Friday, February 29, 2008

Is Dallas Clark worth 6 years and $36 million to the Colts?

I know it's been over a week now since Dallas Clark signed the contract that made him the richest TE in the league. It's a 6 year $36 million contract that pays him $27 million over the first three years and could include an extra $5 million in incentives. It's great that we get to keep Clark on the team as he's obviously a favorite receiver for Peyton Manning, but at what point do we stop paying good players more than any other player in the league? What makes Dallas Clark so irreplaceable in our system, especially when the stats show he's not too far of an upgrade above Ben Utecht who is also a free agent, but could be kept for much less? What makes Dallas Clark different than Marcus Pollard (remember him?) Well I'm going to break down Clark's stats over the last two years and compare him to our other receivers and tight ends, then compare his stats and contract to those of other tight ends in the league. I'll finish with my opinion on this subject and let you come to your own conclusion based on my research or research you do on your own.

First, let's go back to 2006. This was a 'normal' Colts season with Harrison and Wayne playing all 16 games without being injured. Harrison had 1,366 yards and 12 touchdowns while Wayne had 1,310 yards and 9 touchdowns of his own. The leading receiving TE that year? Ben Utecht, with 377 yards to Dallas Clark's 367. Of course, Utecht did play 15 games to Clark's 12, and had 37 receptions to Clark's 30, but Utecht was was the third leading receiver in terms of yardage for the 2006 season. Fletcher, Manning's third tight end option, ended up with 202 yards and two touchdowns in 15 games. Let's compare their stats for the 2006 season a little more closely:

Ben Utecht: 37 receptions, 377 yards, 10.2 yards per reception, 25.1 yards per game, averaged 5 yards after the catch, had 18 1st downs but did not have any touchdowns.

Bryan Fletcher: 18 receptions, 202 yards, 11.2 yards per reception, 13.5 yards per game, averaged 4.8 yards after the catch, had 12 first downs and 2 touchdowns.

Dallas Clark: 30 receptions, 367 yards, 12.2 yards per reception, 30.6 yards per game, averaged 4.6 yards after the catch, had 22 first downs, and had 4 touchdowns.

Dallas Clark, even though he missed 4 games, had 4 of Manning's 31 touchdowns that season. Utecht, whose receiving stats were similar even with less receptions per game than Clark, was unable to score in 2006 even while averaging more yards after the catch. Fletcher's stats, on a much lower amount of receptions, are closer to Clark's than even Utecht's were in terms of yards per reception and yards after the catch. He even had 2 touchdowns to Clark's 4. What if Fletcher and Utecht had Clark's 30 receptions to play with at their current averages in terms of yards per reception and the number of first downs they earned?

What if...

Utecht (what if...): 15 games, 581 yards, 38.76 yards per game, and 31 1st downs.

Fletcher (what if...): 15 games, 312 yards, 20.8 yards per game, and 21 1st downs.

I'm basing the above stats on the assumption that Clark's 30 receptions were due to designed plays or breakdowns in the defense that Utecht or Fletcher would have also been able to take advantage of. I'd also be willing to throw in Clark's touchdowns to either Utecht or Fletcher based on those same assumptions. What do we give up in terms of yardage based on these assumptions? 53 yards. Doesn't seem too bad to me (once again, based on my own assumptions.)

Let's fast forward to 2007... which was an above-average year for Dallas Clark. With Harrison out for 11 games and often being able to line up in Harrison's abandoned position on the field, Clark took advantage of the loss of both Harrison and Stokley (who was replaced by the rookie Gonzalez) to move up to second on the team in receiving yards and first on the team (and NFL tight ends) in touchdowns. Let's look at the stats for all of the Colts' tight ends for 2007:

Clark: 58 receptions, 616 yards, 41.1 yards per game, averaged 3.8 yards after the catch, had 37 1st downs, and 11 touchdowns.

Utecht: 31 receptions, 374 yards, 26 yards per game, 11.7 yards per catch, averaged 5.6 yards after the catch, had 20 1st downs, and 1 touchdown.

Fletcher: 18 receptions, 143 yards, 9.5 yards per game, 7.9 yards per catch, averaged 2.7 yards after the catch, had 10 1st downs, and 0 touchdowns.

With nearly the same amount of receptions, Fletcher's stats went down noticeably while Utecht remained consistent with his previous year's numbers while adding a touchdown. Clark's 616 yards weren't enough to match Wayne's yards from the previous year when Wayne was second on the team in yardage which is one of the reasons why the team averaged 80 less receiving yards per game.

So with such a great season by Clark, who lead EVERY NFL tight end in touch downs, he must have been a shoe-in for the Pro Bowl, right? Second leading receiver for the 13-3 Colts, led the team in touchdowns? Well, let's see how he and the $6 million a year he earned compared to other tight ends this year:

Antonio Gates: $4 million, 75 receptions, 984 yards, 54 1st downs, and 9 touchdowns

Tony Gonzalez: $4 million, 99 receptions, 1,172 yards, 59 1st downs, and 5 touchdowns

Jason Witten: $4.8 million, 96 receptions, 1,145 yards, 56 1st downs, and 7 touchdowns

Chris Cooley: $5 million, 66 receptions, 786 yards, 46 1st downs, 8 touchdowns

Kellen Winslow: $4.5 million, 82 receptions, 1,106 yards, 56 1st downs, 5 touchdowns

Heath Miller: $1.4 million, 47 receptions, 566 yards, 32 1st downs, 7 touchdowns

The only player on that list you can legitimately say had a worst year than Dallas Clark was Heath Miller, and his stats were very close in both yardage and touchdowns to Clark's. So why are we paying Clark almost four times as much as Heath Miller is being paid for almost the same stats? And in a year when Clark's stats were distorted because of the lack of a veteran true wide receiver to backup Marvin Harrison?

With Harrison coming back next year at full strength and with the Colts most likely picking Harrison's replacement in this year's draft or the next, why would we pay Dallas Clark more money than any other tight end in the league when we have Ben Utecht as a more than suitable replacement that would demand much less money? The Colts' philosophy in the past has been to put the most emphasis on drafting well and signing released or undrafted rookies to bring into our system and then replace veterans going into free agency with these players. Players like Peyton Manning, Bob Sanders, and Dwight Freeney have shown that they are far and away much better at their position than anyone else on the team and therefore deserve the contracts that they received (and even I think Dwight Freeney's contract may have been pushing it.) So why Dallas Clark? Maybe it's because he tied with Braylon Edwards last year for most dropped passes in the NFL among all wide receivers. Maybe it's because Manning, for some strange reason, trusts Clark over the other tight ends even though they've proven they can produce the same numbers as him in an average year.

So what's my opinion? By now I think it's pretty clear that I think Clark is being overpaid and the Colts made a mistake by signing him to 6 more years. He is getting paid more than tight ends that out-produce him year after year and he's eating up cap room that we could use to bring in both his replacements and replacements for Harrison and other aging players. Am I glad he's on the team? Yes. Will I cheer for him to be successful? Yes, just like I do every Colts player. Do I think he's worth 6 years, $36 million? No, not even close.


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