperate for wide receiver talent at the time.
This trade really got me thinking about how I could personally become a better dynasty owner. It’s quite simple really – if you roster a player you feel is going nowhere and recognize it before it’s too late, you can re-invest your stock into something you feel is an ascending asset. Playing this game with a stock market mentality is an absolute must, in other words, don’t get emotionally invested. Get out while you can still save face.
When Michael Crabtree tore his Achilles is OTAs, Jenkins saw his stock rapidly increase. A first round pick, now with a clear path to playing time is a highly desirable thing in the dynasty community. Of course this was a complete and utter fallacy because Jenkins owners should’ve cashed in their lottery ticket when they had the chance. I saw people giving up first round picks to acquire Jenkins. Chances are you drafted him as a flier in the third round, which is not a significant investment by any means. To cash out on a player that was basically red shirted his rookie season and over drafted to begin with, is a huge win for anyone.
Of course hindsight is always 20/20 but sometimes we ignore the truth that is hiding in plain sight. We ignore what we see because of one reason – the original investment we made.
In 2011 people were going crazy in the offseason for the king of plodders, Daniel Thomas. He was being drafted consistently in the top six, but that was a completely situation based decision for dynasty owners. Talent had absolutely nothing to do with it. As a matter of fact, how would we have even known what kind of talent he had? He didn’t participate in some of the most important drills at the combine. The only two drills Thomas participated in were the 40 yard dash (which was slow) and the bench press (21 reps). So what did that prove? Absolutely nothing besides the fact he was slow and strong. That doesn’t exactly translate on to a NFL field.
Ryan Williams is another guy (also drafted in the first round of rookie drafts) dynasty owners had multiple chances to cash out on, but most didn’t. Even a season ending injury his rookie year (torn patellar tendon) didn’t stop the hype from building in his sophomore season. As we all know, when a hype train starts gaining steam, so does the hope of dynasty owners. You can’t let emotion cloud your judgment in situations like this. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.
The hardest thing for owners to overcome is this whole original investment thing. It’s imperative to remember once you’ve spent a pick on a player, his value either goes up or down from there. Very few rookies maintain the exact value you paid for them. So to expect a top six pick in return for a guy like Thomas or Williams is not feasible. That value is long gone. People should be trying to figure out how to salvage anything they can. Even if that means taking as little as a second round pick in return. Something is better than nothing.
If you were one of the savvier dynasty owners, you cashed out your chips on Thomas and Williams and hopped aboard the next gravy train. Owners who tried to weather the storm only got burnt in the long run. Dynasty owners tend to forget once your rookie drafts are over and actual statistics are being produced, it doesn’t matter whether you drafted a player in the first or fourth round. A good player is a good player and value is no longer dependent on draft position.
I applaud Harbaugh for being a forward thinker and knowing when to fold a losing hand. It’s not every day you see someone admit a mistake, move past it and also land something worthwhile in the process. Baldwin may not be the answer to their prayers but he has a much better chance of becoming a viable option than Jenkins.
Dynasty owners need to tear a page out of Harbaugh’s play book, evaluate their rosters with a fine tooth comb and identify which players they can still get some value out of before it’s too late. Time is of the essence; your players could literally be a Rotoworld blurb away from losing the majority of their value. Cash in while you still can.
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