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Green Zone League Articles

2016 Draft: Tale of Two Cities
By Garth Pearce
Special to gzl-football.com

Heading into any off season is a different scenario for every team, every year. Age takes its toll, record has an influence and the draft class, free agents or trade bait can drive many a GM to do crazy things (in their own eyes or others). There are certain GM's out there who many compare their trade and draft success against to see if they got good value for their effort, whilst some people do their own thing at their own pace with their own ideals, which in Madden sometimes works and other times is just a downright failure. Success isn't always measured by the win-loss column of a season or the number of Super Bowl trophies in your cabinet, but by the talent on your roster, drafted, traded or signed in. I'd like to have a look at this off season and the draft from the perspective of two teams at opposite ends of "success" and talent, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Detroit Lions.

At the lower end of the scale is the struggling Detroit Lions. Gone are the glory days of 2013 where they appeared in a Super Bowl following their 9-7 season, as their last 2 seasons have been a downhill slide, going to 7-9 and then 6-10 to finish in the bottom 10 teams of the league and awarded the 9th pick in the 2016 draft. I asked a few questions of Lions' GM Tom Riddell to give us an insight into his thoughts on the team, offseason focus and their draft psyche compared to an external view point:

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Q: Why do you think your team performed so poorly in 2015?
A: We change to a 3-4 base defense which didn't work out for us. This combined with problems on our O-line till late in season sunk us. Matt (Stafford) can't help us from his back as he was sacked 31 times this last season.
It took me to mid-season to find a playbook that worked with the new personal, but by then it was too late to make run.


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Q: With the identified problems of keeping Matt Stafford upright, you let 10 sacks through RT last season, but look to be going into this year with the same liability at this position. Any reason you haven't tried to get a replacement for the 69 OVR Alvin Marshall?
A: It's still the preseason and we are seeing how he does. Alvin has great tools, he just needs to grow into them. If we need to we have the cap room to make a trade or sign a FA later.
We changed playbooks too, which will play Tight Ends a lot more to assist in the outer edge blocking.


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Q: What were you're identified team needs for the 2016 offseason?
A: We wanted to get faster on defense especially in our secondary.
We also decided to revamp the O-line and go with a youth movement to save cap, then give our young guys a season or two to grow together. This led to wanting to get younger across the team and now the Lions are one of the youngest teams in GZL.


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Q: You've indicated that getting faster in the secondary was a need, yet you drafted an 88 SPD SS but didn't spend any progression points to improve his skill. Wouldn't a 6'3" safety with 91 SPD and ACC be a great asset to your team? Was height plus the ability to start now the biggest factor in this draft choice?
A: We're under the impression he can be upgraded until next year. We hope get into the 90's next season no rush in getting up to speed we have two seasons to do it.


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Q: You started the offseason with pick 1.09. Why did you decide to trade down from this pick?
A: Value as we are rebuilding here. We felt we could still get a good player late in the draft and some picks.


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Q: Why did you feel that the 9th best player in the draft would not immediately help your team?
A: He could have but we felt it was better value to trade down adding more picks. We felt we could find a player we liked later on who would cost less too.


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Q: Draft pick wise, you ended up with pick 1.32 and 2.12 in the draft (as the only noticeable picks). Do you feel you get good value from these?
A: I was very happy with the 2 players we got. 1.32 we got an impact player at Strong Safety who will strengthen the middle of our defense. Then we traded back up to get a very fast CB with great hands at 2.12. Both are starters immediately in my book.


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Q: You've placed a lot of value and faith in CB Ray Turner for the coming year, yet most would think his 5'10" height, 49 STR and low TAK don't make for a good CB. Do you really believe his potential speed and good hands now will make up for these perceived shortcomings?
A: I do. Speed and catch are hard to come by skills, whilst strength and tackle can be worked on via GZL Training Programs.


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Q: Do you feel that the amount you paid to get pick 2.19 (3.20 + Future 2nd & 3rd), to then trade down (2.32 + 3.25) and then trade back up to 2.12 (2.32 + 3.25 + NE Future 2nd) was worth it?
A: In the long run yes, in the short term no, but its short term pain for long term gain. I think Ray Turner is going to be a surprise to some people this year and he's only going to get better with playing time.


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Q: If you had kept pick 2.19, would you have waited for Turner to drop, or would you have still traded up?
A: I would still traded up.


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Q: I believe trading pick 3.14 for RG Alvin Bailey was your best move involving picks of this draft. What is your opinion on this statement?
A: Alvin is going to be a starter from day 1 in Detroit as part of our revamp of one of the worst O-lines in GZL from last year. We are very pleased with this acquisition.


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Q: WR David Gettis was your best acquisition of this offseason, but do you think you've hurt the team now by clearing out next year's draft picks bar mid-to-late picks (2x 4ths, 3x 5ths, 6th, 7th)?
A: Not really and here is why:
Next year our cap hit is very low at $5.61M, we've cleared a ton of dead money and we've signed our major players back over the past two seasons, all onto long term deals. We plan on being large player in Free Agency next year since we'll have tons of cap space to work with, so a lack of draft next year won't be a problem. Plus we always do well late in the draft with the skew on our players. We still have 3x 4th Round picks and 2x 5th rounder's. We also protect 1 player in the draft from the skew.


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Q: Now that you've traded in David Gettis, how do you plan to utilise the Twin Towers of Megatron and Gettis to make the most of this height + speed advantage?
A: We've changed playbooks this year and in sims they are averaging 10 catches a game for over 150 yards. The key again is keeping Stafford clean and able to make unhurried throws. His awareness is good so he'll find the open receivers.
On top of this the Lions have one of the fastest WR corps in GZL. Barring any casualties they'll be a threat all year. Don't sleep on WR Ronnie Lewis our mighty mouse in the slot, I reckon he's going to have a break out year.


After reading these answers I'm sure many of you groaned in frustration or laughed, I know I scratched my head a bit, but the beauty of a GM league is we each have our own team to play with as we like, no matter what the consensus thinks. But to dissect Tom's answers and put them alongside a more main stream approach there is definitely a method to his madness and reason can be found.
By the GM's own admission there are holes that need to be filled in this team and most GM's would agree, but where and how do you start? The forums have been alive from many GM's on how to play the sh!t out of the Stafford/Megatron combo to achieve success, whilst there are obvious holes that need new talent to fill. Drafting in isn't the only option, as is evident by his acquisition of WR Gettis and RG Bailey, both of whom are excellent players that meet the teams needs. Free Agency nets you some more (OC Braxton Cave for example) and the pieces slowly add up, however when we hit up the draft it's all a game of chance that you can get your wants with the picks you have whilst not sacrificing too much in the ways of talent (such as taking the #6 player at a position of need because that's what's left), or over paying to move up and get a targeted guy. I'm sure most people agree that Tom paid too much moving up to pick 2.12, especially when he took CB Turner in doing so.
The Lions started with a high pick in the 2016 draft and had a few options on what to do. Some would think that picking a guy at #9 would be a good move, getting a feature talent onto the roster to build around. Another option is to move down from that pick to get multiple returns in the higher rounds and fill out more gaps with a greater number, yet normally lower quality (or older) talent. I don't think they could go wrong either way, but in hindsight I'd say they didn't get the best value for their picks, accumulating way too many low round picks which don't add the type of value they need to turn this team around (and you can only call it a lottery using 7 picks in rounds 6 & 7 trying to get a diamond in the rough). They wasted a mid 3rd rounder on CB Jefferson (didn't need to pay that much for an 8 YP CB of his skill anyway, even before drafting Turner) and were behind on value for all their picks-for-picks trades. With a bit more patience and savvy, Tom could have reaped better value for all his moves down, especially if he didn't focus on scrub picks at the end of the draft and ended up with 3 or more true value players to work into his depth chart and his team would be better off talent wise and cap wise. I think it's a lesson most of us learn the hard way...trial and error, but many can take away a few things from the next team we look at and the processes that its GM goes through in evaluating talent and value.

Our flip side to city is Tampa Bay and the talent specialist that is the Buccaneers GM Anthony Fernandez. It's an enigma how a team so chock full of talent can keep replenishing itself season after season, but years of practice has given AF a good grasp of what talent works, what he likes and the best way to combine it all. Sure the Buccs have only appeared in one Super Bowl for a loss, but they've made the playoffs every year (even if those trips haven't been met with the success the GM would like). The team has never finished with worse than a 10-6 record so they're ticking off all the boxes every GM wants to, they just lack the ultimate prize.
When most people evaluate rosters for talent, looking at the Buccaneers roster just highlights how well a team can be put together. The question is how do they achieve it? I hope some of the answers below get you into the mindset of Anthony Fernandez and what it takes to get a talented roster:

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Q: You have one of the most talented rosters in GZL, yet every draft you trade some of that talent to stack up on picks. Why such a high turnover in players and investment in raw youth?
A: It eventually gets to a point where my roster is just like I like it - and we're getting close in GZL. There is definitely a high turnover in Tampa, but that is mostly because I love to develop young players, and believe in supply and demand. I have an inability to pass on good value, so that sometimes leads to me moving players I didn't think I would otherwise.


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Q: Your team really show no real noticeable needs, so what were your aims/targets heading into the 2016 draft?
A: I knew I was good at QB, OL, HB, CB, and FS - so that led to me wanting to draft along the defensive line. I like my starters here, but Ballard could be replaced, as could Ta'amu, and McCoy is one of maybe two players in consideration for an Amnesty next year, so I'd like to get a head start on grooming. I wasn't in love with any of the talent available there for my picks, so I went BPA. Stokes was a Top 3 player on my board after the year I had with Nelson, so I was very excited he was there. I also knew I'd need to draft a WR or two. Everything else is just BPA, stick to my board.


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Q: I counted at least 24 trades involving your Buccs this offseason alone that involved draft picks. Were you just always looking to improve your draft position or are you a trade junkie?
A: Probably a mixture of both. I do sometimes get the "itch" to make a trade, but for the most part I just develop a list of EVERYTHING I hope to trade that offseason, and then I go out and accumulate as many assets with that as I can. Then I scout and get my list together, and go to work. There is much that goes into it on the financial side, like managing expiring contracts, salary cap, dead money, and the longterm financial health of the team. I also try to stagger my picks, knowing that 1sts are the starters, 2nds come with ITBT, and 3rds are RFA.


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Q: How do you think you'd go if there was a team trade limit in this league?
A: If there was one NOW, I'd probably be ok, as we're very close to being done. I've drafted most of my starters and am feeling content with what I've built...now just to progress them. If there was one at the START of the league, I'd be bored as hell!


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Q: You were involved in trades that saw future 1st rounder's dealt back to their original teams after doing the rounds of the league. Do you think trading future picks is getting a bit out of hand?
A: I've actually been out in front to get trading of future picks tightened down, believe it or not. There was some pretty strong backlash when I suggested it, but I am all for not letting a team trade their own 1st two consecutive seasons in a row, and even not letting teams who finished in the Top 10 trade their 1st as a FUTURE component (meaning they will need to know what the pick is before they deal it so they get proper value). Out of hand? Probably, but I think that brings a lot of enjoyment to most GMs.


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Q: You've been known to start a new season hanging on to some potentially high picks of other teams, but this year you have no extra 1st rounders. What was different this draft that saw you draft from all your picks instead of moving out?
A: Well, originally I traded my 1st for Stanzi, before getting my 1st back to move down from 1.17 to 2.9. And while I don't have any extra 1sts, I do have a slew of midround picks, and assets that could be easily flipped into 1sts (like QBs, extra LBs, and an extra CB). I also think McCoy would fetch a 1st if I Amnesty him, which is always in play. It goes into the "turnover" again, but I am a firm believer in keeping PLAYERS as assets too, because they are assets as good as draft picks, only they can contribute for you until you need to "spend" them. Players are currency.


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Q: You ended up with 6 mid-round picks. Was there any player you felt you missed out on in this area of the draft that you were hoping would drop a few more spots?
A: Absolutely. I felt I had a great draft, but when you scout as hard as I do, you will miss some targets. In the 1st, I only moved down from 1.17 because Wade took Mark Perez the pick ahead of me. I was also then hoping that Cris Jones fell to 2.7, so had to settle for my next target DT Angelo Miller (both of which I had a 1st round grade on). Then next guy I had was RG Bryon Coles, who would have been the pick at 2.7 if Miller was gone, but once again Laurenson took my target. I wasn't too into the rest of the 2nd round, but I likely would have taken Sylvester Spence at 3.6 had you not taken him at 3.4 - although in the long run I think Linde and Baker were outstanding additions in Tampa. The last guy I kinda hoped fell was LE Jon Mack, who the Chargers took at 3.24, but it would have been tough drafting a Spartan.


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Q: How would you rate this draft compare to your previous ones?
A: Hmm - I really liked this one. Lloyd is not the WR I wanted, but he is very high up on my list. I think all of the 2nd-4th rounder's will contribute at some point, and I love Stokes and Holliday. Last year we got Johnson and Nelson, who will be long-term starters, as well as long-term contributors in the middle rounds with Knile Davis, Moe Jackson, and Jordan Poyer. 2014 we got Gerard and Jordan, who have each started 32 games for us, but our 2nd and 3rd rounders never really panned out. My favourite was probably 2013, where I got Morris Claiborne, Claudio Ambellina, Quinn Matthew, and Clyde Alton. That was a great draft. But I'd put this one just behind that one.


I think one of the biggest points I got from this was to identify value in both players and picks, acquire said value (preferably for less than it should cost), then leveraging that value for the talent you truly want. We all have our ideas of perfect players at positions and most of us want to make the big jump to get it in one hit, but I think AF's strategy allows for the same goal to be achieved with lots of smaller steps. I must admit I've seen plenty of players made available on the market when I've thought "Wow, that'd be a great pickup for the cost", but simply haven't had the cap, current value, or room to capitalise on it. AF has and now his team is better because of it, even if that means a short term stay for a player before they turn into more picks to fuel the influx of youth into Tampa Bay. Speaking of the youth influx, AF started the off season with only his team's first round pick and by the end he had 3 others instead, an early second and 3 thirds and the top of the list. When you consider the talent already on the roster plus the additions of SS Stokes, WR Lloyd, MLB Holliday, DT Miller, WR Linde, ROLB Baker and CB Alexander from those 7 picks the depth and talent is mounting up. Sure we don't all have the talent to move (and buyers for it) or the tendency to let go a long term player because they're aging and value can be had now before it drops off dramatically, but this is AF's vision and method to achieve the team he really wants. We also saw on the forums that he was considering moving up to the #1 pick to take Higgins, even though he has Freeman as a stud who'll last forever. Not the normal decision most of us would make, but when you have that much value on the table anything becomes a possibility (just look at his 2013 draft where he moved up to 1.1 to take Claiborne). The other thing we see is that this isn't a fluke, one off, or selling of the future for now effort as he's repeated the process 3 years straight (that I know of), however this has come at the cost of the veteran players on this team. It really doesn't pay to get old as a Buccaneer or have an almost expiring contract because you could get shipped out. Don't know how this affects team morale or cohesiveness with such a high turn around, but maybe as the changes settle as the team becomes AF's brand then that elusive Super Bowl will be there.

Thanks for reading and i hope you all gained something from the insights provided by these two GM's and their different situation heading into an off season and their draft ideals.
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