As I have done every year since 2013, I made my way to Boston in late February/early March for the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. Over time, given my background, I’ve increasingly paid attention to the health/injury panels at the conference. While I am interested in all aspects of sports analytics, including player performance, drafting, and the like, I have found myself dabbling in the injury side of things as, to this point, it matches my knowledge and training.
The major injury panel this year was called “The Performance/Precaution Tradeoff: Player Health”. I was intrigued by the name of the panel as it was suggestive of some of the hot topics that dominate injury conversation today. At what point should a player be rested to prevent him/her from entering a “danger zone” of increased risk of injury? When is it better to play a back-up for an injured player? 70% health? 60% health? And how does some of the new data being collected infringe upon privacy rights?
These were just some of the things that popped in my head. Did the panel play out the way I expected or did it bring up other topics I hadn’t considered?
This past summer, after a multi-year soap opera with Kirk Cousins, the Washington Redskins let their franchise quarterback walk, unwilling to pay the cost it would take to keep him in DC. Instead, they ended up paying a steep price for another quarterback to take his place, sending Kendall Fuller and a third-round pick to bring Alex Smith to the nation’s capital, and subsequently locking him up with a four-year contract extension that pays out $70 million in guaranteed money. Though Smith was coming off one of his most successful seasons, it was a heavy investment in terms of assets and dollars for a 34-year-old quarterback.
Then on November 18, Kareem Jackson and JJ Watt decided to have a meet-‘n-greet in Washington’s backfield and Redskins fans likely saw their season blow-up before their eyes.
There were 19 defensive tackles that signed with teams in free agency. The player that got the lengthiest and most expensive contract was Star Lotulelei, who got five years, which was two more years than the next closest player, and $50 million, which was almost double to the next closest player, to move from the Carolina Panthers to the Buffalo Bills. In terms of guaranteed money, he’s getting $24 million, which is $10 million more than the next closest player, Ndamukong Suh.
It’s also worth noting that last summer he had shoulder surgery and also has a history of a foot fracture. So given that, are the Bills making a wise investment injury-wise?