The Ravens did something they’ve never done previously in their 21-year history on Tuesday: they traded a top defensive draft pick prior to expiration of his rookie contract.
Timmy Jernigan was set to be a free agent following the 2017 season, so the Ravens were at risk of him walking for either nothing or what would likely have been a 4th or 5th round compensatory pick.
In 2016, Jernigan played 595 defensive snaps as I record them (excludes penalties, kneels, spikes), 61% of the team’s total and just 2 snaps fewer than DL-team-leading Brandon Williams. While both players started, Jernigan played more high-leverage downs (80% of the team’s 3rd-down snaps to Williams’ 21%).
Jernigan played well prior to the bye, including 22 tackles and 4 sacks. His production dropped (7 tackles, 1 sack in the 2nd half) after Harbaugh slammed him publicly for a poor decision that led to a critical fumble in the loss to the Jets. The coach was out of line in his criticism of the decision, which I discussed here, but Jernigan was quoted following in a manner that did not indicate agreement with Harbaugh’s commentary.
In the following game vs. Pittsburgh, he collected a deflected interception and fell to the ground immediately, evidence that he had assimilated Harbaugh’s instructions, but the question lingered as to whether his trade availability was a product exclusively of looming free agency or was tainted by attitude/locker-room concerns.
For what draft value did the Ravens give away Jernigan’s contract-year production?
That’s actually a very difficult question to answer and is dependent on the draft chart you use. Here are 2 examples side by side:
Graphically, those are shown here:
By the NFL (PFT) chart (the second column on the first link above), the Ravens received 116 net points of value, equivalent to pick #96 (the last regular pick of round 3).
By the Stuart chart, the Ravens received 1.9 net AV value, which is the equivalent of pick number #169 (a 5th round selection). As you can see, the Stuart draft chart (Football Perspective) creates a much flatter value of draft picks by slot and highly favors trading down in early rounds relative to PFT values.
The assignment of points by the PFT methodology is not published (to the best of my knowledge) and has often been criticized for that fact. By comparison, the Stuart chart uses AV as reported on Pro Football Reference to determine smoothed averages for each draft spot from 1980-2007. Because it is objective, the method appears superior. However, similar to WAR in baseball, the first points of AV have no real value (they assign value to players at or near the replacement level). Winning teams must collect stars and fill the spots in between by whatever means are available (late draft picks, UDFA, scavenging other team’s releases/practice squads, plus an occasional FA).
In addition, the Stuart chart assigns the first 5 years of career value to the drafting team. That’s better than the career value ascribed in a previous version of the formula. The point is particularly relevant in this case where the Ravens were in position to lose all of Jernigan’s value after 2017. In 2030, I don’t think any Ravens fan will ascribe a large historical value to the Jernigan selection, even if he goes on to turn in a Hall of Fame career. A reasonable mechanism would be to include 5 years of value for a 1st-round picks and 4 years for any lower round. After that, a greatly reduced percentage of value (perhaps 30-50%) could still be included to reflect natural frictions to movement and team options such as the franchise tag.
If one could back-solve to see if PFT trade value exchanged was close to the published NFL chart (I have not), then I’d say the Stuart chart is not capturing the actual market, whether or not it’s correctly predicting draft value. Without devising my own method, I’d simply say the Stuart chart may understate early-round draft value to some degree, but that #96 and #169 are good (and wide) goalposts for the value of the trade up.
Another point for comparison is the compensatory value the Ravens might have received for Jernigan had he stayed and walked after 2017. I think it is unlikely Jernigan would have resulted in a 3rd-round compensatory selection, but would more likely have returned a 4th (with solid, injury-free play in 2017) or lower (if his 2nd half performance were to continue or he suffered a significant injury). In addition, having to worry about his compensatory value might also hamstring the Ravens in their ability to value free agents on the market prior to 2018, since signing more than they allow to walk would void the compensatory pick.
Had the Ravens received a compensatory pick, it would have come in 2019. The present value of 2017 draft capital is significantly higher as is evidenced annually when teams trade a current-year pick for a future pick. Ravens fans will recall fondly the 1999 draft day trade on which the team acquired the Falcons’ 1st round selection in 2000 in exchange for their 11th selection in round 2 (#42 overall) of the 1999 draft. The Falcons used the pick to select TE Reggie Kelly, then suffered through an awful season. The Ravens’ patience rewarded them with the 5th overall selection in 2000, used to select Jamal Lewis.
If you’re looking for a silver lining beyond the draft value, the Ravens are now well positioned to retain C.J. Mosley on a long-term deal. That’s a choice of cornerstone I thoroughly endorse and I trust the Ravens’ longstanding ability to find defensive line talent to replace Timmy Jernigan and Lawrence Guy.