Monday, March 17, 2008

Subtraction by addition?

Early last week the rumor was floated that the Raiders still had one blockbuster deal in the works. Speculation ran rampant. Were they dealing for one of the WR’s rumored to be on the block (Roy Williams, Chad Johnson) were they dealing the #4 pick to Dallas, were they bringing in help on defense (Peppers) or perhaps they were bringing in a shut down corner to pair with Aso (D. Hall).

I looked at the report with skepticism. Williams and Johnson weren’t going anywhere, at least not yet. The trade with Dallas wouldn’t go down until draft day, if at all. The Panthers are trying to gear up for another playoff push, so I don’t see Peppers going anywhere. And I don’t feel that Hall is a shutdown corner, so giving up a high draft pick for him would only make sense if you had the D to cover up his problems.

Needless to say, I was horrified when I heard on the Radio that the Raiders had come to terms with the Falcons to add Hall. All that is left is for the Raiders to agree to terms with Hall on a long-term deal. A deal reportedly that will pay Hall like the top free agent corners in the league. We are talking 9+ million a year for DeAngelo Hall.

Instead of just saying that this deal sucks for the Raiders, lets break this down. We’ll take a look at the positives and negatives in regards to Hall. I’ll even try to keep my emotions in check, for a while anyway.

First the positive, Hall is an incredible athlete. At his 1st Pro bowl he won the NFL fastest man competition, despite not even planning to compete. He was goaded into running and blew the competition away. When he gets his hands on the ball he is dangerous, both as far as interceptions are concerned and in the return game when he is used there.

Unfortunately that is where the positives end. I have watched Hall since his time at VT, my brother went to VT so I became a quassie fan of theirs. I have taken an interest in many of their players over the last 8 years. Hall was one of them.

Hall is not a shut down corner. Hall is a gambler, who has ridden a few highlight plays and his never shutting mouth to NFL stardom. Hall struggles against the top WR’s in the league, and is easily beaten by double moves. Now for my breakdown I’m going to concentrate on Hall’s 2006 campaign. Last year was an abortion for the entire Falcons franchise, and with the turmoil surrounding both Vick and Petrino, it is hard to fairly judge any Falcon based on 2007.

2006 was Hall’s breakout year. He became a media darling and found his way onto many pundits top CB lists. Unfortunately, this positive attention was completely undeserved.

Hall actually gained much of his momentum the previous year with his “shutdown” performance against T.O. and the Eagles. Coming out of that game the NFL press began hyping Hall as the next great corner. His interception of Donovan McNabb led off highlight shows for the week. But what did Hall actually do that week? T.O. caught 7 passes for 112 yards on Hall. The interception came on a play where T.O. had beaten Hall on a double move and Hall got lucky that McNabb got crushed as he threw the ball leading to the easy INT.

Hall’s big coming out party is a microcosm of his entire NFL career. Top NFL receivers beat him like a rented mule, but Hall takes advantage of one mistake and somehow comes out smelling like a rose. In the 2006 season, Hall’s best, he gave up 170 yards and 3 TD’s to Hines Ward, when Charlie Batch was playing QB. In his big showdown with Chad Johnson, he gave up 6 receptions and over 100 yards, but “won” his showdown since he wasn’t covering Johnson on his TD. In the 2nd half vs. Detroit he gave up passes of 60, 9 and 25 yards to Roy Williams.

Fortunately for my sanity, I’m not the only person who sees through the hype when it comes to Hall. The following is from a footballoutsiders extra point dated 12/13/2006 (Halls big breakout year)

“There isn’t much to this Star-Telegram piece but I’m posting it to point out that DeAngelo Hall might be the most overrated cornerback in the NFL. From the story: “Hall, in his third year, has four interceptions this season and is usually assigned to the opposing team’s top receiver. While the Falcons’ pass defense is ranked 31st in the league, the 5-foot-10, 197-pound Hall can stop some of the best wide outs in the league.” That’s funny because against No. 1 and No. 2 receivers the Falcons rank 30th and 32nd, according to DVOA.”

In all fairness, I will point this out about the Falcon’s defense in 2006. The secondary was ravaged by injuries, Hall had little help over the top, and the Falcons called a lot of zone coverage to try and cover for injuries.

That said, even with all the injuries in the Falcon’s secondary, the opposition targeted Hall over 90 times. If he were a true shutdown corner, than the other team would have looked to take advantage of the injuries in the Falcon’s secondary and attacked elsewhere. Instead they were happy to take their chances on Hall actually making a big play, and take their 8.5 yards per attempt against Hall.

So where does this leave me in my assessment of Hall. I put him somewhere in the category of a Dre Bly. A corner who will occasionally make you pay for your mistakes, but the majority of the time will get beaten. This puts him squarely in the middle of the pack as far as CB’s are concerned. If you put him on a team like the Pats or Giants, Hall would be a great acquisition. Those teams regularly put pressure on the QB with their front 4-5 and force bad passes. They score enough to put pressure on the opposition’s offense to take chances.

The Raiders struggle to put pressure on the QB with their front 4. They are going to once again need to be a ball control offense if they hope to keep their D off the field. This is far from an ideal situation for a player with Hall’s limitations.

Which brings me to my biggest problem with Hall’s game. He does not recognize his limitations. He talks a big game, which is fine with me; some guys need to do so in order to get themselves up for the game. But Hall’s performance on the field shows me a guy who has bought into the hype. He believes that he is at the top of his game, and that he can take the chances that he does since he is better than anyone else on the field. He shows no awareness of what teams are doing to set him up for the big plays he gives away, he constantly gets beaten by the same moves, showing no progress in his game.

So much as a draft pick, lets assess the value of adding Hall to the Raiders. First, lets look at the team’s needs. If you were going to put them in order, CB would be somewhere near the bottom. Aso is the premier shutdown corner in the league, he and Bailey are the only two corners with the ability to close off a half of the field when on top of their game. On the other side Routt supplanted Washington as the starter last year. While some pointed to this as an indictment of Washington, I saw it as more the Raiders recognizing where each players skills fit into the scheme. Routt is tight in the hips and has trouble with the slot receivers he faced when being brought in against 3 or 4 WR sets. Washington had trouble with the bigger #2’s he saw as the #2 CB. Playing Routt at #2 and Washington at #3 played up both players’ strengths. Both players are entering their 4th season, and look to be the kind of players that will never make a pro bowl, but are solid role players.

So does adding Hall fill a need, in my mind no. Hall is a luxury item for the Raiders, someone you add as a final piece, and not someone to add when there are so many gaping holes elsewhere.

Next look financially. The Raiders are giving up the 4th pick in the 2nd round. A place where you expect to commit somewhere between 1 and 2 million a year. With Hall they are looking at laying out somewhere in the neighborhood of 9 million a year for a position that is not a need. The Raiders also need to find a way to keep Aso, that is going to take another contract averaging over 9 million a year. That is close to 20 million for two players who play the same position. Your salary cap is 120 million you do the math.

Finally, how does Hall fit into the system? The Raiders are looking for a shutdown corner. Now, to me that’s like looking for a needle in a haystack, or more aptly in Hall’s case, hunting for unicorns. Now Hall may be a horse with a funny bump on his head. The media may be shouting Unicorn, but anyone who takes the time to break down his game, goes well it’s a funny looking horse. So the problem here is as much the Raiders looking for something that doesn’t exist, except in the rarest cases, as it is a failing on Hall’s part.

Breaking it down, this deal is a failure for the Raiders on each level. They are not addressing a need, they are not making financial sense, and they are not bringing in a player who is a good system fit (although he is as good a fit as you are going to find for an antiquated system).

To those who will say “The Raiders wouldn’t find a better player in the 2nd round”, I’ll give you that, Hall is probably better this year than what the Raiders could expect from a rookie 2nd rounder. And if the Raiders were going to spend 2nd round money for Hall I’d be all for the deal.

In the end, I’m left hoping for the best, that Aso’s work ethic rubs off on Hall and he takes the steps necessary to be the league’s next shutdown corner. Actually, the best would be the Raiders and Hall being unable to come to terms and the deal falling apart, but with the way Al is throwing around money, that may be a pipe dream.

Realistically, what I see Raiders fans being able to look forward to is a rehash of the Charles Woodson debates. We will have half of the nation loving Hall and his brash attitude. His occasional interceptions and pro bowl berths will be enough for them. The other half will point to his penitence for giving up the big play, and his huge contract and wonder if the ends justify the means.

I will say this, if the deal is completed, the Raiders have filled one hole on the team. Big-mouthed media darling who underperforms on the field, and here I thought Warren Sapp’s shoes would be hard to fill.

No comments: