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The Value of Alshon Jeffery

A deep look into Alshon Jeffery’s lucrative extension with Philadelphia

Chicago Bears v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

On Saturday morning, the Philadelphia Eagles announced they had signed WR Alshon Jeffery to a 4-year, $52M extension through 2022 with $27M guaranteed. GM Howie Roseman, renowned for preempting the market with mid-season extensions, again decided to seal up one of his premier players before 31 other teams even got a shot.

It took a pretty penny to get it done, however. The contract has the T-7th most per-year value of all WR contracts (T.Y Hilton). $27M guaranteed and $6.75M guaranteed/year are both good enough for 5th-most expensive. Given Philadelphia’s already tenuous cap circumstances, Roseman’s decision to extend Jeffery speaks volumes about how valuable this organization considers Alshon over the long term.

However, seeing Top-7 and Top-5 numbers for Alshon Jeffery should give anyone pause—even his most ardent supporters. Alshon currently has 43 receptions for 619 yards (14.4 y/c) and 7 TDs. Those numbers rank among league WRs, respectively, as the 27th, 26th, 36th (>10 receptions), and 4th best numbers. TDs are fun, but they’re situational, and the least reliable of all these metrics.

Those Jeffery stans will quickly cite the prescribed effect he has on a defense: he absorbs their primary cover man, draws double coverage, etc... These anecdotal claims are tougher to investigate, and are certainly worthy of debate. The question becomes: how valuable is Jeffery, even if he indeed causes a defense such stress? Is he worth $13M/year; is he worth a Top-7 WR contract?

That’s what we’re here to find out.

Market Share Comparisons of Equivalent Players (by Value)

Those in Alshon’s camp will be quick to let you know: Alshon has been playing better football with each passing week. He’s developed a better rapport with Wentz, has started producing in the red zone, and has come down with more contested receptions than he did in the beginning of the year.

I dispute none of these claims. However, when you look to the raw numbers, you can see that Alshon’s stat sheet doesn’t necessarily reflect his improved play:

But these numbers are not enough: Philadelphia has enjoyed 20+ point leads in 4 of those 5 final games, and the entire passing game—Jeffery included—has seen a drop-off in raw production. As such, we turn to the metric that will better inform our investigation: market share.

Market share (MS) statistics consider the percentage of a team’s total offense for which one player accounts: for example, Jeffery’s “Target MS” would describe the percentage of Carson Wentz’s passing attempts that were aimed at Jeffery; “Yard MS,” the percentage of Carson Wentz’s passing yards produced on throws to Jeffery; and so on.

As such, if Jeffery’s play has improved, but the offense has produced less as a result of game script, market share numbers should reveal that disparity.

And they do.

Alshon Jeffery Market Share Statistics

Name Year Games Target MS Catch MS Catch% Yard MS Y/C TD MS
Name Year Games Target MS Catch MS Catch% Yard MS Y/C TD MS
Alshon Jeffery 2017 6 23.2 19 50 20 13.2 15.4
Alshon Jeffery 2017 5 27.9 21.8 46.3 28.1 15.9 33.3
Alshon Jeffery 2017 11 25.1 20.2 48.3 23.3 14.4 25

We’ll use Jeffery’s MS across the entire season (11 games, bottom row) as a benchmark of his total performance—every player has lulls and swells; it’s only fair. But this productive 5-game stretch will also come into play as we continue.

So we know Alshon has been playing better football as of late: the eye test and stat sheet both inform this stance. Is this improved play worthy of such a lucrative extension?

Before we answer that question, we need a context through which to interpret Alshon’s deal. As such, I selected recent contract extensions that hold a similar per-year value to Alshon’s, to give us a framework in which to operate:

  • Dez Bryant (2015): 14M/year, 32M guaranteed, 6.4M guaranteed/year
  • T.Y. Hilton (2015): 13M/year, 11M guaranteed, 2.2M guaranteed/year
  • Doug Baldwin (2016): 11.5M/year, 12M guaranteed, 3M guaranteed/year
  • Keenan Allen (2016): 11.25M/year, 20.7M guaranteed, 5.2M guaranteed/year

On the eye test, Alshon is certainly as talented as these players. However, when you compare his season-long (11 games) MS numbers to those of the seasons preceding the contracts for the four players above—that is to say, the seasons that earned them those contracts—a few things stand out in an ugly way:

WR Production In Year Before Contract Extension

Name Year Games Target MS (%) Catch MS (%) Catch% Yard MS (%) Y/C TD MS (%)
Name Year Games Target MS (%) Catch MS (%) Catch% Yard MS (%) Y/C TD MS (%)
T.Y. Hilton 2014 15 21.2 21.6 62.6 28.8 16.4 17
Doug Baldwin 2015 16 21.1 23.4 75.7 28.2 12.5 41.2
Keenan Allen 2015 8 25.6 27.6 75.3 26.3 10.8 27.2
Dez Bryant 2014 16 28.6 26.8 64.7 34.9 15 43.2
Average (w/o Jeffery) 24.125 24.85 69.575 29.55 13.675 32.15
Alshon Jeffery 2017 11 25.1 20.2 48.3 23.3 14.4 25

Firstly, an important note: I’ve been on record saying that Alshon Jeffery doesn’t see WR1 volume in an Eagle offense that loves to spread the football around. It was one of the reasons I claimed he wasn’t as valuable a player for the Philadelphia Eagles as his talent level may indicate. However, as we can clearly see, Jeffery’s Target MS is competitive with those of other WR1s. He’s getting WR1 attention from the quarterback.

Despite this fact, Jeffery falls short in 3 major categories: Catch MS, Catch %, and Yards MS. That is to say, despite seeing significant targets, Jeffery has been responsible for markedly fewer catches for his team, hauled in a significantly lower percentage of his targets, and accounted for fewer of his offense’s passing yards than you would expect for a man of his contract. Even his TD numbers, which seem impressive at first, are inflated by the sky-high number of passing TDs that Philadelphia has totaled.

The blind resume test would really hurt Philadelphia here: Jeffery simply isn’t accounting for the same amount of offense that receivers of his worth are across the league.

If we are to claim, however, that Philadelphia isn’t extending 11-game Jeffery; they’re extending 5-game Jeffery...well, things get a little better. But not much:

WR Production In Year Before Contract Extension (Recent Jeffery Performance)

Name Year Games Target MS (%) Catch MS (%) Catch% Yard MS (%) Y/C TD MS (%)
Name Year Games Target MS (%) Catch MS (%) Catch% Yard MS (%) Y/C TD MS (%)
T.Y. Hilton 2014 15 21.2 21.6 62.6 28.8 16.4 17
Doug Baldwin 2015 16 21.1 23.4 75.7 28.2 12.5 41.2
Keenan Allen 2015 8 25.6 27.6 75.3 26.3 10.8 27.2
Dez Bryant 2014 16 28.6 26.8 64.7 34.9 15 43.2
Average (w/o Jeffery) 24.125 24.85 69.575 29.55 13.675 32.15
Alshon Jeffery 2017 5 27.9 21.8 46.3 28.1 15.9 33.3

The inflated Target MS should be noted, as it makes the low Catch MS and Catch % all the more damning. Jeffery simply doesn’t haul in an adequate number of his targets: his best Catch %—60.1%—came in 2013, his lone Pro Bowl year. That doesn’t hold weight.

We can turn to his improved Y/C and Yard MS, looking for solace: those balls that he does catch, he turns into significant chunks of yardage. However, his Yard MS is still below average, and his Y/C is inflated by his shockingly low number of catches.

I can’t come up with a way to slice and dice Alshon’s numbers into WR1 production. He simply doesn’t do it in this offense.

Why, then, was he paid like he does?

Alshon’s Gravity

We’re faced again with the anecdotal evidence: Alshon has helped open up this offense, he draws defensive attention, he’s a safety blanket.

It’s no secret that this offense is, um, a lot better than it was in 2016. Nor is it a debate that improved pass-catching weapons are a huge part of that improvement. Given Torrey Smith’s rather pedestrian play, much of the offense opening up is rightfully attributed to the addition of Alshon Jeffery: as I’ve said above, I’m not disputing these claims. I’m just wondering how valuable they make Jeffery.

Let’s talk shadow coverage: Per PFF, Alshon Jeffery has been shadowed only twice this season: against Arizona (who has shadowed opposing WRs a league-leading 10 games this season) and against Los Angeles (shadow coverage in 5 games this season, T-5th in league). Under those blankets, he went 3/7 for 39 yards.

Some teams PHI has played (KC, SF, CHI, DEN) haven’t deployed shadow coverage once this season. Other teams have simply bypassed the option when playing Philadelphia: Janoris Jenkins of the Giants shadowed Dez Bryant, Mike Evans, and Demaryius Thomas; James Bradberry of the Panthers followed Evans, Julio Jones, Brandin Cooks, and Marvin Jones. Neither shadowed Jeffery.

Regretably, I can’t find a statistic on how often Alshon is double covered relative to the league, but I can tell you this: throw on the tape, and you’ll see that it’s not very often. Teams will rotate their safeties and set the strength of their coverage shell to whichever side of Philadelphia’s offense has more weapons: that is to say, if Philadelphia deploys a formation that isolates Alshon Jeffery alone on the weak side, teams are fine with that.

This TD serves as a great example of what, in my opinion, makes Philadelphia’s offense click. Denver has endeavored to get plus numbers in the box: they have a player for every gap through which Philadelphia could run the football. In order to do so, they must play single-high coverage and trust their CBs to cover in space.

Once Wentz introduces the read option, however, he has effectually created another gap, putting OLB Von Miller in conflict. CB Aqib Talib moves forward to play the run, to add an extra defender to account for the extra gap—now Jeffery is open and off to the races for 6.

Certainly, Jeffery has more impressive plays than this. However, this would have been a TD whether it was Mack Hollins, Nelson Agholor, or Dorial Green-Beckham lined up in that slot. No extra help is dedicated to Jeffery. This is just Philadelphia’s scheme winning out.

I’ll put it to you this way: when you’re facing Philadelphia, who are you more concerned about covering: Alshon Jeffery, or Zach Ertz? To me, that’s an easy answer.

So sure: adding a dynamic receiving threat to the boundary has opened up the offense. But Jeffery wasn’t just paid Marvin Jones money (8M/year in 2016), or Pierre Garcon money (9.5M/year in 2017) or Michael Crabtree money (8.5M/year in 2015). Jeffery is getting WR1 money, and Jeffery is getting WR1 targets, but he isn’t posting WR1 production, and he isn’t demanding any more defensive attention than a player like Jones, Garcon, or Crabtree might.

The Long and The Short

How valuable is that receiver? WR1 targets, but no WR1 production or WR1 attention? He’s not WR1 valuable, that’s for sure. You can fill in the lines regarding how I feel about this contract.*

*I reserve the right to alter my opinion slightly as more details of the extension are released. I wonder if that $27M guaranteed may be conditional on remaining on the roster for certain days in the future, or guaranteed on injury, or so on.

However, there is one tremendous saving grace through which this deal must be examined. Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce to you the 2019 WR FA class:

  • Odell Beckham Jr.
  • Amari Cooper
  • Mike Evans
  • Brandin Cooks
  • Jordy Nelson
  • Randall Cobb
  • Golden Tate
  • Kelvin Benjamin

This doesn’t even include solid contributors like Devin Funchess, Cole Beasley, Jamison Crowder, Tyler Lockett, Nelson Agholor, DeVante Parker, Chris Hogan, Jermaine Kearse, Rishard Matthews, and Jeremy Maclin.

Good gravy.

I don’t show you all of these wonderful names to list the players Philadelphia could have otherwise pursued. Rather, I wanted to show you that the WR market is going to reset. Soon.

Mike Evans, Odell Beckham Jr., and Amari Cooper will all demand contracts higher than Alshon’s. Brandin Cooks just might do it as well.

Golden Tate, Randall Cobb, and maybe even Kelvin Benjamin (someone’s gonna overpay for him) could all likely get close to Jeffery’s numbers. Nelson will be a funny one to watch, given his age and injury history.

Remember, Philadelphia doesn’t have a 2nd or 3rd round pick in the upcoming 2018 Draft. Unless they were at peace with spending their lone 1st rounder on a WR, they weren’t going to find Jeffery-level talent—not production, talent—in the Draft. From there, they would be forced to foray through a massive WR bubble in the upcoming seasons.

And if there’s one thing we know about Howie Roseman, he ain’t ‘bout that life.

Today, the relative value of Alshon’s contract doesn’t stack up—it plain doesn’t. But in the wake of 2019’s bidding war, it very well might. And that very well could justify the whole kit and caboodle.

For now, #InChipHowieWeTrust. There’s no reason to believe he doesn’t have a plan to handle the tightest cap situation in the league. Tough cuts to swallow are on the horizon (Brent Celek, Jason Peters, Darren Sproles), but Philadelphia had one of the oldest starting rosters in the NFL this year. They simply must get younger to prevent this season from becoming a flash in the pan.

And hey! When a team is 10-1, you do your best to keep all of the players on it. I will never complain about not fixing what ain’t broke.

I’ll just feel better about it after 2019.

All the love goes out to Pro Football Reference, a wonderful site without which posts like this would be impossible.

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