Andre Reed & The Problem of Entangled Variables

The Pro Football Hall of Fame recently inducted ex-Bills and Redskins receiver Andre Reed into its hallowed halls. NFL fans will know that the Hall has inducted few players at the wide receiver position over the past several years, as Reed, Cris Carter, and Tim Brown created a major log jam at the position. The Hall’s voters just couldn’t seem to decide which one would get in first, and as a result the entire group had to wait multiple years. Its only now that the logjam seems to be clearing up, perhaps partly in anticipation of another logjam at the position coming up in the next several years.

Frankly, no one could seem to agree on which player was the best of the trio. I remember having multiple heated arguments with a Bills fan on Carter’s superiority to Reed. His argument rested on Reed’s four Superbowl appearances, while mine rested on Carter’s career arc of putting up exceptional numbers despite playing with generally mediocre quarterbacks. Did Reed make Jim Kelly look better than he really was? Did Carter make the likes of Brad Johnson and the retreaded Warren Moon & Randall Cunningham look better than they were? The success of receivers is so entangled with the quarterback that they play with that it is often difficult to tell.

Now, Five Thirty Eight has posted an interesting piece that explores this issue in depth.

What I’m Reading: Federalist Papers 2-4

I’m through Federalist No. 4 as of right now. The first essay in the series, as I mentioned in my earlier post, was written by Hamilton and serves as an introduction to the rest of the essays.

The next three entries were written by John Jay, who would go on to become the first Chief Justice of the United States. Reading these entries gives me a good sense of the political ideas that were in the air at the time, since Jay specifically tries to pick out the weaknesses of what he must have believed to be the most popular proposals of the anti-Federalists. Several times throughout Nos. 2-4, Jay mentions that a unified federal government will be better equipped to handle foreign affairs than a series of three or four regional confederacies. I can only assume that he makes this comparative statement rather than saying that a centralized government would be superior to, for example, thirteen different independent nation-states because Jay believed that the former was a serious possibility with real political legs under it and the latter was not.

If I understand matters correctly, the Federalist Papers are listed in the order in which they were published. It’s therefore also telling that the first entries beyond the introduction all addressed the primary responsibility of any government — that of keeping other governments out!

Overall, I felt that No. 2 was not terribly persuasive. Jay essentially argues in that one that the multiple competing interests sure to be found in a central government will prevent frivolous wars from breaking out, which he asserts are more likely in regional confederacies dominated by only a few interests or industries. I suppose this makes sense to some extent, but I think he underestimates the overarching importance of realpolitik in matters of war and peace in this respect. Talleyrand could have given him quite a lecture.

No. 3 was much more persuasive to me because it affirmed something that I already believed to be true: central governments are better at providing for defense than confederacies because they have a greater pool of resources at their disposal. In IR terms, we would say that “big governments” have a greater latent military capacity than small governments, and thus potentially hostile states have less of an incentive to attack them. Bravo, Mr. Jay!

No. 4 used a couple of historical analogies to try to make Jay’s abstract arguments in the preceding entries more concrete. I found this pretty persuasive as well.

Quote of the Day

I’m undertaking the task of reading The Federalist Papers. Frankly, I should have done this a long time ago. Not only are the papers an essential tool for understanding the foundation and character of our country, but they’re written in the elegant language of the 18th Century. I’m not quite through Federalist No. 1, written as an introduction to the rest of the series by Alexander Hamilton, but I’ve already found this piece of wisdom:

“…We are not always sure that those who advocate the truth are influenced by purer principles than their antagonists. Ambition, avarice, personal animosity, party opposition, and many other motives not more laudable than these are apt to opperate as well in those who support as well as those who oppose the right side of a question.”

Why Did Mike Priefer Keep His Job?

Things are getting ugly between Chris Kluwe and the Vikings. I won’t rehash the details here, but a Google search will show you that over the past 72 hours or so, there have been a lot of juicy developments in this story, and it looks like things are going to get worse for both sides before they get better.

This led me to wonder: given the major distraction and potential for public embarrassment that this is sure to cause, why didn’t the Vikings simply fire Mike Priefer when the new coaching staff came in last January? It’s the norm for a new head coach to bring in his own people, and it’s unusual for a coach to retain any coordinators from a previous staff. It seems like special teams is probably an especially easy position to replace. So why didn’t the Vikings just let go of Priefer at a point when no one would have batted an eye or assumed that his firing would have lent any credibility to Kluwe’s claims?

Mike Florio of PFT, who has some experience in these matters as a former employment attorney, has some interesting ideas.

In most employment disputes, the manager accused of wrongdoing doesn’t get fired unless the preliminary investigation points unmistakably to conduct so heinous that it’s impossible to keep the manager employed. Far more often, the company embraces the accused because the company needs the accused to cooperate — and to not be disgruntled.

If the Vikings had fired Priefer, who knows what he would have said to investigators? By talking to him in early January, Priefer’s initial interview was even more likely to reflect favorably on the team because the head coach had been fired but Priefer’s fate had not yet been determined. If the Vikings had decided to move on from Priefer and if Priefer had been interviewed after the fact, maybe Priefer would have shared details about discussions leading to Kluwe’s release without the kind of care and precision that would keep those comments from being regarded as proof that he was cut because of his support of gay rights.

It’s possible, then, that Kluwe may have done Priefer a huge favor, keeping Priefer employed for as long as Kluwe’s anticipated lawsuit lasts.

Yes, that’s a very cynical view of how business gets done, especially in an industry so driven by results. Still, litigation and the threat of it creates a distinct bunker mentality in any organization, with folks who otherwise would be left unprotected getting one of the best seats in the house for as long as the threat lasts.

The idea that Kluwe’s allegations might have helped Priefer keep his job is richly ironic indeed. Had Kluwe waited another month before publishing his accusations, Priefer might have been fired anyway.

Great Quote from Bernardo Kastrup on Idealism and Materialism

Our culture, somehow, has come to completely invert the situation: when we say that all reality is in consciousness, most people believe it to mean that reality is inside our heads. In fact, it is materialism that says that the reality we experience is entirely inside our skulls, since experience is supposedly generated by our brains. If, instead, reality is in consciousness, then our heads are in consciousness – not the other way around – and the world we experience around us is, indeed, outside our heads. Idealism, in other words, grants reality to be exactly what it seems to be. But our culture, somehow, has come to attribute to materialism the intuitiveness of Idealism, while attributing to Idealism the absurd implications of materialism.

- From this entry on his blog

Locks for the HoF Currently Playing in the NFL

Today, I decided to use the Keltner List, which baseball statistician Bill James used to help determine if a baseball player is worth of a spot in the Hall of Fame, and applied it to the current NFL in order to see how many locks for the HoF are currently still playing. Of course, I had to modify it slightly since it’s much more difficult to evaluate between positions in football than it is in baseball or basketball, but the list was still pretty helpful. I decided that since I’m only considering current players rather than as of yet ineligible retirees, I’ll be basing my analysis on whether or not the players listed below would be Hall worthy if they retired today. This generally means that most of these players won’t even be the best at their positions right now, since I’m taking their whole career into account.

Here are the current players who I think are HoF locks, categorized by division:

NFC North: Adrian Peterson, Julius Peppers, Jared Allen, Aaron Rodgers, Calvin Johnson

AFC North: Troy Polamalu, Ben Roethlisberger

AFC West: Peyton Manning, DeMarcus Ware, Antonio Gates, Charles Woodson, Dwight Freeney

NFC West: Justin Smith, Patrick Willis, Larry Fitzgerald, John Abraham, Kevin Williams

AFC South:  Andre Johnson, Robert Mathis, Reggie Wayne

NFC South: Drew Brees, Champ Bailey

NFC East: Eli Manning

AFC East: Tom Brady, Ed Reed

That’s 24 players out of a league featuring just under 1,700 players on any given week. There are a number of players on this list who are certainly past their primes — Reed, Bailey, Polamalu, Woodson, Williams, and Freeney all come to mind. I want to stress here that we’re not considering the status of these players today, but the status of their careers as a whole. Heck, the fact that they are all good enough to play past their prime counts for extra points on the Keltner list.

I’ll note a couple of interesting players left off the list below.

Philip Rivers: Rivers is statistically an excellent quarterback. In fact, he’s easily best quarterback statistically from the 2004 draft class. Yet he’s the only one without multiple Superbowl wins. Heck, Rivers doesn’t even have an appearance to his credit yet, and he played on some loaded teams early in his career. If he retired right now, he’d be in Ken Anderson territory as a statically great quarterback who didn’t win the big one (although Anderson did lead his team to a Superbowl!) Give Rivers another few years and he might make it in on statistics alone, but as of right now I don’t think he’s a lock.

Steven Jackson: Statistically, Steven Jackson should be a lock, especially considering the fact that put up excellent production on a whole lot of awful Rams teams. Hey, the Keltner list asks us to consider if a there’s any reason to believe that a player was better than his stats indicate, and since Jackson’s teams were so bad for so long the answer is a definite yes. Yet for some reason, I just don’t think that Jackson is a lock.

Steve Smith: I’m only 5’9″, so the diminutive ex-Panther has always been a favorite of mine. In the prime of his career, he played with a mediocre quarterback in Jake Delhomme and managed to put up frequently fantastic numbers, especially the season when he won the receiving triple crown (receptions, yards, and TDs). Still, I don’t think his numbers are quite HoF worthy, especially considering how they stack up against his peers.

James Harrison: There’s no doubt in my mind that James Harrison would be a lock if he had been a starter earlier in his career. Unfortunately, from a HoF consideration perspective, he simply didn’t start soon enough to have a serious shot. Harrison was extremely productive for the Steelers from 2007-2011, during which he won a Superbowl as a starter (and should have won MVP of that Superbowl) and notched a DPoY award, but four stellar years just isn’t long enough to get into the Hall, unless your name is Gale Sayers.

Wes Welker: I think there’s a plausible argument to be made the Wes Welker is the best receiver in football today. The crafty little route runner has led the league in catches an astounding three times and posted four 100+ catch seasons. He also has a special place in my heart as a fellow 5’9″er. But he hasn’t caught all that many touchdowns (48 as of 2014) and he’s 0-3 in Superbowls. He also gets hurt by the fact that he did it playing with the two greatest quarterbacks of his generation. Love ya Wes, but I don’t think you belong in the Hall just yet.