Sunday, July 18, 2010
Why losing Johnny hurts Justin
But I digress.
Last Friday, Johnny Jolly was suspended indefinitely for violating the league's substance abuse policy. He'll be gone for at least the entire upcoming season, play-offs included.
Packers bloggers wasted absolutely no time in dissecting this story from nearly every possible angle. Jersey Al calls Jolly's suspension a blessing in disguise. Brian Carriveau vlogs that the Packers were well prepared for this loss. And John Rehor writes that Johnny Jolly is a moron.
I tend to agree with all of them. Having the suspension handed down now is good for two reasons: It prevents Jolly's court proceedings from becoming a headache during the season and it also allows the Packers to hang on to a player that they probably would've had to cut in favor of Jolly. Additionally, the Packers were definitely well prepared for this development, as they drafted two DEs in the 2010 NFL draft. Ted Thompson, your draft score has jumped up a whole letter grade. And yes, Johnny Jolly is a bit stupid for throwing away a career in the NFL for some drugs, no matter how much fun Grimace makes the Purple Drank appear.
But I want to take a look at this story in a different way. Instead of analyzing where the Packers go from here, or how well prepared they are to handle this loss, I want to take a look at a player whose hopes of making the roster may actually be hurt by the Jolly suspension. Because I believe someone on the current Packers roster is going to be adversely affected by Jolly leaving...and it may not be who you think.
I think Justin Harrell is actually in a worse position now than he was before. That's right, I'm talking about former first-round pick and perennial IRer Justin Harrell. At first this may not make sense, and I agree, it is a little kooky. But let me walk you through what's going on in my head.
The first reaction is to think that losing Johnny Jolly, a defensive lineman, instantly increases the value of all defensive lineman on the Packers' roster. And, to an extent, it does. But we need to go beyond that. We need to realize that not all lineman are created equally, and therefore this recent development does not benefit all lineman in the same way. In fact, I believe it's weighted to favor lineman who do not have a history of being injured and unavailable. Unfortunately for Justin, who has only played in 13 games over 3 seasons, he doesn't match that description.
Let's play out two scenarios, one in which Jolly is not suspended and one in which he is. In the first scenario, the Packers would be far more likely to take a chance on Justin Harrell, especially if they could stow a guy like Jarius Wynn or CJ Wilson on the practice squad. The reason behind this is simple. With a good amount of depth, the Packers could afford to keep a talented, but injury-prone guy like Harrell around long enough to see if he (finally) pans out. An injury to him would not be highly significant, considering the depth already on the roster.
However, with Jolly out of the picture, things change. The Packers not only need replacement d-linemen, they need ones that they can depend on, ones without a lengthy history of completely debilitating injuries. Even if Harrell has the talent to make the team, keeping him around at the expense of a more reliable player could be a disastrous mistake, if he indeed does miss time due to injury. The lessons of the 6-10 2008 season, in which Ted Thompson gambled with the depth of his defensive line and lost, make this reality all the more significant.
Essentially, this is basic economics. All d-lineman have increased in value in some way with Jolly out of the picture, but those who are relatively injury free receive a greater relative gain than those who are not. This puts them at a relative advantage, and a player who's constantly injured, like Harrell, at a relative disadvantage. It's not that losing Jolly makes Harrell less valuable; it's that it doesn't make him as valuable as other guys who can stay on the field. It may not seem like a whole lot, but in the meticulous process that is creating a 53 man roster, I think it's enough to make a difference.
I don't believe this necessarily seals Harrell's fate, and that he's doomed to be cut. The Packers could very well decide to keep seven defensive linemen. However here is what I am saying: if a final roster spot comes down to Justin Harrell versus CJ Wilson or Jarius Wynn, with all else being held equal, Harrell loses.